Women Crush Wednesday: Meghan Boody
Meghan Boody takes her viewers on fantastic journeys through uncanny and beautiful worlds. Her photographs tell stories of young women entangled in difficult adventures and predicaments that transform them. Female versions of the male heroic quest, these narratives unfold in a unique mixture of fairy tale, myth and personal memory. Considered a pioneer of digital imaging, Boody composites hundreds of Photoshop layers to make her heroic tableaux. Born in NYC, Boody studied french and philosophy at Georgetown University and received her photographic training while apprenticed to the photographer, Hans Namuth. Recent shows include “Radical Terrain” at the Rubin Museum, NYC “Magical Realism” at the Houston Center for Photography and “Fairy Tales, Monsters and the Genetic Imagination” at the Frist Center for Visual Art. Her work is in important collections including The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Herbert F Johnson Museum at Cornell University and The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania. View more of her work here.
Interview by Jing Zhao
It’s surprising to know that you started making composite photography in the early 1990s. What inspired you to break away from a more traditional form at that time?
I have always been interested in combining imagery from lots of different sources. As a child I would make these tiny cut and paste collages with nail scissors. My first works as an artist involved taking self portraits, cutting myself out and gluing myself into environments and then rephotographing the whole thing. After that, I made light boxes which sandwiched layers of transparent images between sheets of glass. More cutting and pasting, getting everything to line up. By the time Photoshop appeared, I was absolutely exhausted and could not afford NOT to immediately sign on. I was relieved to leave behind all of this painstaking craft (well most of it) and use the extra time for developing my stories and characters.
Let’s talk about the character named Psyche. I note that Psyche appears in three of your series, which are “Psyche and Smut”, “The PsycheSuperstar Oracle” and “Psyche and the Beast”. I am curious, is there a storyline running through them? Could you also talk a little bit more about the specific emotion you want to convey in these series?
Psyche is a personal avatar that I have been working with since 2000. She is my agent out in the field, a fantasy version of myself at different ages that I deploy into fantastical worlds. She undergoes challenging adventures in Psyche and Smut and Psyche and the Beast which together make up the 2-part photo novella, PsycheSuperStar. A combination of self-help primer and David Lynchian odyssey, the coming-of-age story revolves around Psyche's intense relationships. In part I, a naive, 10-year-old Psyche falls in love with her long lost deviant twin sister who leads her astray. In part II, Psyche, now a young woman, is captured and seduced by a lonesome werewolf-like creature who is determined to make her his underground bride. These alternate realities have some metaphoric bearing on my life, whether past or present. Her behavior and actions serve as a kind of test-drive scenario where I get to figure out why certain things happened to me and how to proceed moving forward.
Ultimately, PsycheSuperStar tackles the big questions - how to find selfhood and true love. Whether Psyche succeeds in these life developments depends on her ability to change and adapt. This is the process that fascinates me, how people successfully accomplish these grand, internal metamorphoses. I hope to come close to understanding this mystery as I map out Psyche's dramatic shape shifting from hapless waif into wise and enlightened female super hero. Psyche undergoes many ups and downs along the way, and my plan is that the viewer will come along for the ride, cheering her on and sharing in her emotional reality. So when you ask what specific emotion do I want to convey, I would have to say all of them! The ultimate for me is that my audience has an experience of emotional connectedness.
Psyche travels through strange lands and interacts with equally strange characters. While bizarre, these places and circumstances are meant to also feel familiar. By combining popular allegories of myth and fairy tale (i.e. the werewolf, the winged white horse) with my own personal experience, I aim to tell an accessible story of inner change that everyone can relate to. While I have created my own unique version, the Psyche story has existed in myths starting in the 4th century BC and is the subject of many spin-off fairytales, the newest being Beauty and the Beast. Translated from the Greek, her name means soul and her journey throughout the millennia similarly explores the nature of true love and the trials and initiations inherent in this be-all-end-all emotion.
A student of Freud and Jung, I am fascinated by the process of therapy and the contemporary deluge of self-help gurus and DIY therapeutic cures. PsycheSuperStar is the result of my own personal reaction to this contemporary urge to explore the self and to ultimately self-heal. With this in mind, I am currently developing the PsycheSuperStar Oracle, a deck of Tarot-like cards to be used as a tool for self awareness. The cards feature close-ups and outtakes of my many Psyche shoots and as well as characters and heroines from other series. One of the benefits of having been around the block is that my archive is fat and juicy!
When first going through your work, I am amazed by the distinct quality of your work that beautifully combine the futuristic and the ancient. After that, I stop and start to dig out more and more elements in a particular photograph, which is very engaging. To create a successful composite, it must require you to have complete control over every single aspect, like color, light, composition. So what is your process like?
Yes, the combo of futuristic and ancient elements.... One of my goals is for my images to appear detached from any one period in time. I am interested in exploring the idea that time is synchronous, that everything happens at once, layer upon layer of different eras.
Yes, I do carefully monitor the lighting, the perspective, the draping of the clothes, and especially the relationships between models, the role playing, while I shoot. Getting it right in the camera means less work in post-production. I often photograph my subjects in my studio and then "implant" them into the environment later. But if I'm dealing with a dark, moody interior, I tend to shoot on location. Since it's very hard to get that deeply shadowed, chiaroscuro feel after the fact. But even if all the models are on set, I always move them around later in post anyway. That allows me to get the best shot of each subject and to tweak the composition.
The trick of embedding subjects and objects into environments is getting the gravity right, giving weight to the newly positioned elements. It so easily for it to look flat and pasted. A lot of attention has to be paid to the edges of each merged item. Details like tiny strands of hair and blades of grass help cover the seams and add believability. While it might sound tedious, this is my favorite part. The saying, "the angel is in the details," really applies here. In the end, if I succeed at creating a convincing illusion, it feels like magic to me and that's what I live for.
You are also making sculpture and installation work. It must have been interesting for you, as someone who works so freely and creatively, to discover various materials and express your rich inner self in another form.
I've always been interested in creating these complete worlds that the viewer can enter. Sometimes it feels more immediate for these worlds to exist in 3 dimensions. This prospect feels especially exciting after many long hours of sitting in front of a computer!
Pretty much all of my sculptures are dioramas and many of them are miniatures. This comes in part from being REALLY into my dollhouse as a child. I am still entranced by the through-the-looking-glass portal quality of tiny places. And while it's easier to digitally create a fantastical environment, there is a special voodoo quality to being in the presence of a real habitat, objects housed in objects, that grabs you and pulls you in. I also like offering the viewer the chance to interact with the work. Sometimes a piece will require that the viewer open it in some way. Or the viewer triggers a soundtrack, or in more complicated works, they might be asked to play a game, like a pinball machine. In all of cases, these are simply different ways for my audience to enter into another place and time.
Recently I started making "mood enhancement" kits, collections of very small photographs mounted on pins to be stuck into Victorian pincushions. The viewer can arrange their own mini narrative according to their desired state of mind.
Is there a particular form of art you are interested in, but haven’t explored yet?
My dream gig would be to design environments that offer augmented, immersive experiences, like a haunted house or theme park ride.
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?
How to find your inner avatar.
3. What was the last book you read or film you saw that inspired you?
Currently reading the Magus by John Fowles and Grit, the Power of Grit and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
4. What is your most played song in your music library?
5. How do you take your coffee?
My favorite mood enhancing drug! Has to be organic and blended with melted butter and a big pinch of toxin absorbing clay.