Brea Souders is an artist based in New York City. She has held solo exhibitions of her work at Daniel Cooney Fine Art and Abrons Arts Center in NYC, and has participated in group exhibitions at the Hyères International Festival of Photography & Fashion, France, Camera16 Contemporary Art, Milan and the Center for Photography at Woodstock, New York. Souders’ artwork has been featured in New York Magazine, Vice, Dear Dave and Creative Review, and she has photographed for the New York Times, Marie Claire, WSJ Magazine, and L’Officiel Art.
No. 1, 2012 from the series Film Electric
© Brea Souders
Arianne Di Nardo: What fascinates me most about your new series, Film Electric, is that the image-making process seems to enact the constructive nature of memory itself; more specifically the coding, storage and retrieval of information. Can you describe how you created these images?
Brea Souders: After shooting film for ten years, I’ve accumulated a lot unusable film – bracketed exposures, awkward compositions, experiments gone awry, victims of mechanical errors and light leaks. I began to clean up my archives, cutting up these cast-off pieces of film into a pile, intending to throw them away. I cut the pieces onto a plastic film sleeve and as I went to toss the first pile into the wastebasket, I noticed that several pieces of film still clung to the plastic.
I liked the way that this unknown variable (static electricity) held certain bits and pieces of my life together in an unpredictable way. I think memory often behaves this way – with fragments coming into focus and converging with others. This was how the project began. I scatter pieces of film that I’ve cut up over larger pieces of acetate that I cut into various shapes. The acetate is rubbed against a hard surface to create a static cling, and then I lift the sheets up to hang against a wall and photograph it. Pieces of film fall to the ground, and the remaining pieces will sometimes rearrange themselves – some pieces are attracted to one another while others are repelled.
No. 2, 2012 from the series Film Electric
© Brea Souders
AD: The idea of being repelled to a memory is interesting. Maybe because of their geometric nature, but the images seem to be structured considerably by what’s not there, physically and psychically. So the repelling kind of performs itself. Was absence a concept that you wanted to play with?
BS: I noticed that when you physically cut into pieces of film, only a small amount of each frame contains any recognizable imagery. Mostly, you get snippets of color, textures, a flash of light, or an isolated object. Impressions. I feel that memory works this way also, with the bulk of our complex experiences getting lost in a sea of much more basic sensory remembrances. Only certain slices come forward, and they intertwine with a lot of smaller sensory memories tied to color, light, or shape. An entire day can be remembered as the way that the light caught someone’s hair, the peculiar pattern on a guitar strap, the shape of the moon that night, and so on.
AD: Several of your earlier works project, in my opinion, a sort of active silence. What role does absence have in your practice, broadly speaking?
BS: I’d say that much of my work deals in some way with the idea that nothing is fully knowable. Another way of saying that is that in the context of my images, unknowability isn’t just a steering principle, it’s a physically manifest factor. There are things left out not because they don’t belong, but because the harmony of the piece calls for their absence. I find that honoring absence creates a dynamic that mirrors how I think things really are. Having control over an entire world, as I do with an image, the tendency might be to create the thing as I’d ideally like it to be. Complete. Or, “complete.” But my preference is to have it, even when surreal in appearance, mirror the rules of the real world. Even if it means I’m left grasping in darkness in a metaphorical room of my own construction. Where there isn’t a light switch. Or there is, but it doesn’t work. Or it only works intermittently. Or it used to work but we don’t know if it will again. Illumination isn’t guaranteed.
Dark or light, we do of course try to understand everything. To make it all add up. But it never will, and that’s what’s reflected by such absences.
No. 4, 2012 from the series Film Electric
© Brea Souders
No. 5, 2012 from the series Film Electric
© Brea Souders
AD: What are your thoughts on the relationship between memory and photography?
BS: Though I tend not to use the camera as a purely documentary tool, the more loss that I’ve experienced in life the greater importance I put on photography’s ability to record a moment in time. For me, a photograph captures an impression, which can create a circuit into the memory bank in your brain, and then who knows what will emerge from that connection. It rarely makes a single precise link, but I find a photograph can act as a kind of springboard into a larger pool of interconnected memories.
AD: I admire your inquiry on the relationship between chance and (dis)harmony, the intuitive relinquishing to unknowability. I think Film Electric can be framed within a larger trajectory, inspired by the early 20th century avant-garde. Photography has always had a tumultuous marriage with Truth, and beyond that, with Control. How does your practice relate to these themes? Is it something that you consciously explore, or an element that tends to reveal itself by default?
BS: For me, intuition and control are highly related non-opposites. When I use intuition purely, I see it as a weak control. Then there’s deliberate and mentally active control, which is a strong control, where I am actively making decisions and involving myself in the minutiae of the fate of an image. So they are both measures of direction. But the difference is the intuitive, like you said, can relinquish more easily to unknowability.
So while some people might start with intuition and then exercise control, I’m more likely to exercise strong control at the start, then allow my intuitions to take over. From there, I allow myself to relinquish the weak control of that intuition and see where an image will progress. It’s a way of allowing the work to exist in the intellectually demilitarized zone between making things and helping things make themselves. And much like the strong control, the weak control, and no control, the acceptance of which is a kind of submission to unknowability, my exploration of these themes are at times deliberate and blindsiding.
No. 6, 2012 from the series Film Electric
© Brea Souders
AD: From your description of the creative process, I imagine there was much movement involved; it sounds almost like a charged dance. Do you consider this work performative?
BS: Definitely. Though there is movement on my end as well, I feel like a spectator in the process – watching some pieces of film float to the ground, and the others dance together in a some times
frenetic way, other times quietly. It’s fascinating thing to witness. I think I put the performance in motion by getting all the elements together. And then time and chance and energy take over.
No. 13, 2012 from the series Film Electric
© Brea Souders