Memory is a Verb: Sarah Hadley: Story Lines
Memory is a Verb: Exploring Time and Transience brings together twelve women photographic artists exploring the liminal space between time and transience. Represented in this body of work are the universal concepts of loss, mortality, and legacy, and the exploration of what inspires us to seek solace, and reexamine our histories; subsequently unearthing discoveries about ourselves, our relationships, and our place in the universe. This week and next we are sharing projects from the exhibition with interviews by the artists. Today we feature the work of Sarah Hadley who was interviewed by Diane Hemingway. Hadley’s artist talk on this project can be found on the Los Angeles Center of Photography’s YouTube Channel. Hadley’s project, Story Lines is a cinematic expression of the interior lives of women that are layered and mysterious.
Memory, often regarded as fixed or reflective of reality, in this project actively functions as a transformative shape-shifter. The ongoing tension between two seeming opposites – objective fact and subjective perception – together shape a cohesive whole, creating something larger and more nuanced than just the sum of its parts. As new insight illuminates the past, this influences our experience of the present moment; which is itself slipping into the past at the instant we seek to define or quantify it. In this manner, time is elusive, elastic, bending back and over itself; perception comes full circle.
The project Memory is a Verb: Exploring Time and Transience began as the world was besieged with fear and anxiety during a pandemic, longing for a return to normalcy. Feeling a sense of loss, we craved connection to our past and to each other. The pandemic also offered a unique moment in which to interpret things differently. Beyond nostalgia, which selectively employs memory as a self-soothing balm, our exploration reconsidered how we view the past, and what is of purpose and significance, in light of our changed circumstances.
Through the artistic expression found in Memory is a Verb: Exploring Time and Transience, twelve women, from different geographies, experiences, and backgrounds, give voice not only to their reality, but to the multitude of perspectives and possibilities contained within. It is a universal desire to be connected and remembered – to honor our past into our future. The search for meaning during a time of profound disruption is a humbling human journey eloquently captured in Memory is a Verb: Exploring Time and Transience.
Sarah Hadley is a Los Angeles based artist whose narrative work focuses on issues of loss, memory and female identity. Originally from Boston, Hadley received degrees in Art History and Italian from Georgetown University, and Photography from the Corcoran College of Art. She lived in Washington DC, Italy and the UK before moving to Chicago where she founded the Filter Photo Festival in 2009. Hadley has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Chicago Artist Foundation, the California Center for Cultural Innovation, as well as Fellowships from the Ragdale Foundation. Hadley has had solo shows in museums and galleries throughout the US including Afterimage Gallery, the Loyola Museum of Art, the Griffin Museum of Photography, and dnj Gallery. Her work has also been exhibited in photography festivals in France, China, Australia, India and Portugal and been featured in numerous magazines, blogs and publications including Le Monde, Elle Italia, L’Oeil de la Photographie and Lenscratch. In 2020, her first monograph Lost Venice was published by Damiani Editore and is now in the collection of the Getty Research library, the Huntington Library, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Her photographs are held in public and private collections worldwide.
Follow Sarah Hadley on Instagram: @sarahhadleystudio
Follow Memory is a Verb on Instagram: @memory_is_a_verb
Story Lines explores the female interior landscape, and the desires and dreams we keep buried deep inside. By altering reality through collage, my work explores the poetry of the hidden and intangible parts of life, and our universal desire for connection. I use backdrops of sunlight, shadow, architecture and nature to create illusionary settings in order to isolate the women and their interior life. These intimate cinematic stories play with the limits of reality and fiction and, in their ambiguity, reveal a sense of mystery and wonder.
My first love was cinema and especially the French New Wave films of the 60’s, which were shot in black and white on the street and often portrayed the subconscious thoughts and feelings of ordinary women. In Story Lines, I blur personal narratives by creating enigmatic stories of women caught in a moment of reflection or transformation. My collages also pay homage to the surrealists who first employed the technique of conjoining unrelated images to create startling and thought-provoking connections. -Sarah Hadley
Diane Hemingway: Tell us about your growing up and what lead you to photography?
Sarah Hadley: Art has always been an integral part of my life. Owing to my father’s job, I spent my childhood living in the apartment above the Gardner museum in Boston that Isabella Stewart Gardner built as her private residence. I studied art history in college and interned at the Institute of Contemporary Art one summer. At the time, there was an exhibition of contemporary photography which included the work of Nan Goldin, the Starn Twins, and Sage Sohier. I was mesmerized by the work and it made me realize that photography could be an art form that expressed something deeper. A year later I moved to Venice, Italy and it was there I began shooting seriously and contemplating a life in photography.
DH: What have you discovered about yourself through photography?
SH: I discovered that the truest projects come from within and that my art is a reflection of my inner psyche, whether I am conscious of it or not. Over the years, I have also learned to be patient and trust my instincts, as most of my projects take several years to develop.
DH: Are there themes that you continue to explore in your art?
SH: My work revolves around themes of loss, memory and female identity. I started out as a photojournalist and a street photographer, but transitioned about 15 years ago to working on projects that were more personal. Photography offers me ways to dialog with the past and present and it has helped me to address the intangible and unspoken mysteries of life and death.
DH: Has your relationship with photography changed throughout your practice?
SH: Definitely. I went to art school, but started out as a photojournalist. In addition to working for newspapers and magazines, I made my living shooting portraits, headshots and events for many years. These jobs all taught me a lot about communicating with people, models, and clients, as well as how to adapt to foreign situations very quickly and to make photographs under pressure. I always created personal projects on the side, but am so grateful that I am able to spend more time with my own work now and allow it to evolve over time. I also paint and create collages now too, so photography has become just one of the tools I use to express myself artistically.
DH: Do you work on one project at a time or multiple projects?
SH: I work on several projects at once, often out of necessity, as sometimes the project I am working on is in another part of the world. I have an ongoing project about growing up at the Gardner Museum in Boston, which I am still researching and shooting when I can get back there. I am also creating more images for Story Lines, and will be photographing for that project in Europe this spring.
DH: Do you ever have creative blocks and if so, how do you overcome them?
SH: Honestly, I don’t ever have creative blocks. I often have too many ideas and feel there are many directions the work could go in, and sometimes finding the path to the heart of a project can be challenging. My work often takes many years to complete, but I’ve learned if I just keep showing up for the muse, eventually it will flow.
DH: What was the starting point for the project Story Lines?
SH: The project was borne out of my love of Italian and French films from the 60s, which were shot in black and white on the street, and which often portrayed strong female characters. Many years ago, I had a friend who printed stills from her experimental films and the way the overlapping frames created surreal and dreamy images really resonated with me. I have always been curious about the intersection of the past and present, so, it seemed natural to begin compositing photographs from my archives. I was interested in creating cinematic stories of women in a moment of contemplation or transformation, as well as examining their interior thoughts and desires. Through multiple images, the work visually tries to show the gaps and fragments of memory and I often use nature to bridge the outside and interior world.
DH: What is next for you?
SH: I am thrilled to finally be heading back to Europe this spring, where I will be exhibiting Story Lines at the Milan Photo Fair. I will also be shooting and preparing for a solo show of this work at the Richard Levy Gallery this fall. In between, I’ll return to Boston to continue photographing and researching my project about growing up at the Gardner Museum.
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