Brittany Marcoux in Conversation with Douglas Breault
Playing is just as essential for adults as it is for children. Brittany Marcoux’s new series of photographs is an adventure with her children to document and translate a youthful awe of exploration. Riddled with excitement and playful expressions of love, Marcoux combines formal precision in black and white photography with the spirited intervention of her imaginative children’s mark-making. The works are fertile with possibility and personality that delve into the joy of observing the world that typically fades away into adulthood. The landscapes illustrated in the images aren’t grand but rather suggest elusive corners of a backyard or humble walking trails that are framed to be expansive in their potential. Marcoux’s images are a refreshing encouragement to get lost for a bit, wherever that might be within reach.
The intervention of saturated lines and shapes layered into the images, often straying off of the boundaries of the image itself, stimulates a tactile recollection of childhood. Imagination abounds through their family encounters with sticks, dirt, and water to offer landscapes of possibility. A found stick can become a wand for enchantment, a banal structure instead can be a castle, or a simple pond imagined to house mermaids and magic through the unvarnished eyes of a child. Marcoux’s collaboration with her children encourages mindfulness of the world. The marks feel like a lesson in spontaneity and wonder instructed by Marcoux’s children. The scribbles and broad, sweeping strokes of color gleam with uninhibited enthusiasm, showcasing how photographs can be a tool for seeking optimism despite an undeniable state of chaos and stress that is stagnant in the country.
Your new work includes creative input from your two daughters, how did your understanding of photography change after starting this approach?
Yes, my daughters have a heavy hand in my art practice at the moment. This body of work sort of spiraled out of our quiet Covid days when we would go on many walks through our local wooded areas and nature preserves. I was making these black and white images with a then three-old, stumbling and pausing through the trails, and a newborn strapped to my chest. It was a slow process. If you’ve ever been on a walk with a toddler, you know that a 20-minute loop can easily turn into an hour or so, haha. Between snack breaks, collecting sticks/rocks, lots of dawdling, tripping over roots, picking flowers – hiking with toddlers is a process, but all joking aside, it allowed me to also look more deeply and closely at the natural world around us. The more time we spent together in the woods, the more I started to notice patterns, marks, and traces that I may have passed by before. Sticks and Stones became about mark-making: the marks we can find out in the world, but also the marks we leave behind as well, directly and indirectly. Before I had my kids, my approach to making photographs was very different…it was not so casual or spontaneous. Each image was premeditated; I had a list or a map and I found exactly what I was searching for…and if I didn’t, I created the image in my studio. I am not so sure that my understanding of photography has changed since I began making this series with them, but it has reinforced what I have always felt: there are many ways to create a photograph or a series of works and, for me at this moment, it’s ok to let my life dictate what that process may look like. Sometimes it’s going on long walks with your daughters and your camera and sometimes it is…x-y-z.
What inspires the subjects in your photographs, and what inspires your daughters in the images?
I speak a bit about my inspirations for making the photographs in the previous question – natural interactions, marks on the earth traces left behind – are the visuals that I am drawn to and documenting on our walks. Once I edit and print the images, I hand the stack of prints over to my daughters, who are now 2 and 5. I leave them at the table with brightly colored Tempera Paint Sticks, Oil Pastels, some markers and let them make their marks upon the 8×10 prints. It is funny to think about what inspires them because I try my best to leave my influence out of this step and let them work freely on their own. While watching them, I often think about the marks they will make and I am almost never accurate in my predictions, haha, which is what I think makes them so exciting for me. I am like “Wow, I would have never done that”…kids just have a different way of making associations – their minds are still so pure, spontaneous, and unpredictable…I love it! One of my favorite pieces from the series is Sticks and Stones, #11, which is the one of the snake in the grass. My older daughter chose two colors to “outline” around the snake to highlight it, but in doing so she created a new image consisting of three snakes instead of one. I just couldn’t have created this image on my own. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, she sometimes does something so simple, like re-tracing the horizontal tree branch in Sticks and Stones, #7…reiterating the reason I took the photograph in the first place. It really is a fun collaboration from start to finish. My only intervention in the process is regarding color choices and duration. I limit which colors I put on the table, and I interject when I think the piece is done…otherwise it may turn into an illegible scribble mess haha, especially with my two-old.
Photographs are direct connections to memory, what do you hope these photographs will mean to you in the future?
For sure. Well, I think these images will serve my memory in two ways and, hopefully, my kids as well. An original memory from these walks we go on and these quiet times that we spend together as a family…brief moments stepped away from technology, work, school, and all of life’s daily responsibilities. It is also interesting because I will always know that many of these images started during a global pandemic, but they will really have no memory of this life altering event at all. They will look back at these images and only think of them as ‘walks in the woods’ or ‘local adventures’. I hope to also look back on these images, with their childlike drawings on top, and feel grateful that we got to make something together and they enjoyed doing it as much as I did. I think photographs also have the power to bring you back to a certain time and place…and for me this work will always bring me back to the house we live in now, the coffee table in which they do all of their crafts on, and this feeling of holding on to these fleeting moments. I am a pretty nostalgic person, haha, so it will probably hit pretty hard.
Do you remember your first connection or attraction to photography? How has it changed or stayed the same over time?
When I was a kid, I was gifted a polaroid camera for Christmas one year…I was maybe 10 or so. I remember setting up scenes with my family dog at the time, dressing her up and making her pose and whatnot, haha, silly stuff, but I remember really enjoying it. After that, I always had fun with disposable cameras, video cameras, low-fi digital cameras and such…but, it wasn’t until I was about 18, so a bit of a late-starter. I was at a Barnes and Noble and I stumbled across David Hilliard’s newly published book and it sort of changed my whole trajectory. I was just about to graduate from high school and for the first time I knew what I wanted to do. I wrote to Hilliard and asked about his camera and process and he wrote back a really thoughtful email explaining large format photography processes, which I had never even heard of at the time. The way I make work now is so different from those two major influences (my polaroid/old dog and David Hilliard), but it was always more about this excitement of seeing and being able to make something new and different that has inspired me. Something that didn’t exist before, but now could. That is what I loved and continue to love about photography.
Brittany Marcoux is a photographer and visual artist from Massachusetts. In 2016 she received her MFA in photography from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She has exhibited at the Danforth Art Museum in Framingham, MA, AS220 in Providence, RI, §üb∫amsøn, Aviary Gallery, and Nave Gallery in Boston, MA, The Newport Art Museum in Newport, RI, and The Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, CO. Awards include the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship for Photography, The Blanche E. Colman Award, and the INFOCUS Sidney Zuber Photography Award Honorable Mention.
Follow Brittany Marcoux on Instagram: @brittanymarcoux
Douglas Breault is an interdisciplinary artist who overlaps elements of photography, painting, sculpture, and video to merge spaces both real and imagined. His work has been collected, published, and exhibited nationally and internationally, including at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Czong Institute for Contemporary Art (South Korea), Space Place Gallery (Russia), the Bristol Art Museum, the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts, Amos Eno Gallery, and VSOP Projects. Breault has been an artist in residence at MassMoca and AS220 and was awarded the Montague Travel Grant to study in London and Paris in 2017. Douglas is a professor of art at Babson College and Bridgewater State University, and he has been a guest critic at MassArt, Wellesley College, Kansas City Art Institute, and the Slade College of Art, among others. Douglas is the Exhibitions Director at Gallery 263 in Cambridge, MA. He received his MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University and a BA in Studio Art from Bridgewater State University, and he currently divides his time between Boston, MA, and Providence, RI.
Follow Douglas Breault on Instagram: @dug_bro
Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.
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