How do you choose your subjects?
I have always been drawn to delicate, fragile objects. I strongly believe that fragility is something that almost everyone and everything has in common and that it is an aspect of life we can share with each other. Objects that are delicate, disposable or breakable often inspire me the most. Before coming to grad school, I was mostly interested in taking photos of objects, and now I am actually interested in collecting the objects themselves and analyzing how they record and pick up information.
With the basketball net work in particular, I chose it because I wanted to make work about Baton Rouge but in a less direct way. I feel like I am connecting with the community here more by visiting public schools and parks and asking if I can switch out their old net for a new one. This project forces me to engage with people who I wouldn’t normally cross paths with. It is a chance for me to interact with communities outside the university that I have not had before.
How do you feel about the relationship of an artist to their city or surroundings?
I would never say that my work is documenting a place in a traditional sense. But I do like to think that the place I am in and where I have been come through in my work. It is an important part of my practice to feel engaged with where I am. My net trades and basketball photographs have really forced me to look around and study the landscape, going into parts of Baton Rouge I have never been to. More and more I have realized how important engagement is, whether it is listening, reading, or looking hard.
Who have been some of your biggest influences or your best teachers?
Artists I admire from afar include Carrie Mae Weems, Alfredo Jaar and Doris Salcedo. I appreciate how all three of them are constantly learning new skills to make each body of work they take on. They are not medium-specific but deal with each project, idea, or issue individually.
As far as teachers go, before I started grad school, I had a very traditional sense of what a photograph should look like. Kristine Thompson, my main graduate advisor at LSU, really encouraged me to think of both my production and treatment of photographs in a more creative way than I was used to. This is when I started appropriating imagery and also focusing on different objects that record information about a place, even if they are not “photographs” in a common sense, like a basketball net. My time so far in grad school has allowed me to think of studying photography not only resulting in my own images but looking at other people’s images as hard and as closely as I can.
Do you have a creative or artistic group in your area that you are a part of?
The LSU graduate art community is a small but wonderful, supportive community to be a part of, both inside the classroom and outside. The program here encourages cross-discipline work and the students are often collaborating and building off each other’s mediums. Baton Rouge is a strange place to move to, and it is easy to be reminded that you are not from this area originally. Working so closely with other grads from all over the country can make that adjustment easier.
Are there any aspects of the southern aesthetic that you embrace or ones you consciously avoid?
I try not to take any photographs (or show any work) that are visuals I would have associated with Louisiana before moving here. So nothing too cliché, or based on stereotypes around Mardi Gras, crawfish boils, shotgun houses, swamps. I try and interact with this place but apply my own interests and experience to it so it is more of a collaboration between me and Baton Rouge. I am also very aware that I am not from here and hesitate about making any blanket statements about what Baton Rouge is like.
Just a week before Abigail was scheduled to take over the Instagram account, a 1-in-1,000 year rain event hit southern Louisiana, flooding parts of Baton Rouge and catastrophically inundating several smaller communities and parishes surrounding the metro area. It is some of the worst flooding the area has ever seen. Smithson shared some images she took of people drying out photographs, scrapbooks, and other important family items during her week. - Ed.
I never know whether it is right or wrong to document the suffering or devastation of someone else. It is an ongoing question that is in the back of my head always. Baton Rouge has been torn apart this summer by systematic racism, violence and what feels like endless amounts of water. As an artist, I struggle with when it is my place to document and when it is time to bear witness and help, and where the balance is between.