It is not the same when one tries to chronicle the gritty and gory bits in life not into words, but through art and photography. Photographer Brittany Markert’s on-going series “In Rooms” reverberates the human psyche and emotion in haunting square prints.
“To grow I must disturb, adapt and build strength. I imagine my life as a body of water, and when the water is completely level and still I print my work and reflect on my diary and ideas. These tidal waves occur through traveling to a new city, facing my fears, reaching out to new people, to name a few. It could be simply forcing myself to walk outside. An artist needs to disturb the stillness of oneself and others around them…” — Brittany Markert
Read our exclusive interview with Brittany here in Lomography Magazine.
Hi, Brittany! Welcome to Lomography Magazine. We learned that “In Rooms” is actually a photo journal and diary of true events. With its rather dark yet beautiful nature, this seems to come intrinsic and intuitive from you. May you share with us where you draw your art and ideas from?
In Rooms functions more or less as an abstract diary. In presenting the book in chronological order, the passing of time is present, similar to reading a diary from start to finish. I state in the back of my first monograph, ‘inspired by true events’. This is a term I use loosely, almost comedically, to suggest to readers the narrative isn’t a complete fairy tale.
While the images are conceptualized and constructed, they are also deeply personal to myself (most images are self portraits) or my subjects. They are drawn from emotions present, thoughts overheard, observations of relationships, and energy to name a few. I aim to use photography, in some realm between literature and film, as a tool to tell an ongoing narrative. The idea of what is true and reality, what is the unconscious mind, and what is a figment of the human imagination are realms I enjoy exploring.
I don’t focus on where I draw my ideas from. Instead I try to be in touch with my fears, my anxieties, my repressed memories, the discomforts of those around me and my desires; this provides the subject matter from which I get my ideas from. After I’ve ruminated on these thoughts long enough I approach them in a logical manner and construct an idea. In some cases the images are a spontaneous reaction to the environment and I try to stay true to the idea. I’ve learned I can’t force ideas, they simply come out of no where and it’s my job to always be ready to handle them, to write them down, to have my tripod out and attempt to stay true to them with my camera.
As a model yourself, we believe you also know how the female body is often subjected to objectification. However, I personally find that the nudity in “In Rooms” is rather far from erotic art — there is something deeper and psychological behind it. So, if I may ask, what is the purpose of the female nude body in the series? What does it represent for you?
I worked as a model for six years before picking up a camera. I also had a humiliating experience being a contestant on America’s Next Top Model and then traveled the world for a year as a fashion model. Surely the expectations of the female body, the alterations in photoshop and the shallowness I witnessed in the fashion industry traumatized my understanding of the female body. My desire to start taking pictures came out of a very negative time in this industry in which I had to keep reminding myself that a woman’s worth is her mind, not her measurements or her face.
When I began this journey In Rooms, I had no idea why I was creating it or where it was going, it was impulsive and a means to keep myself vital. In reflection, I’ve made a connection to the surrealist artists after studying their methodology. In a similar manner as the surrealist art movement, In Rooms aims to channel the unconscious as a method to unlock the power of the mind and imagination. In Rooms explores our inner worlds of desire, sexuality and violence – thus tapping into areas of psychology. I come from a background of mathematics, not psychology, but it is my hope my work will leave behind a psychological study – a legacy of the human mind and our inner worlds.
Nudity first appeared in my work out of convenience and probably an attempt to run far away from the fashion industry. I’ve never been someone that has a lot of clothing I love – I wear the same outfits repeatedly. The props I select in my images have a lot of meaning and I never felt most of my clothing communicated anything worth capturing. My goal is to make timeless work and in some abstract way communicate a universal thought. The nude body is a timeless symbol and thus nudity represents being human in my work.
Most of the portraits in the collection hides the face intentionally — the most essential part in portraiture. From where or whom does the person in the photograph hide from?
As stated earlier with my experience in the fashion industry, my ‘face’ was so important. Although not a conscious idea, I wouldn’t be surprised if hiding so many faces came from my intense feelings at the time that ‘the face’ does not define the mind nor the human experience. Hiding faces was not a conscious choice, but as mentioned in the last question too, it helps create a timeless and universal aesthetic.
Darkness, beauty, and silence. These are the words that come to my mind when I see the photographs, with the first two words often mentioned by other interviewers. I am quite unsure, that maybe I’m reading too deep; but I seem to liken this series with the word “silence” — that this series is not what it seems, and whatever message the artist has intended, it is purposefully hidden somewhere in plain sight. Like how we humans often front our courageous selves on the surface, but there is fear definitely lingering around. In three words, how would you describe your work (and why)?
Three words that I think suit the word well. I too think of the word silence or quiet when viewing my work. Sometimes this upsets me and I try to run away from this feeling and create more ‘energetic’ work but inherently this stillness is something I can’t escape. It is the stillness, like a spider waiting in her web; stillness, like the eye of a tornado; stillness, like holding your breath under water before gasping for air.
It is very difficult for me to sum up my work in three words, and I think artists are mostly useless at describing their work. However there is one image that I feel captures my first book well. It is titled ‘untitled louisiana, 2015’ and contains a black ominous figure approaching a weak white figure wriggling on the floor.
As a model, actress and photographer, you have been tied deeply into the world of the arts. In your opinion, how should _art_ and _artist_ function?
Art functions as the threads that connect society together. Art unites us, expands our knowledge, and strengthens our emotional and mental intellect; it reveals the questions and answers we spend our entire lives seeking. A world without art is a world without life.I have experienced a few cities without art and artists present and they seem sterile and silent. People in these societies are turning into robots hiding behind masks. Art is a gift, a necessity, and reminds us of what it means to be human.
The artist functions as a member of society that must always disturb and create unapologetically; the role of an artist or storyteller is to hold a mirror to society. The artist has a choice of how they will construct the mirror – will it be distorted, will it be broken, will people be unable to see anything through it. Ultimately, the viewer decides if they will confront the mirror and their relationship to the it. Hopefully the mirrors hold a new perspective, a new set of eyes, and has viewers seeing or feeling something deeper, beyond and within the surface of their present reality.
Loneliness and pain are terms often attached to the artist. What do you think or feel about this?
An artist must disturb, an artist must create. In contrast to disturbing and creating constantly, people who are not creating are living inside life looking for ways to preserve it, strengthen it, accept it. Of course they experience pain and loneliness too and in their own ways and probably disturb and create too, but artists are constantly fighting their way in from the outside.
I am never content to live in the world, I need to continue to create and expand the unique world of my art. It is painful to be on the outside of life looking in – looking for a new way to see. I feel at peace with pain and loneliness, of being outside of life. It is a comforting place to dwell as an artist, although I would say not the most productive state. It is only in a matter of time that an idea is born and drives us to the height of euphoria.
What do you like most about your oeuvre? What are your ways/practices to ensure you keep growing as an artist?
I suppose I appreciate most that the work exists in a tangible form and that the concept of an ongoing personal narrative using photography feels unique. It is comforting that my work can speak for me in ways I cannot articulate; I am amused that my inner worlds are splayed out all around me for everyone to see, what a strange desire to be an artist!
To grow I must disturb, adapt and build strength. I imagine my life as a body of water, and when the water is completely level and still I print my work and reflect on my diary and ideas. When it is still, I focus inward and allow the water to seep deep into my roots. After my foundation is completely nurtured, I disturb the stillness. These tidal waves occur through traveling to a new city, facing my fears, reaching out to new people, to name a few. It could be simply forcing myself to walk outside. An artist needs to disturb the stillness of oneself and others around them. Through the chaos of the storm, expanding to new heights and requiring the active work of every part of me to settle it down, ideas are born and new perspectives are gained.
It is also important for me, in a state of stillness, that I do not unsettle it in the same way as before. This act of trying something new to disturb my comforts keeps me growing, learning and adapting. When I am done facing a fear for example, shooting at one location, getting to know a person, I move on. Sometimes it is difficult to not look back and shoot in the same circumstance I am familiar with, but I always have the pictures to remind me of those times. It is important to keep moving forward.
“In Rooms” is an on-going series. What can we expect from the next volume and from your future works?
Yes, In Rooms is an ongoing series, like life, that evolves and changes with the seasons. It is my hope to keep turning the pages until I can no longer take pictures. The next volume of my work is different, although aesthetically cohesive with the first book. The end of my first volume finished with the dreaded question, “what’s next?‘. At the time I had no idea and went into a dark whole for three weeks before taking another picture. It is a question I’ve learned will always be answered when I least expect it. In creating that ending, it holds almost no power over me anymore.
Due to my desire to keep trying something new, I have pushed to curate a different experience in the ‘2016-2017’ volume. It is bold & provocative – there are faces (in detail even!), there is strength, there is graphic detail. The desire slaps you on the face, the fears are more intense, the messages are more direct although still hidden. Who knows where the next year of the book will take me, but I greatly look forward to releasing it at the end of 2017.