Photographer Ashleigh Coleman studied Art History at the University of South Carolina. She focuses her lens on the areas surrounding of her home in Mississippi as well as the old, unknown roads of her travels hoping to "defamiliarize" her eyes and see things in new light. Her work often includes humans filling a role in the landscape around them.
How did your interest in your medium begin and how did you arrive at your current style?
Since high school, photography has been part of my life to varying degrees. In the last three years I returned to shooting film, which slows me down and causes me to be more in tune with what I am photographing. What remains constant whether I am shooting digital, film, or using my iPhone, is the desire to really see the world around me. I feel like I will never be able to save all the old buildings, but I can love them and give them another life through the lens of the camera. To go back to the question, my style, whatever it is, stems from a deep-seated desire to see afresh, to bring to life again, to love the unlovely--that desire has remained constant over the years.
How do you feel about the relationship of an artist to their city or surroundings?
How is an artist not impacted by their visual landscape? We are visual creatures! For me, I have begun to notice that when I become obsessed with a certain topic (which right now is the town in which I live) and as I explore that topic over a period of time, what I photograph shifts and changes--the vision is honed and refined and purged. Right now, I am someone who has to spend months or years with one subject. It is like Annie Dillard writes in Teaching A Stone to Talk, "I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you." Limp, but still very awake and watchful.
How do you choose your subjects?
To be honest, I don't know that I do choose my subjects. It is cliche, I know, but I feel like as I observe and look around and just live, there will be something that jumps out at me--the dappled light in a forest, the decay of an abandoned house, the changing seasons around an old church, the evolution of a small town, a look one of my kids gives me. I realize that I photograph the things and people I live with in order to see and to remember.
Who have been some of your biggest influences or your best teachers?
My biggest influences--the usual suspects--Annie Dillard, Cormac McCarthy, and Russian authors like Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn, to name two. Then there is Cy Twombly, Anselm Kiefer, Andy Goldsworthy, Wolfgang Laib, and Rembrandt.
Where do you go to draw inspiration?
Inspiration is drawn from traveling to a new place or just exploring a road in my area that I've never driven down before. I also derive inspiration from visiting art museums and galleries, as well as from reading books.
Do you feel creatively satisfied?
Yes. Yes, I do feel creatively satisfied, but that doesn't mean I am not pushing myself to continue growing and learning.
Tell me about a recent, current, or upcoming project or exhibition.
Several years ago, a man named Doc passed away suddenly. I regret that I never overcame my fear, that I never photographed him. It made me realize that our town is changing rapidly, though it might not seem like it to someone who speeds past; to them we are just another dead Southern hamlet. Things are happening, though. Buildings are disappearing and new ones are appearing. People are dying and new ones are moving in. Small businesses are opening. It isn't much. Yet. Things are shifting. To honor those who came before, those like Doc who told stories of Elvis playing a show here, I want to see this place.