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Benham Artists
  Erin Spencer

Black and White Magazine interview from issue #18, 2002
by Heather Snider

"It has always been my goal to provoke emotions with my work," explains Seattle-based photographer Erin Spencer, "and I've found that the self-portrait is a very effective way to communicate these feelings." For the past five years, Spencer has concentrated on this theme, creating a body of work that explores the intimate moods of herself as an individual as well as a more open narrative expressing the emotional self in a general sense.

Ironically, Spencer considers herself a shy person who in the past preferred to turn her camera on the urban landscape. But on one occasion, as a spontaneous experiment, she decided to put herself in front of the lens. "I wanted to see what kind of images I could get without looking through the camera." Although she at first was uncomfortable with her own image, she realized that her presence provoked an immediate narrative response.

Born in San Diego, California, in 1967, Spencer was never much of an 'outdoors' person. And since moving to Seattle, she has found that the rainy and cold climate in this part of the country offers the perfect incentive to look for creative stimulus indoors. Using herself as model, Spencer creates a definite emotional environment in her work that in unpretentious and includes elements of humor. Her strongest influences come not from the world of photography but rather from that of film ? especially from the work of the brothers Quay and Guy Madden. She admires these film makers' use of light in creating evocative moods, as well as the playful spirit that runs through their creations.

In addition to the psychological world Spencer is able to explore through the self-portrait, there are also technical aspects of using herself as subject that appeal to her. Because she is her own model, she can be in control of every aspect of creating the photograph. "I'm free to work when, where, and however long I want to. This gives me an incredible amount of creative freedom." She can experiment with a great variety of visual ideas, spending hours at a time without worrying about the patience of a model. Within the contained environment of her room, her wardrobe, and her daily life, she can invent and reinvent herself as often and in a many forms and expressions as her imagination permits.

Over the years, Spencer has grown more and more comfortable with the idea of using herself as a model, but she still struggles with a degree of self-consciousness. It requires boldness on her part to make these photographs, Spencer explains. "Curiously, there's a sort of forcefulness that comes over me when I'm working." It is this forcefulness, combined with an inherent timidity, that gives her work the tension that lends life and immediacy to the images.

While Spencer deliberately explores her very private world of emotions, her photographs make these intimate aspects accessible to viewers and inevitably provoke memories of similar moods or emotional states in their own life. Spencer photographs during periods of sadness as well as happiness, introversion as well as extroversion. Consequently, she does not present the calculated persona of a performance artist - rather these photographs reveal the real moods of a real person in her real environment.

When Spencer is asked how long she expects this series to go on, she responds: "I believe I will always be working on it. It is a never-ending project. Let's say that I'm sitting in a cafe and suddenly see something that intrigues me, I will always want to turn the camera on myself to try to capture that mood." After a moment?s introspection she adds: "Besides, I think it will become and interesting record of the aging process - a visual documentation of my own road to maturity - physically and creatively."


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