Artist Takeover: Elizabeth Bick

This week’s StandardVision artist takeover on the SVLA1 screen at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles features work by photographer Elizabeth Bick. Bick is the latest artist to be invited to take over the two week-long recurring 15-second spot to showcase their work to the public, and her work will be on view through August 27, 2017.

We had a chance to talk with Elizabeth about her series Every God, her life as a classically trained ballerina, Texas, and architecture.

How did you come into photography from your training as a classical ballerina?

After a long and complicated relationship with my first great love, dance, I discovered photography.  I quickly felt a sense of familiarity with the medium, particularly street photography.  I was no longer on stage, and so I became an active spectator through the camera.  Through the support of some incredible mentors at Loyola New Orleans, and later at Yale, and the great mentorship of the city itself, I made the decision to continue exploring photography until I exhausted an interest in it.  After fifteen years, that has not once happened.  In fact, the more I deepen my understanding about the complex nature of photography and photographic representation, the more convinced I am that I will never have enough time to fully comprehend it.

How does your previous experience influence your work today?

The horizontal rectangular shape, similar to that of the stage, the sharp light and shadow when photographing in sunlight, the arrangement of moving bodies, entropy, this was all intuitive and made sense to me from the moment I held a camera to my eye.  But it took a while for me to consciously discover that this was my work.

A memory that both makes me laugh and haunts me from Yale is that of, one afternoon in a meeting,  a mentor asking me, “Didn’t you dance for many years, before you started photographing?”

I left this conversation with a desire to cultivate a bridge between the two mediums.  More specifically: How can I bring the tradition of street photography in combination with the tradition of dance, or choreographic practices?  One part street photography, one part performance practice, and one part choreography is the space where my work exists.

You’re considered a “pioneer” in the medium. Throughout all of your works are intimate narratives whether it’s regarding a specific person (Linda Leven from Coda) or something more spiritual (Every God). What do you seek to communicate through your photography?

I am obsessed with the relationship between the individual and the collective, and how we perform publicly, as a result of an inner conflict both to belong and to live as anomalies.   Although the politics of voyeurism and tourism come into play, as a former dancer I feel an awareness of the politics of objectification.

At first glance at my photographs, I see an obvious depiction of the performance of our “selves,” and of the subjects as depictions of archetypes. But also, I hope, an evident ambition to represent a type of inclusive admiration to all bodies, ages, cultures, races, genders, the weak, the elderly, the innocent, in any self-presentation, differing from the criticality that exists in many other facets of society, including dance.  I still have a long way to go in this ambition.   All become a magnificent spectacle through the camera, in a certain vantage point, with a type of light, with a certain posture.  This is the transcendent nature of photography, and what can shift the banal into the spectacular in the photographic space.

Could you tell us more about the series on view, “Every God”?

I have spent the last four summers, during the time of the Summer Solstice, creating a photographic body of work entitled “Every God” in a highly populated and transient site in Rome Italy: The Pantheon (Pan = Every/All,  Theon = God).  Upon participating in a residency at the American Academy in Rome, I wished to locate a place that contained the same elements I seek in other works: the street as stage, pedestrians as performers, pointed dramatic light emphasizing the theater of the pageantry of social spaces.  The Pantheon fulfilled all of these criteria, and has become an endless and overwhelming source of photographic material.

I visit the site near to the Summer Solstice in order to fully capture the overhead light and shadow of this theatre of tourists that falls through the open circle in the ceiling, the only source of light.  Due to the limited exposure capabilities of a camera that result in the background being fully blacked out at a proper exposure, and the congested nature of the enclosed architecture, individuals posing appear to be in a state of pantomime.

Women move apart from the crowd and pose arms stretched apart, children exaggerate their gestures, crowds of tourists simply stop and bask in the piercing sunlight.  The pictures depict somewhat of a typological study of the posture, gaze, and body movement of individuals who are willingly and knowingly placing themselves in front of a camera in an intuitive and playful response to light.

My working methodology is to stand in the shadows day after day, staring into the circle of light that, at a glacial pace, glides across the marble floor over the course of four hours.  I arrive when this event begins and stay until it ends, i.e., when the circle of light moves above the floor and onto the walls.  Hour after hour becomes a quiet space of looking, waiting, and making, and of meditating on our public selves, on light and shadow, and on time.  Also, I am virtually standing inside a gigantic camera, which could not be more perfect.

Do you have any more projects that you’re working on?

I’m writing this from Texas, while developing new work (involving a troop of performers) for an exhibition entitled “New Southern Photography” at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which opens next year.   All are invited.


Be sure to check out more of Elizabeth’s work on her website or Instagram.