Women Crush Wednesday: Maureen R. Drennan
Since receiving her M.F.A from SVA in 2009, Maureen R. Drennan has been exhibiting her work in galleries and museums including the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, the Tacoma Art Museum Seattle, Washington, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Aperture, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, Colorado Photographic Arts Center, etc. Her photographs have been feature in The New Yorker, The New York Times and California Sunday Magazine. Born and based in New York City, Drennan is passionate about not simply transferring what is visible to her but also looking for creating conversations with viewers through her images. See more of her work here.
Interviewed by Jing Zhao
When going through your work on your website, I am struck by the wonderful rhythmic quality in all your series, which makes me feel like I am reading a little poem. Do you agree that the meaning of a photograph changes when it is set next to another? Could you talk about the significance of it in your work?
Thank you, I’m thrilled that you compare my work to reading a little poem. Literature and poetry inspire me and I would be honored for viewers to experience my work in a poetic way. I absolutely agree that the meaning of an image changes depending on what photograph it is next to. Context is important when we look at and understand visual images. When we look at a photograph, the images next to it will influence it’s meaning and how we interpret it. I am intrigued with creating a mood and establishing a rhythm for the viewer but also leaving things open for interpretation and possibility.
Your project, “Highway to the Sun”, presents your imagination of the trip your stepfather and his friends took in 1951. I absolutely love the idea that you also include the photographs they made in the series. How do you come up with this idea? What role does your memory play in the process?
Photography can be suggestive and illusory. Although called a “mirror with a memory” from its inception in 1839, it has the ability to revise our memories. I have been imagining the adventurous trip my stepfather and his friends made from New Hampshire to Alaska in 1951 when they were young and strong and not worried about anything bad happening to them. They kept a highly detailed log and took photographs along the way. These four young men embodied something that we all crave: individual freedom and independent venture. The ideas of liberation, freedom, a joyful “living in the moment”, moving forward and not looking back are not new concepts, and yet they never get old. Walt Whitman wrote Leaves of Grass in 1855 and writes, “A foot and light-hearted, I take to the open road, Healthy, free, the world before me,” His words are full of possibility and vivid imagery.
I’ve been making my own images based on my fiction and my stepfather’s stories. Can you suggest a story with a photograph and still leave it open for interpretation? Photographs can be like a burst of memory. Not necessarily accurate, but fleeting and vivid.
© Maureen R. Drennan
I remember you mentioned that you love shooting medium format. Could you tell us more about it?
When I started photographing, I was making images with a large format camera (4×5) and as wonderful as that process of image making is, to come off the tripod was liberating. The medium format camera gives me the size and detail of a big negative but allows me to be more spontaneous. I also really enjoy scanning negatives after they have been developed, I listen to music and take my shoes off, I feel like a kid.
Let’s talk about a particular challenge you have met and why.
When I was thinking about my husband and making the series “the sea that surrounds us” it was difficult to start photographing him. He was going through a serious depression and I didn’t want to isolate him further by picking up the camera and photographing him. But once I began taking pictures of him, it felt comfortable and it became part of what we did together.
© Maureen R. Drennan
Would you say that photography is utterly personal?
I think photography is highly subjective yes. When we make a photograph we are always working through our own experience of the world and our experience filters what we see.
1. How would you describe your creative process in one word?
2. If you could teach one, one-hour class on anything, what would it be?
I am not an expert on this but in teaching perhaps I would improve! I would love to teach how to listen and understand people in a deeper way. How to listen to people’s stories, how to understand their experiences.
3. What was the last book you read or film you saw that inspired you?
Currently I’m reading Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and it is excellent, full of vivid imagery. The cinematography in the movie American Honey was also quite inspirational, it has such a dreamy feel.
4. What is your most played song in your music library?
Lust for Life by Iggy Pop, which is actually pretty funny because it fully complements the Highway to the Sun project.
5. How do you take your coffee?
Iced with lots of cream!