Interview with Patricia Galagan: 2013 Critical Mass Solo Show Winner

Patricia Galagan (Image from Objects of Desire)

Today, we’re pleased to share an interview with one of the 2013 Critical Mass Solo Exhibition Award winners, Patricia Galagan. We thought it would be nice to talk to each of these wonderful artists about their work and process (additional interviews are forthcoming). We always enjoy hearing the stories behind the work. Photolucida’s Laura Valenti Jelen posed the questions, and Patricia was gracious enough to share candid thoughts about her life as a photographer. To see more of Patricia’s beautiful images, visit her website.

A solo exhibition at Blue Sky Gallery is one of the awards for Critical Mass 2014. Registration for Critical Mass is open until July 16th. Don’t miss it!

LVJ: How did you get started in photography? Tell us a little bit about your photo background and how you came to fall in love with the medium.

PG: Like many photographers of my generation, I grew up seeing the world through the photography in Life magazine and wanting that skill of revealing something through a photograph. I started shooting with a Kodak Brownie camera the summer of my tenth birthday. It produced black and white pictures in a square format, a combination I love to this day. Using that camera taught me about the difference between the picture in my head and the one that came back from the drugstore. Bridging that gap is easier now, but as compelling as ever.

For a long time, photography was my passion but not my job. I had a long career as a writer and magazine editor; raised two sons; and completed a Master’s degree in English, before I had the luxury of time to pursue fine art photography as a way of life.

LVJ: Tell us about your subject. What drew you to create a body of work in Cuba?

PG: Curiosity drew me to Cuba; photographing in a Communist country long closed to Americans was bound to be a different experience visually and culturally. I had the opportunity to travel to Havana several times with the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops and to meet Cuban photographers who became friends and shooting companions. They helped explain my project – making portraits of people with things they cherished – and gain my subjects’ trust.

In American culture, many people define themselves by their possessions. In socialist Cuba, possessions are scarce, and I found that many people’s objects of desire were not objects at all, but relationships – to a loved one, a pet, a favorite thing to eat.

LVJ: Being an artist isn’t always easy. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered on your creative path?

PG: One challenge was to understand what being an artist really comprised that was different from being someone who “did” lots of photography. That required digging into my point of view and what I was trying to say with my photographs. Working on projects and writing about them pushed me along that path. Being part of a community of photographers, reading about art, looking at other artist’s work, and shooting a lot all contributed to a clearer notion of what I was doing with my own work.

Another challenge was to put the work out there through contests and juried events to see if it was connecting with experienced viewers and judges. And of course, I had to learn that this kind of feedback is subjective and part of the process of finding the right audience for your work.

LVJ: How did winning the solo exhibition at Blue Sky Gallery impact your career?

PG: Like a booster rocket. Prior to winning, I’d had only one solo show recently, of a different body of work. Winning was evidence that the portraits resonated, and coming to Portland for the opening and to give a talk about the work confirmed that. It is one thing to make photographs in a room alone with your computer and printer and quite another to see it on the walls of a respected gallery where people are engaging with the work and telling you what they see.

Since the show, I’ve been invited to hang the Cuba portraits at Fotographika Gallery in Gland, Switzerland, and individual images have done well in some juried competitions.

LVJ: What drives you to create? What are you most passionate about with photography?

PG: I’m drawn to photograph the aftermath of major change, be it geological, social, or environmental. Cuba is an obvious example, but I’ve also spent the past three years photographing forest renewal after a massive wildfire in the Pecos mountains of New Mexico.

I love the challenge of going to a place and finding the photographs there. I especially like working on projects because they add a sense of purpose to my work. And even though it’s not fashionable, I am passionate about beauty in photographs: I think it still has a place.

LVJ: What are you working on now?

PG: I’m continuing to add to my wildfire portfolio but I’m also working on a project called “Dendrophobia.” It’s about uncontrolled shrubbery in old urban neighborhoods and people’s fear of managing it. And a project called “The Sins of Plants,” which is about plants behaving badly.

LVJ: Thank you, Patricia!