This is the first in a series of profiles of some of the new young talent living in the Hudson Valley. We begin with Madison Emond of Bard College.
For college students in today’s world, declaring one’s self an art major is often argued to be a risky move. How that art major will earn a living seems to be the principal question their parents ask them, and the main deterrent to deciding to be one. Yet for Madison Emond, a current sophomore at Bard College, her passion for capturing moments in photos outweighed the intimidation of the future. I sat down with Madison to discuss how she fell into such a passion. She described her first photo class as we looked through her work that illustrates the faces of her friends, familial intimacy, and the natural world. One image depicts a body lying flat in tall grass as its hand, with dark painted nails, rests softly on another’s bare back. Influenced by the work of impressionist painter, Mary Cassatt, Madison’s work transports us to a place of basic connection with each other and the environments around us.
Roll’s Acacia Nunes spoke with Madison about her work.
AN: Tell me about yourself. Where are you from? Where are you in school?
ME: I’m from Barrington, Rhode Island and I’m currently a sophomore at Bard College.
AN: What are you studying?
ME: I’m studying photography.
AN: Have you always been a photographer? How did you get into photography?
ME: I’ve always taken pictures for fun, and I’ve always enjoyed it, but it’s never been something that I’ve ever considered to be an essential part of who I am or what I want my life to be.
AN: So then how did you get into this role of “photographer”?
ME: When I was a senior in high school I took the only photography class that my high school offered which was digital imaging, and I really loved it, so I wanted to learn more about film photography, because my school had a huge cabinet filled with old Vivitar V3800Ns, but they didn’t use them. So my friend Sophie Faxon and I asked our photo teacher if we could create a film tutorial where she would teach us how to do black and white photography. So that second semester of my senior year of high school is really where I started to enter my role as a photographer I guess.
AN: Is Vivitar a camera you frequently use?
ME: My Vivitar actually broke, so now I’m using a cannon AE-1, but before that yes. I used it that entire semester and my entire freshman year at Bard.
AN: What’s your favorite camera to use?
ME: I think my favorite camera is my Canon AE-1. I don’t know, I really love it, and it’s become an extension of myself… I think a lot of photographers can relate to their 35 millimeters becoming a part of them, so yes I really love it.
AN: Do you prefer film to digital?
ME: Yes absolutely.
ME: I think you can’t beat the incredible detail and quality that comes out of film. Digital can just look too real, while black and white photography — film — just makes everything look so beautiful and romanticized.
AN: Awesome. Very cool. Now let’s turn to some of your photos. I’ve noticed nature as a prevalent theme in your work. You have various photos of your subjects floating. A whole section of your website is called “Basking in Bliss” which takes place outside, many of them by cliffs and the ocean. Has nature always played a prominent role in your work?
ME: Yes and no. I think my entire life I’ve always been really attracted to nature, and beauty of landscapes, and generally the earth that we live in. I originally came to Bard thinking I was going to be an Environmental and Urban Studies major, so that interest deeply enters my work without me thinking about it. But yeah, it’s definitely becoming a larger part of my art as I transition into doing more landscapes.
AN: Did you consider dual majoring at any point?
ME: I did, but then I realized that I wanted to dedicate my whole self to photography rather than putting half the effort into both majors.
AN: That makes sense. I’ve also noticed that human interaction seems to be a focal point in much of your work. Tell me about your interest in and the process of photographing people. Do you tend to photograph the same subjects?
ME: The one subject that I think I continuously turn to is my family. I just really love to photograph people that mean a lot to me. Intimacy is something that I’m really attracted to. I’m attracted to this sense of happiness and human connection, because I think it’s something that…I don’t know the camera allows me to enter into a sphere where I can interact with the people that I love in a totally different way, and that’s always a really interesting and meaningful experience for myself.
AN: Has photographing intimacy changed the way you view it at all?
ME: In a way, because I think it’s a form of empowerment when it comes to me being with other people. It’s changed my ability to become intimate with people, as I become more comfortable with the camera and be able to approach people that I don’t know as well as people that I do know. It’s given me this new tool to find another way of how to interact with those that I love and people that I don’t know. It’s a pathway for creating an intimate relationship with people that I know nothing about, which is also interesting.
AN: Who inspires your work?
ME: Someone that inspires me a lot, and someone that I try to emulate is Mary Cassatt. I really love of all of her paintings, and I think that beautiful idea of a mother and her child is something that I always think about, and that compassion and connection and intimacy in that relationship is something I value so much, because my mom and I are really close. I have twin siblings – a girl and a boy – that are four years old, so in photographing them with my mother I keep Mary Cassatt in mind very frequently. But people that I also draw from, I think, are…I mean Helen Levitt is an inspiration to my work in terms of photographing people and children as well, and I also look to Justine Kurland. I think those are my three greatest influences.
AN: Where do you hope to see your photography go from here?
ME: I really don’t know. Pretty much my entire freshman year I focused on people, and I didn’t take a lot of pictures of landscapes, and now I’m using a view camera, it’s a 4x5 Wista. Engaging in that realm – landscapes – of photography, which isn’t something that I thought I wanted to do, because I’ve always looked at landscapes and assumed that it’s a picture that anyone can take, but I’ve realized there’s a style that you can have that can differentiate those types of pictures from “computer background” type images I guess. So it’s been a very interesting experience for me, it’s also been very meditative; I spend hours outside by myself, and that’s been something that I really like about taking these pictures and using the view camera…just getting that time.
AN: It sounds incredibly valuable. Would you say your style is evolving?
ME: Yeah absolutely.
AN: How so?
ME: I think it’s evolving, well from that transition from people to landscapes, but I think I’m just really…something that I think is evolving in my style is that transition from organizing chaos within groups of people and organizing chaos within the natural landscapes that I’m seeing. I think that’s the biggest evolution that I’m watching right now, but I think in terms of my style with people I don’t know necessarily.
AN: Last question, who is your biggest supporter?
ME: My biggest supporter? Aside from my parents, I would have to say my biggest supporter is Larry Fink. He was my teacher last year when I was starting out, and is really the one that saw something in me, and made me realize that this is something that I love and something that I want to be a part of my life. I was afraid to take the step to major in photography because of how impractical it is to be considered an art major. I never imagined that I’d be pursuing my degree to become an artist and he’s definitely the person that pushed me to believe in myself and to know that this was the right decision, and he continues to push me and believe in me to this day.
A native of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Acacia Nunes is a written arts major at Bard College. She is the current news editor of the Bard Free Press, the school’s monthly paper. She brings experience from her time interning at various publications including the Cambridge Chronicle and Edible Manhattan and Brooklyn. She is an avid reader, blogger, and traveler.