Meet the Photographer: Liz Sales


Liz Sales


Liz Sales is an artist, writer, and teacher with a BA from Evergreen State College and an MFA from ICP-Bard College. Her background as motion picture camera technician endorses her work, as she deals primarily with the relationship between technology and perception. Liz currently lives and works in New York City.


How did you begin your career in photography? At what point did you start creating cameras? 

I took my first photography class as a teenager. Our teacher had each of us construct a pinhole camera out of an oatmeal tin. After that, I began building cameras compulsively and, for a period of time, my life was full of mint tins, shoeboxes, and coffee bean containers—all in different stages of becoming cameras.

What is the process of creating handcrafted cameras?

I use a somewhat haphazard form of trial and error. The camera used to shoot the series Marbleoptics was built out of two copies of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and recycled camera parts, including a lens plate that holds a half-inch marble. The images I shot with the earliest incarnation of this camera were totally abstract—magnifications of a tiny fraction of the marble’s interiors, the marble guts. It took me months of testing and tweaking the camera before I got discernable images, but I enjoy the testing and tweaking.

What inspired you to make cameras that use marbles as lenses?

I was considering making lenses out of found objects when I rediscovered a small collection of marbles among my old childhood things. They seemed perfect. I wanted to make images that incorporated optical mark making; these marbles had aberrations and iridescent coatings that I thought might be interesting.

Please describe your course “How to Make Anything into a Camera” at ICP.

“How to Make Anything into a Camera” is a two-weekend workshop in June during which each student will build a camera out of an object of his or her choice. The goal is to have fun and send everyone home with a working camera, images shot with that camera and, hopefully, a better understanding of the nature of photography.

What are some interesting objects you can make cameras out of?

You can make a camera from anything that is (or can be made) light-tight and big enough to hold a piece of film or an electronic image sensor. You can even turn a person into a camera. Ann Hamilton constructed an apparatus that transforms her mouth into a camera. She uses her lips as a shutter.

When did you make the switch from traditional cameras?

I’ve never stopped shooting with commercially made cameras. I shoot with my mother’s old Nikon F3, a 4x5 Metal Field Camera, and a DSLR. Sometimes, I even take pictures with my phone.

Why did you start making your own cameras?

I think I like the idea that cameras are not exclusively commodities; all things possess the potential to become cameras.

Are there any particular photographer’s works that you like who create images using non-traditional methods?

I’ve always loved Rodney Graham’s work, especially Millennial Project for an Urban Plaza, which exists only on paper as a suggestion for an installation. It’s essentially plans for a camera obscura theatre, showing a newly planted tree that will grow to fill the frame. I adore Fontcuberta. For Landscapes Without Memory, he used computer software designed for the military to render photo-realistic models based on information scanned from two-dimensional sources to interpret masterworks. He chose artists such as Turner, Cézanne, Dalí, as well as close-up images of his body to use as landscapes, transforming them into mountains, forests, and clouds. More recently, I discovered Brandon Ballengée. He collects the bodies of mutant amphibians and brings them back to his studio, where he exposes them to a chemical procedure that he refers to as “clear and stain.” He soaks the frogs and toads in a series of chemicals that adhere to different tissues, making them transparent and revealing their bizarre bone structures.

What advice would you give to an emerging photographer?

I think it is important for us to collaborate both with our peers and with people working in other disciplines. Often, photographers want to keep their techniques and their ideas to themselves or maintain sole authorship over a project. But I have found that when I collaborate with others, we all do more interesting work.

What is your favorite food?

I love the soup-filled dumplings at Grand Sichuan in Chelsea. How do they get soup inside a dumpling? It’s like magic!

How many hours do you sleep at night?

I can function on six hours of sleep, but I’ll sleep for as long as 10 hours when I can get away with it. I love sleeping

Musée Presents: Alan Siegel, Collector