Photographer Nancy Grace Horton began showing her work at Jessica Hagen Fine Art + Design in February 2018, after she contacted the gallery about her photographs in the Domestic Affairs show at the Newport Art Museum. We jumped at the chance to exhibit Nancy's work which is fresh, clever, technically excellent and above all, thought provoking. Nancy Grace Horton's photographsfrom her Ms. Behavior series will be on display at the Newport Art Museum through May 6, 2018 and are are available for purchase through Jessica Hagen's gallery. Jessica recently interviewed Nancy about her work and we invite you to read the Q & A!
1. When did you start taking photographs?
When I was in Junior High I visited the Dominican Republic and had a memorable experience. Two women wore flowers on their heads and were smoking cigars. They came after me after I dared to take their picture. That’s what got me hooked.
2. What inspires you to take pictures?
For me, photography is a dance of colors. It is an experience, making a composition that represents visual beauty and conveys a message. That is the connection I look for in visual art making. The joy is for me is at the point where play can begin.
3. What photographers have influenced your work?
Margaret Bourke White is one of my first influences. I was immediately drawn to her confidence, skill, and creativity, and to the obvious strength she had to have to break into a male dominated world. She photographed big business, the military, and world leaders with a large format camera. Her compositions are perfection, and her sense of framing is controlled and deliberate.
4. Your photographs are beautifully composed. How do you go about designing/staging your photographs? Do you sketch them out? Do you have a very clear idea about how you want your photograph to look in advance of taking it or is there a lot of trial and error?
The approach I most enjoy is bringing elements together—scheduling a model, having a basic idea that revolves around location, clothes, and props—then visually exploring until I find the way to speak.
I am a traditional photographer, in that I crop in the camera rather than after the image is made. So I do some careful work before taking a shot. For Ms. Behavior I use a Hasselblad with a prism, which means I look down into the top of the camera, where the image appears reflected right to left. To compose the image I move my whole body around, doing a little dance to fill my square box. My goal is to get all my thoughts on the subject to collide at one time in the image. I’m thinking about everything, but I’m thinking about nothing.
5. We are exhibiting photographs from your Ms. Behavior series, has your work always had a message?
My interest has always been in making images that provoke a response, to trigger the viewer to think. The stories and reactions that Ms. Behavior elicits vary greatly between viewers. They become a collection of experiences and opinions that reflect who we are as a culture. This makes the work more poetic to me; the work does not have a specific message, but one that can be interpreted in different ways.
6. Your wit and sense of humor in the Ms. Behavior series is so on point; it brings a reaction from everyone who comes into the gallery. What do you most want from the viewer of this work?
Glad to hear it. That’s what it’s supposed to do. The power of an image ultimately comes from the viewer’s response. I want to rope the viewer in and make them think.
7. When I look at your photographs, especially Blast Off and Ironing Bored I am reminded of my mother who prided herself on domestic order. I’m not sure she actually enjoyed the doing of it; it seemed like more of a mandate. If she were still alive, I would love to hear her reaction. What feedback do you receive from women who were housewives before feminism and Gloria Steinem had women burning their bras in the street?
Good question. That’s not an age group that I often find in my audience. But the descendants of the 50s-era wives often react, remembering their mothers and grandmothers. By the way, I understand that the “bra burner” story is false. It was a journalist’s attempt to turn a beauty contest article into a showcase for women’s liberation. The goal was to imply that if American men could burn their draft cards in protest against the war, then women could burn their bras in protest against their constricted roles in society. It makes a powerful story.
8. As a female artist exploring gender roles, what is your view on the current state of feminist affairs, given the Women’s March and the #metoo movement?
It feels like an eruption against male dominance, it’s the uproar of other. And it’s not just about women. The word “feminism” is evolving a new meaning, enveloping everyone other than the privileged while male.
9. What is your greatest hope for women going forward?
I’d like to see history/herstory re-written. To expand the story, to tell more stories, to show the various types of people who have made great achievements, I want to learn about all the people who were left out of history.
10. Do you think you will always explore women’s issues in your work? Is that the legacy of your work?
I’ve always been interested in gender roles, and I don’t imagine that will change any time soon. There’s plenty of material to work with.