Kenyon Class of ’14, Studio Art major
“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
–Susan Sontag, On Photography
If you know where to look, the Ohio landscape is dappled with abandoned buildings. Damp and fading, these structures linger at the far edges of society, reclaimed by nature. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by crafting memories for the decaying farmhouses and crumbling edifices that may be glimpsed alongside a winding highway or peeking out from deep foliage. As it is often difficult to piece together the lives of the previous residents from what remains, these vacant buildings are canvases upon which we can apply our own experiences and recollections. The Poor House series is an evocative exploration of the distorted, fleeting nature of memory and the uncertain future of abandoned structures.
In creating this work, I initially looked to my own past. Growing up in rural Ohio, I lived on a farm that had been in my family for generations. Eventually, my relatives decided to sell the property, and it stood vacant for several months until it was demolished. A super-center and strip mall now sit on the land once occupied by the farm. Spurred by this process of removal and rebirth, I decided to use a Holga camera to make atmospheric, dreamlike images of abandoned spaces.
Process has always been an important component of my work, and the process of shooting film with the Holga camera created many unique challenges, but also many intriguing rewards. Unlike traditional glass lenses, the Holga lens is made of plastic, which furthers the camera’s inherent lo-fi aesthetic by producing hazy images that are not always perfectly in focus. The body of the Holga is also plastic, making it prone to light leaks and vignetting. I decided to elevate the distortion of these elements by utilizing a wide-angle lens attachment in order to warp the perspective. Furthermore, I applied Vaseline to a lens filter to contribute to the swirling sense of blurriness. The unpredictable nature of the photographs produced by the Holga mirrors the wavering future of the structures that I choose to shoot.
— Mary Defer, ‘14