In Conversation: Marcy Palmer

Marcy Palmer’s work circles around themes of home, beauty, nature, and science. Her work has been exhibited at The Griffin Museum of Photography, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Vermont Center for Photography, The Center for Fine Art Photography, The Center for Photographic Art (Carmel, CA), The Wichita Falls Museum of Art, The Watershed Media Centre (UK), and other venues. Marcy’s work won Gold in the Fine Art, Abstract category of the PX3, Prix de la Photographie, Paris 2016 awards. Her work was also a finalist in the Fine Art Category for the 7th Edition of the Julia M Cameron Awards and recently won a Director’s Award at the Center for Fine Art Photography for the “Wonder” exhibition. Marcy has an MFA in Photography & Related Media from the School of Visual Arts and a BS in Studio Art from Skidmore College. She currently resides in Dallas, TX.

so tell me now


Unearthing Series

The photographs in this series are about the space between the imagined and real. There is reference to constellation, a need for a controlled environment within a chaotic one, and a constructed world with natural elements. The works are filled with a tension between frustration and control – wonder and delight. Through these images, I could express my new and emotional journey of parenthood. Although the objects used in the images are not directly related to childhood/parenthood, the emotions evoked are. My experience as a parent to a young child lends itself to this tension, though the images relate to something larger than personal experience.

The Unearthing Series was created by drawing and painting on a paper backdrop, shining light through holes in the backdrop, hanging wire, string, branches, and other elements to create shapes and lines in the compositions, which I often interact with. A slow shutter speed is used when capturing the images to show a sense of movement in many of them.

your sweet magic

twilight with you


Kyra Schmidt: Marcy, thank you so much for speaking with me. Can you start by telling us about your Unearthing Series, and how it came to be?

Marcy Palmer: Thank you, Kyra, I appreciate this.  The Unearthing Series came together somewhat organically, and it wasn’t a process I was used to.  For almost a full year after my son was born, I could see these images in my mind of an abstract painterly background with lines and shapes and someone interacting with the composition.  At the time, I was too sleep deprived and didn’t have the right space to make the images, so I just imagined them. I was also struggling a bit with new motherhood and having had a pretty scary birth experience… imagining this allowed for some escape.

KS: I conducted some initial research on this series, and was surprised to find that these images were created in a studio! I am captivated. The images are painterly and the dimensions are tricky for the eye. How did you decide on this process?

MP: I’ve long admired the performative aspects of Francesca Woodman’s work, abstract work by Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, Cy Twombly’s paintings, the early work by Laurent Millet, and Roger Ballen’s photographs, so all of these artists have somehow influenced my way of seeing.

I was able to get a studio space right around my son’s first birthday, and I began experimenting.  I painted and drew on paper backdrops, experimented with building an installation, showing motion or not, and how to light it.  It was abstract drawing in a 3d environment, which became a place for performance, and then a record of movement and time. The first experiments were disastrous, until somehow, they weren’t.


KS: I do think of your images as being performance based! And, I see this – the performance of the creation process  – becoming increasingly as important in contemporary photography as the final work of art. From performance-based images that involve collaborative improvisations to constructing the image through time, or physically manipulating it via alternative process and sculptural techniques. For you, how does the final image compare to the meaning imbued in the process of creation?

MP: The process of creation was extremely important in this project. I suppose I have become “the creator” in this series, and through the act of making, glimpses of an unseen world or universe appear. For me, the final image is more than documentation; I hope that it is something the viewer can relate to. I have a difficult time separating the experience of creating from the final image itself. However, there have been images that I spent a lot of time and mental energy making I had to cut from the series because it wasn’t aesthetically there. The final image needs to stand on its own.

I think about Joan Jonas’s video, “Songdelay” – the performance in that was somewhat improvised but the video ends up being more than documentation; it becomes choreographed art making or a dance in the final format.

The process for my Unearthing Series is labor intensive, usually taking about a month to create one image in this series. It’s a slower way of working, light painting in a literal sense.

KS: There are some recurring elements throughout the work; branches, leaves, and most notably a string. I’m wondering, do they hold symbolic relevance for you?

MP: Yes, it has been important for me to refer to elements of the natural world in this series. I use the leaves and branches for this. I didn’t want this “world” I was creating to seem completely false, I wanted it to be more dream-like, and I felt that including the natural elements grounded it a bit more in reality even though many of the images are somewhat abstract.

The string allowed me to work from a formalist perspective, in that it becomes a line in the composition or a connection between the various elements. It also allowed me to play with the viewer’s perception of space, which I’m interested in – switching between a 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional space within the composition.


the noise

extended grasp

KS: Does the act of painting or drawing within these photographic works hold expressive significance for you?

MP: My undergraduate degree is in Studio Art, and I’ve used painting or drawing in an expressive way in the past.  I think this is a continuation of that.

KS: You mentioned influence by Cy Twombly (I am also a big fan), this had me drawing comparisons between the poetic titles designated to each photograph versus the actual representation. Like Twombly, cause and consequence, symbol and meaning, and signifier and signified all become a little blurred.. And what is left is a feeling of what the photograph should be (rather than is) about. One of the small tortures of language I suppose. I’m interested; how did you conceive of your titles?

MP: It took some time.  I needed the time for reflection and writing, and decided that the titles should relate to my experience.  I’ve also kept them somewhat ambiguous and poetic so they are open to interpretation.

KS: Marcy, it has been a pleasure connecting with you. For one final question, are you working on any other projects right now? What is in store for the future?

MP: It’s been a pleasure connecting with you as well, Kyra.  I am working on a couple of other projects. My series, “Flora” is currently in an exhibition at the Griffin Museum of Photography and several works are available through Claire Elizabeth Gallery.  It is a series gilded photographs of plants and flowers gathered locally. The project explores notions of beauty as an antidote during times of personal and political crisis, and takes reference from Anna Atkins’s botanical studies as well as Surrealist photographers who manipulated imagery with materials.

Another project I’m working on is “Penumbral Being/Time’s Shadow”.  This is a series of color photographs where I question how much does our chemistry determine who we are?  How does the stardust in our blood affect our future selves? The project is about genetics, chance, uncertainty, the Big Bang, and mental illness.  A few images from this project were recently shown in “Texas Vignette” at the Women’s Museum in Dallas and another image will be in the Member’s Exhibition at the Center for Fine Art Photography this summer. Thank you so much Kyra!

lightness in the night, in the stars

To view more of Marcy Palmer’s work please visit her website.