This interview is a continuation of an earlier conversation between Betsy Lin Seder and Workspace.
Workspace: What is your process when developing a project or a body of work? Your past projects have been extensively researched. What role does that research play in the presentation of that work?
Betsy Lin Seder: I pursue a project with a certain concept in mind—for example traces of fascism in a Roman suburb, or ambivalence about a modernist domestic space, or fantasies and failures around "The Californian Dream"—and research the subject and its tangents. I become a collector of books, films, locations, museums, images, people and filter it all through the particular idea that I am working with. Distraction, serendipity and surprise play a large part in the final form.
My goal is for the work to be experienced, understood and read on multiple levels. I use the titles to point to the photograph’s conceptual framework (rather than just the depictive content of a photograph), but intentionally leave room for a wide range of interpretation. While there are concepts, intellectual concerns and references that drive the production of the work or ground it within a particular arena of meaning, the viewer’s immediate aesthetic encounter with the work is primary. I put a lot of consideration into the affect with which I am depicting something.
For example, the image Vasquez Rocks, Stardate 3025.3 is an image of a rock formation north of Los Angeles that was taken just as the sun was setting. The pinkish hues and tight cropping give it a sense of unearthliness and plasticity. The title both names the actual location that is photographed while also pointing to its fictional existence as a set for a 1966 Star Trek episode in which a small team investigates a new planet. During their visit, their life long fantasies begin to come true and harm them. This photograph is part of a series about the fantasies and disappointments of the Californian Dream; the experience of this site is not only located in its actual existence, but also in its fictional ones. To that end, I embrace the photograph’s unreliable status – the content is both there/not there, real/not real - and put into question the limitations of what a singular (or series) of photographs alone can communicate. I use that space of ambivalence to generate meaning.
WS: There seems to be distinct moods you’re invoking in the different photographs you take; could you talk about the visual vocabulary you use and how it changes from piece to piece?
BLS: There are stylistic consistencies through my work, but indeed, the mood mutates between series. These shifts tend to come from formal approaches that express the concept. For example, in the Fool’s Gold photographs, I was interested in teetering between misrecognition and partial recognition of the object using cropping and color to abstract it and intensify its gold likeness. When I photographed the eucalyptus tree in Imposter (from the Poltergeist Project) I used a day-for-night filter to indicate fakery, cinema and horror films.
I also want to challenge the form of a series and a certain consistency that is expected from photography. I am making associations between disparate images and subject matter whose connections are not immediately apparent, evoking meaning through the interstitial spaces and the ambivalences that grow out of that.
WS: You mentioned that your work deals with aspiration and disappointment. Can you talk about your relationship to success and failure in the photographic process?
BLS: Disappointment is the moment that illusion clashes with actuality. It’s a shattering of fantasy and a revelation of the real. And certainly, one’s experience of a site (or a person, or an event) is always woven with illusions, expectations and fantasies. I emphasize the photograph’s wobbly status as a reliable index to address that hazy space. Through specific composing and post-production manipulations, I create these images to refer to the actual physicality of space or objects photographed as well as the real and fictive narratives that produce meaning around those sites.
[all Betsy Lin Seder. top to bottom: Vasquez Rocks, Stardate 3025.3, 2011. The Imposter (Poltergeist), 2011. Fool's Gold #2, 2011.]