Briefly describe the work you do
I work in and around photography, concerned primarily with its history and theory, and how we use it to document our lives. My projects range across platforms and media, including photography, moving images, painting, installation and performative impulses. I’m also fascinated by systems of image distribution: how have these changed over the years, and how have our consumption of photographs likewise shifted?
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
My background is that of a typical, middle-class American. I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, but very early on was lucky to have a supportive system of teachers, peers and family that encouraged my artwork. I’ve lived all of my adult life in Boston: I love how intimate the arts community is here, and that has allowed me to make so many important connections and be involved with many great organizations.
Beyond that, I resist my biography being the dominating factor in the reading of my work: I believe that my interests stem from a deeper engagement with history and theory that functions at an academic level. That said, my work is often a critique of American culture and I can’t deny that my personal experiences have influenced that. Why would I be so fascinated by the middle-class production of imagery if I wasn’t a part of that production?
The concept of the ‘artist studio’ has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice an how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of ‘being in the studio’.
Being rooted in photography, my practice is not always studio-based and often requires engagement with the outside world: I rarely photograph within my studio. But once the images are made, I edit them and print them in my workspace, often proofing images and pinning them to the wall to see them in physical form. I also spend time sorting through piles of anonymous photographs to find source material and making books and oil paintings. Additionally, I use my space as an office and can be found writing in it (such as at this exact second), reading texts and applying to opportunities.
Lastly, I’m part of the Howard Art Project, an amazing artist community, and I’m often having conversations with my studio mates while I’m working.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I began some fifteen years ago as a painter, only moving into photography after I realized that I painted in an attempt to mimic photos. I never anticipated that initial move away from painting, nor my eventual move back into it.
In the beginning, I also viewed academia as being separate from artmaking and segregated my love of language from my visual production. I have been pleasantly surprised to find how easily the two integrate into one another and now consider myself as much of an academic and a writer as I do an artist.
When do you find the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
Having a less traditional studio practice, I spend time shooting images, dropping film off to be developed, scanning negatives, going to the library and framing and delivering work to shows, in addition to time spent within my four studio walls. I try to work as much as I can and this varies week to week depending on my other commitments (writing, teaching and curating). Sometimes, I work around needing to shoot at a precise time of day (such as the golden hour) and other times I am more flexible to create when I am well rested and clear-headed. When I am painting, I am in the studio more than when I am shooting. But I am constantly working and thinking, even in my dreams: some of my best projects have risen from these fugues.
I love my studio at night when it is filled with the life of my studio mates. I have always been a night person, glad to stay awake long past when everyone else is sleeping and find I can get an amazing amount of work done in the small hours of the morning. But, I also love my studio in the mornings: the sun comes through my window and everything is quiet and peaceful.
How has your work changed over the last five years? How is it the same?
Going to graduate school shifted my perceptions, opening me up to concepts, theories and ideas that I would have never previously considered. I have been able to think more broadly about artmaking, letting go of the label photographer in exchange for the labelartist. In graduate school, I was able to distill my interests, naming them and couching them in the broad array of theory that was fed to us. Now, I feel more literate and more confident, creating work in a more involved and informed manner than before.
But, despite this education, my basic interests have not wavered. My first oil painting fifteen years ago was of a cemetery, and now I am shooting anonymous grave markers in garden cemeteries in New England. I also remember a moment in high school when I re-painted an anonymous family photograph in oil, but then threw the painting out because I couldn’t explain to anyone why it was so important. In the same spirit last year, my project Photographs Purchased on eBay translated anonymous domestic images into oil paint on panel.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact o the work you do?
All of my teachers over the years have influenced me greatly and I am constantly seeking new art world idols. I get extremely excited when I see good artwork or have an awesome conversation and I want to internalize the information and translate it into my own work. I am acutely aware of my many influences, most likely as an offshoot of my interest in historiography, and something that one of my most recent series, Love Notes, explores. This series pays homage to artists that have inspired me, including Sophie Calle, Sherrie Levine, Walker Evans, Jim Dow and Stephen Shore.
And, of course, there are others. I try to visit as many galleries and museums as I can and often troll photography blogs late at night, looking at the infinite amount of fantastic contemporary work. Lately, I’ve also been obsessed with Villem Flusser and I’ve been reading a lot of articles from October magazine. My influences are many and varied and everyone whom I come in contact with (directly or overtly) plays a role in how I view the world.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artists, what would that be and why?
This is a trick question! I think many artists have a separate occupation, a day-job, a money-maker and an engagement with the world outside the studio. Since my undergraduate days I have been involved in various capacities with arts administration, working primarily at nonprofit art centers. Currently, I am an arts educator, a free-lance writer and an independent curator. I see all these jobs as feeding into a larger practice and allowing me to stay attuned to current trends within the artworld. These jobs keep me sharp and prevent me from working within a vacuum.
Sarah Pollman holds a BFA (2007) and MFA (2014) from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Tufts University. Pollman is a 2013 recipient of the Art Writing Workshop from the AICA-USA and Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program and a 2014 Curatorial Opportunity Program curator at the New Art Center in Newton. Recent exhibits include an upcoming solo show at the Danforth Museum of Art (Framingham, MA) and Of Memory Bone and Myth (Rourke Art Museum, Moorhead, MN), Emerging Photographers’ Auction (Daniel Cooney Fine Art, NYC, NY) and New England Photography Biennial (Danforth Museum of Art, Framingham, MA). Currently, Pollman is faculty at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.