"[P]oetry makes nothing happen: it survives, / [...] a way of happening, a mouth." -W. H. Auden

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Featured Artist: Meghan Rand

(1) from "Perceptions" © Meghan Rand

Meghan Rand is a photographer who lives in California. She was born in Boston and grew up in Virginia and North Carolina, but found her home in San Francisco, where she has resided for the last 7 years. You can see all of Meghan's photographs and purchase prints at her website: http://www.meghanrand.com/

*Note: The numbers in brackets ( ) in the captions of the photographs featured here have been assigned simply for ease of reference and are not titles.

"Everything Has Beauty": An Interview with Photographer Meghan Rand

Luke Hankins: Hi, Meghan. Thank you for agreeing to be my first “Featured Artist”! I primarily want to showcase your fine photographs, but I thought it might also be interesting to discuss your work a bit. The first thing I’d like to ask you about is what I might call a painterly quality in your photographs. You have an ability to find accidental phenomena that bear the hallmarks of aesthetic intentionality and design. Photographs (1), (5), (7), and (13) are good examples of what I mean. Is this a conscious, intentional effort on your part? If so, what is the significance for you of this approach? Or, if it is not a conscious effort, what might be the significance of the unconscious tendency?

Meghan Rand: Yes, I would say that the approach is intentional. My conscious mind is always looking for something in my everyday world that is beautiful in an unexpected way. It’s like discovering a painting that nature already created and all I do is document it. The photographs you referenced are all of rust—rusty water, rusty sidewalk, rusted paint scrape, rusted metal. Rust is in fact a paint created naturally by the elements. Photograph (13) is called “Rust Fern” and I noticed it in a parking garage near my office. If you can picture a big metal recycling bin, the “fern” has been created by a truck that has backed into the same spot over and over to transport or empty the bin. The first time I saw it, I smiled, and took its picture.

(2) from "Perceptions" © Meghan Rand 
(3) from "Perceptions" © Meghan Rand 

LH: I’m curious about your techniques and the equipment you use. Are all of your photos digital, or do you sometimes use film? Does the process of taking photographs differ greatly for you, depending on which equipment you’re using at the time? You have a series of photographs called eyePhotos, for instance, which were all taken with the camera on your iPhone (see (8), (9), (13), and (14)). What is it that you find interesting about using this relatively unsophisticated tool?

MR: These days, I shoot almost exclusively digital. I would be delighted to continue with some film projects sometime soon. I have really enjoyed using my Holga and Rollieflex medium format cameras, as well as photographing with my 4x5 large format camera, but getting to do a film project is more of a special treat than a daily reality due to cost.

Without a doubt, the process of how I take photographs differs depending on which equipment I am using. Photographing with my iPhone has been the most liberating experience and one that has reinvigorated my love of photography and my prolificacy. The easiest way I can explain is that shooting with an unsophisticated tool, as you put it, helps me get out of my own way. I don’t have to make many choices about how to take the picture (the aperture, shutter speed, focal length, etc.); I just see, aim, and click. The options presented to a photographer with sophisticated camera equipment can be overwhelming and in my case, stifling, as I am still in the learning stage with professional-level gear.

I must mention that the support of my friends on Facebook has provided the most amazing encouragement, and I owe much of the momentum of my recent work to that blessed social networking tool. Who could’ve guessed? I am extremely grateful.

LH: You say that with your iPhone you "don’t have to make many choices about how to take the picture" and that you "just see, aim, and click." This makes me wonder about your view of photography as an art form. Where does the "art" reside, in your opinion? Is it in the steps the photographer takes to capture the photograph (which you intentionally minimize with the iPhone)? Is it in the act of seeing, of noticing, itself? Is it the documentation? Part of what I'm wondering is whether you view photography as an art in the same way as other mediums (painting, writing, sculpting).

MR: I think the art has to reside in the end result—the photograph. If you know absolutely nothing about the photographer, the photographer’s training, the camera used, the amount of Photoshop applied, the lighting techniques employed, etc., you just have an image in front of you to evaluate. I think perhaps the act of seeing is a talent and the act of making or creating a photograph is the art form. Honestly, I think what is most important is the relationship the photographer has with the work and the process of making it.  So yes, I view photography as an art in the same way as other mediums. 
(4) from "Perceptions" © Meghan Rand  

LH: When did you first begin taking photographs? When did you begin to conceive of it as a serious artistic endeavor, and what were your life circumstances at that time?

MR: I have been fascinated by photography since I was a little girl and the miracle of picture-taking has captured my imagination ever since. In a way, every photograph is a performance that lasts forever. You can ask my mother—I always wanted photographs taken at every birthday party, recital, or new outfit. I think by 6th grade, I was always the one with the camera. Documenting my life seemed like a necessity and I diligently created albums for each school year. Having pictures seemed like proof of being alive, having friends, getting older, and achieving goals. Re-viewing them over the years was like re-telling the stories of my life—those based on reality or fantasy, depending on which construct was needed at the time. 

My gut answer to your question about when I first conceived of photography as a serious artistic endeavor is when I was 14. I wouldn’t have articulated that way then—and perhaps a more appropriate response would be in college when I got awarded a fellowship and had a solo show in a gallery—but my relationship to photography struck deep at the age of 14 because I desperately needed an outlet for exploring my identity as a teenager. Taking photographs was how I made sense of the world and I knew that I wanted to be able to communicate my view through the art of photography. It is that connection to photography that has sustained me ever since. Paradoxically, this deep connection has both fueled and hindered my artistic successes. So many artists get blocked from doing the thing they love most because of internal pressures that say they must be successful to be an artist. For example, I had long held the belief that I had to own professional, expensive camera equipment to take “real” photographs and to make money off them. As I mentioned earlier, using the iPhone and iPhone applications helped me get out of my own way by simplifying the process of creating art. Then Facebook simplified the process of sharing my art, which led to me landing my own show in a café, and thus, selling my work.

LH: Can you describe the primary appeal for you of the medium of the camera? What is it that attracts you to photography?

MR: Its immediacy. It brings me into direct and instant involvement with something. This gives rise to a sense of urgency and excitement, and makes me feel truly alive. Seeing all types of artwork can create a similar effect, but the act of photographing provides an experience like no other for me. Almost at the same time, I am having a clear perception of some phenomenon in the world and creating art from it. With digital technology, seeing the result is instantaneous and being able to share what I see is deeply gratifying.

(5) from "Perceptions © Meghan Rand 

(6) from "Perceptions" © Meghan Rand

(7) from "Perceptions" © Meghan Rand

LH: How do you go about taking photographs? Do you set apart time to go out and work, or do you carry your camera(s) with you and take a more unplanned approach?

MR: Some of the photographs you have showcased for this interview were taken during what I call “Artist’s Walks” where I deliberately walk down the street in a purely visually receptive frame of mind. The black and white photographs of the dunes were taken during a contemplative photography workshop in Colorado using the same philosophy. Many of the photographs I take also happen spontaneously during everyday life—like (8), which I took while standing at the bus stop bored, waiting, so I look up and see how the sun happens to be blocked by the street lamp. That’s awesome, I think to myself, and click. Now armed with my iPhone, I am always prepared to take a picture.

(8) from "Perceptions" © Meghan Rand

(9) from "Urban Meditation" Meghan Rand

(10) from "Perceptions" 
© Meghan Rand

LH: I’ve noticed several strong tendencies in your work: finding vivid colors ((9) and (6)), capturing regular geometric forms ((2) and (3)), and documenting diverse effects of light ((4), (8), (9), (11), and (14)), not to mention the tendency to find accidental phenomena that appear to have aesthetic intentionality, which I mentioned in my first question. Do you have an idea of how these tendencies have developed in your work over time? Have you noticed them?

MR: For sure—I mentioned in my last answer that I had participated in a contemplative photography workshop in Colorado. Back in 2000, I heard about Miksang Photography, a philosophy of photography that was born out of the tradition of Shambhala and Dharma Art teachings of the late meditation master, artist, and scholar Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. I have participated in several workshops with his student, Michael Wood, over the last 10 years. These teachings have contributed greatly to how I see the world and how I photograph. Some of the first lessons centered around looking specifically for color, light, texture. You can send your readers to http://miksang.com/miksang.html for more information on this wonderful practice.

(11) from "Dunes" 
© Meghan Rand

(12) from "Dunes" 
© Meghan Rand

LH: Finally, can you describe what your ambition is regarding your photographs? What do you hope they do or demonstrate? What do you most hope to accomplish when you take a photograph?

MR: What I most hope to accomplish? I just want to share what I see. I want to see something in my world that makes me stop, and slow down, and appreciate the beauty that is all around me, and in those unexpected places. I seem to be pulling this off so far, so maybe my ambition is to share it with more people.

LH: Thank you so much, Meghan! It is always a pleasure for me to see your photographs, and I look forward to seeing your new work as it appears.

MR: Thank you, Luke, for this opportunity to talk about and think about photography, and its role in my life. And thank you for sharing your gift of writing with us all.

Let me leave you with one of my favorite quotes: 

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” –Confucius

(13) "Rust Fern" from "eyePhotos" 
© Meghan Rand

(14) "India Since 1980" from "eyePhotos" 
© Meghan Rand


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. @ Luke great interview and @Meghan congrats for your work. Bruno, one of your numerous FB friends