Unedited conversations between artist in a productive critique discovering thesis and processes behind the work.
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Ramos: thank you for joining me
Ramos: so tell me a bit about your current residency
Schneider: Right now I'm at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, NY. It's an old residency – there are only 12 artists and writers here now, very quiet.
Ramos: i feel like it is related to this piece
Schneider: Yes, definitely. Yaddo has long been a haven for writers – there are rooms in the main guest nick-named after the famous writers who have spent time there, like the Sylvia Plath room.
Ramos: and you mentioned in a previous exchange that there were mandatory quiet times
Schneider: Yes, quiet hours are around the clock, save for 4-10pm, which includes the group dinner. It's different from other residencies I've been to, where there's more of an open-door understanding.
I like it, though – there is no pressure to be anywhere but your studio, alone and thinking. So rare!
Ramos: completely aligned and perfect successor of the Reading Women project - as if you are now experiencing everything you filmed and photographed
Reading Women, 2014
Felecia reading Malala Yousafzai (I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, 2013)
Schneider: Ha! That is definitely the ideal – not always the case. But certainly, making my Reading Women project grew out of the desire of wanting to have those rare moments of deep concentration that one can experience while reading (or writing, or making art, etc.)
Ramos: the portraits in Reading Woman capture a sense of quiet, calmness, serenity, peace, and although the lighting, the context, the comfort of the reader all plays into it... perhaps simply watching someone read has that effect on the psyche
Schneider: Totally. There is something really intimate about watching another person read. Asking people to let me be in the room with them while they read for two hours was a real luxury
The way I think about what is happening internally, though, is sort of the opposite of peacefulness – I'm interested in how the sitter is engaged in something potentially powerful, transformative, strange. In a way that is barely visible, or belied by the stillness somehow.
Ramos: did you ever film yourself reading?
Schneider: I did, actually, film myself reading – but I won't include it as part of the project. I wanted to first see if it would be a horrible thing to ask a person to do: to sit and read for two hours. Doing it myself, in my own studio, was a test to see if it would even work – I found myself really relishing that time.
Ramos: so after experiencing both, that is being the reader, feeling the transformation with you, and simultaneously capturing yourself transform... you set out to acquire other's transformation
the transformation is so subtle and elegant you almost have to be aware that transformation is what you are looking for
i wonder if there is a way to compress that experience
Schneider: That's an interesting way of thinking about it – I was most curious about finding moments of deep immersion, which are rare in our culture.
The reason I asked people to sit for so long – two hours – was to give them the time to become immersed in the text, but to also get used to the somewhat unnatural scenario of me also being in the room pointing two cameras at them (as quietly as possible). Eventually losing awareness of me, the camera, and their pose.
Ramos: so there are two things (1) deep immersion and (2) transformation
i can identify deeply with the latter
after i finish a book i am a different person
even after two hours of reading
and if there was a way to capture that, it would be phenomenal
and you do
however time is a constraint
Schneider: I love what you're saying – and if I'm understanding you correctly, yes, it ends up being all about time. I don't know if it's possible to condense this experience without factoring in time.
Ramos: capturing the essence of immersion was very successful and that's done, that's the piece as we know it
and it's beautiful and makes me, the viewer, feel a sense of complete satisfaction and comfort from the reader just sitting there... which is fascinating because without the book, sitting there would feel perhaps anxious or awkward
without knowing i am also traveling the pages, because the reader is so immersed
Schneider: Completely. The motif of the reader has long been a subject in portraiture – think of Mary Cassatt's work, for example. At the time she was painting, 140 years or more ago, depicting a woman reading was one of the few genres available for women artists. It's a way to see someone in a natural, unguarded state.
Woman Reading in a Garden, 1880
Ramos: right, through photography you did that successfully
now about this concept of transformation
that could be interesting moving forward - for me - if only for the sake of this conversation
how would you capture this transformation more successfully, more calculatingly
this has a lot of consequences
Schneider: I was just reading an excerpt from a Virginia Woolf text last night – she was trying to describe what thinking looked like. And she likened it to watching a fisherwoman.
There isn't much to see externally – an intellectually transformative experience just looks like stillness.
Unless maybe something is revealed when we're watching really closely – it's possible to see "micro-expressions" as Deleuze called them in Cinema One, talking about the close-up, or affection-image, the face.
I'm curious what other kinds of transformation you are interested in seeing, and how there might be risks involved to find them.
Ramos: there are many ways to focus, many lenses
as artist we have the freedom to distort or crop as much as we'd like in order to bring something of interest to the surface
just like you decided to use a camera to capture the subtleties of reading, to have the viewer focus on a sense of immersion
there are more extremes methods of distortion that would exaggerate the sense of transformation
micro-expression is definitely one of them
speeding up the time might be another
capturing the excitement of the summary after a reading
measuring and mapping the emotional trajectory of the reader
cropping features of the reading, which might be related to the micro-expression
juxtaposing or collaging features of the reader
i'm not entirely sure
but i wouldn't loose the elegance and intimacy you have acquired already
all that is very powerful and should not be lost
but there is room to experiment and get dirty before deciding on a final product
Schneider: Ha! That's great. These are all fascinating ideas – and I think, in my work, I usually err on the side of naturalism, or flat-footedness really.
I love the idea of capturing something transformative, even magical, but with really simple methods, and obvious means/processes.
So not to enhance the experience theatrically, but to let it unfold as we might stumble upon it in the world.