I first saw Nadine’s work after Aline Smithson posted a feature of her on Lenscratch back in April. I was immediately blown away by the comedic tones she struck with her images, as well as the insightful commentary she created about an era that’s long gone. I immediately sent her an email and low and behold, she immediately sent one back. I’m proud to present here, as our inaugural post, the work and words of Nadine Boughton.
Gregory Jones: First off, tell us a bit about how you got your start in photography. What inspires you to make images?
Nadine Boughton: My early start in photography came from my father. Rochester, NY was Kodak town and many of the men in my world worked for Eastman Kodak. He brought home cameras and all the film and free processing you could want. My father was an amateur photographer and set up a darkroom in the basement, so it was all waiting for me.
What inspires me to make images is a desire to bring shapes and color into some kind of order that’s pleasing. The frame fascinates me. I am inspired in creating spaces – theater sets with emotional tenor – whether it’s digital collage, self portraiture or cultural landscapes.
GJ: The pictures from your series, “True Adventures” are created through the use of appropriated imagery found in both men’s adventure magazines and Better Homes and Gardens publications from the 50s and 60s. Tell us a bit about your process, and why you decided to combine these graphics in the way that you do.
NB: I am always drawn to the tension of opposites. I made collages using women’s magazines for quite awhile, always introducing images from other sources. When I discovered men’s adventure graphics it was natural to drag them into the space to see what would happen. The series, “True Adventures in Better Homes,” became a collision of opposites. The cool spaces of mid-century homes merged with “sweats,” as these adventure magazines were called.
The domestic and the wild is another polarity in the series. I decided to focus on the wild animal cover art. Something was breaking into the ordered universe of the home and I was curious what that was about. My background is in psychology – what breaks through from the unconscious dream into everyday reality interests me.
In a literal sense, I combine the images in a way that make for believable spaces, or at least hover between the real and unreal. There are no fantastical creatures, no orange cats flying through the space. And the scale is kept, well…true or real.
GJ: When looking at True Adventures, I can’t help but be reminded of Richard Hamilton’s photo collages from the 60s. What’s intriguing to me though, is that the imagery he used was a reflection of his own time, whereas yours seem to be bringing this time period back from the dead.
It wouldn’t be hard to use contemporary imagery to create images like these, so why do you choose to focus on visual mores from the past? Do you think they take on new meaning with the passing of time, or is that not relevant to you?
NB: People often mention Richard Hamilton’s photo collages in reference to mine. I was certainly influenced by his work, as well as all Pop art. For me this time period of the 1950’s and early 1960’s is very much alive in the culture right now. The huge interest in mid-century modern architecture, design, and mores. We are fascinated with Mad Men. We want the lifestyle in Dwell Magazine (some of us.)
And, of course, this material is very much alive in my imagination. This is the period I grew up in so it is layered with memory. Working with this material is a bit like an archeological dig, a slow shift that mirrors my own waking up. It’s partly nostalgia, mixed with a twist of horror. I want to trace that shift in how we were depicted, what messages were encoded, from the post war years to the cultural explosion in the 1960‘s. After that I know what happened.
Using contemporary imagery wouldn’t carry the same memory bank for me. When people who grew up in that period view my work, every detail – the bathroom fixtures, the wallpaper – heightens the experience. I’m sure a younger audience appreciates the work in other ways I can’t quite see. So, they do take on new meaning with the passing of time. More layers are added. For example, I just didn’t see the homoerotic aspect people speak of in relation to this series.
GJ: It goes without saying that these pictures are very funny, and when I think of the fact that your source images come from a time when the Cold War was near its peak they speak to me as a sort of satire of the fear and anxiety that was felt during that era.
I can also read them as satirical representation of the culture of materialism that came of age during the 50s, as if the domestic fashions of time, or of any time really, contain a dark underbelly that dares to be overturned. Please tell us a bit about the role that humor plays in your work, and its importance in some discussions of history and culture.
NB: Humor is a doorway. We laugh and then there’s the moment where we scratch our head and say, “hey wait a minute, there’s more here.” First and foremost, I wanted the images to make people laugh. But I am always interested in the dark underbelly. I am very aware of the fear and anxiety during the Cold War, and the advertising models of “we’re all happy and everything is fine.” I was drawn to the adventure magazines because they showed the dark side. The unconscious is exploding on those pages.
They also consciously play on fears and insecurities. Those banners of text sprawled across the cover seem hilarious now — “The Sex Fakers of Muscle Beach,” “Rugged Men Make for Inadequate Lovers.”
GJ: You grew up in Rochester, NY. How did the tradition and history of photography in Rochester help to shape your understanding of the medium?
NB: I remember going to the George Eastman House as a girl and marveling over the exhibits on the history of photography, with all it’s processes and mechanical devices. I was in awe of that history and felt a part of it – my father photographed as a young man, his grandmother photographed with one of the first Brownie cameras. To me the camera was an instrument of magic that allowed for preserving everyday life. I still feel photography provides an on-going visual memoir, a narrative both personal and universal.
I also felt Eastman’s presence throughout the city in all the philanthropic riches. Of course, George Eastman died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his heart. How’s that for the dark underbelly? I remember being horrified over this story as a child.
GJ: In addition to being an image-maker, you are also an educator. Talk a bit about your philosophy when it comes to teaching. What’s the most important thing you want your students to take away from your class?
NB: My philosophy is that everyone has a voice. Everyone has something to express, a little piece of lived life embellished with their own particular way of seeing. The theme of “play” is important in my teaching. I’ve seen way too many artists lose this quality when they begin to get serious about their work. How do we fool the maker, to come in underneath the radar of the critical mind?
I circled the images from men’s adventure magazines a long while before I could work with them, they frightened me. I want my students to go toward that which lures, frightens, fascinates, repels — and give themselves permission to explore. I want my students to stretch beyond their comfort zone and to feel ecstatic over the possibilities for making. Take the high dive, plunge deep.
GJ: Last but not least, what’s in store for you over the next year, photographically or otherwise?
NB: Most immediate is a show of this series, “True Adventure in Better Homes,” opening at the Davis Orton Gallery in Hudson NY, June 29th – July 29th.
I intend to publish a handmade book of this series and am researching the form for that.
I’m teaching workshops that focus on the creative process, combining collage, writing and nature. My colleague, Paul Cary Goldberg, and I are leading photography workshops this summer and fall, here on beautiful Cape Ann, just north of Boston.
I will keep on beekeeping with my husband, tending these wise, golden and imperiled honeybees.
Nadine Boughton is a recipient of the “Top 50” Critical Mass 2011 competition, Photolucida. Her work has been exhibited at Photo Center Northwest, Seattle,WA, Newspace Center for Photography, Portland, OR, RayKo Photo Center,San Francisco, CA, Davis Orton Gallery, Hudson, NY, and Panopticon Gallery, Photographic Resource Center, Griffin Museum of Photography, Danforth Museum of Art, in the Boston area. Her work has been featured on-line in Lenscratch, Plates to Pixels, Flavorwire, Aparte 20 minutos. She was an IRIS lecturer 2012, at The Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles, CA, Adventures in Digital Collage.
Boughton grew up in Rochester, New York, under the shadow of George Eastman’s Kodak Tower. She studied photography with Garry Winogrand, and at Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY, and Lesley University Seminars, Cambridge, MA. She currently lives in Gloucester, MA where she teaches photography, collage and creative writing.
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Interview written by Gregory Eddi Jones
All images © Nadine Boughton.