Interview with Paula McCartney (2010 Daylight/CDS Photo Awards)

Interview with Paula McCartney
Juror’s Pick (Darius Himes), Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Work-in-Process Prize

Could you describe your start in photography—how and why you first became interested in making photographs?

It was in my third year of college. I had begun school by studying advertising, but in the second year realized it was too business orientated, and made the switch to study photography. At that point, I’d had a previous interest, but no technical skills. A few years later, I did a full time program at the International Center for Photography in New York City, which was hugely inspiring—my courses were all taught by exhibiting artists living and working in the city. There, photography was discussed as a fine art, and the emphasis was about the content of your work.  It was at this point that I became passionate about and dedicated to being an artist.

Before you moved to Minnesota, had you made images of landscapes or the weather?

I’ve always made images of the landscape. Living in New York City, I decided to make work about what was missing from my life (which, having grown up in a suburb of Kansas City, was the landscape) as opposed to recording my present environment. The land and my experience in it is always something I have considered. I haven’t previously made work about weather. 

Do you consider yourself a landscape photographer?

Yes, but I always add to that my work is about constructed landscapes. Nature—just better. In my last project, Bird Watching, I put craft store songbirds into the landscape and photographed them. I created an idealized environment, one that didn’t exist naturally, where songbirds perfectly decorated the trees, instead of fluttering about in inappropriate compositions. 

In A Field Guide to Snow and Ice, the construction is in how the viewer is presented with the natural forms and the meaning I have given them, both in the title of the project and how the images are juxtaposed within it. The forms that I am photographing are abstracted from the larger landscape, so that the images represent a landscape of my imagination, rather than an accurate depiction of a specific place.

As you are making this work in the field, what are some of the associations that come across your mind?

The associations that I’m making involve the forms of my subject to other forms that I’ve already photographed. For example, I first photographed a waterfall in my neighborhood, Minnehaha Falls, after it froze in the winter. I then went to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico to photograph the stalagmites in the caves. I was fascinated by the fact that the same force—dripping water—formed both structures. However the temporarily frozen waterfall formed in a matter of weeks and the stalagmites accumulated from the calcite in the dripping water over millions of years. When I was in Hawaii photographing calcium deposits on a lava bed, I was thinking how similar it looked to the photographs I had made of snow falling in the night sky. It is the repetition of similar forms, in seemingly opposite environments and how they can be given new meanings depending on juxtaposition that excites me.

Read more about Paula McCartney’s work

CDS undergraduate students Caashia Karringten (Vancouver, British Columbia) and Devin Jones (Potomac, Maryland) conducted this interview as part of the class “Multimedia Documentary” in the fall of 2010.

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