PHOTOINTER-Hosted by China Photographers Association

Interview with Letha Wilson: When transforming photography into sculpture

2018-03-06 15:00:22  source: PHOTOINTER [Original]  author: Judy Cai  editor: 斫子 Su Yuezhuo
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Hawaii California Steel (Figure Ground), 2017
UV prints on Corten steel
10 x 6 x 5 feet
Commissioned by deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA.

Judy Cai (JC): Could you briefly talk about your background? What brought you into the photography world?

Letha Wilson (LW): As an undergraduate, I was a painting major at Syracuse University, and enjoyed taking classes across disciplines. Sculpture, photography, printmaking, drawing, I learned many techniques and processes that have all been woven into my work. Photographs were just one element, but during graduate school at Hunter College I became interested in specifically picking apart the conventions surrounding Photography. These days I am in the photography world but on the edges - I would consider myself a sculptor who uses photographs as a material.

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Hawaii Lava Concrete Bend, 2014
C-prints, emulsion transfer, concrete, aluminum frame
60 1/2 x 45 1/2 x 2 inches

JC: Your recent exhibited work, Hawaii California Steel at DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, is using photography and installation to talk about the relationship between architecture and nature. When did you start experimenting this cross-media conversation? How does it influence your studio practice afterwards?

LW: This sculpture is a culmination of many years of working with architecture and nature in relation to interior spaces, and being able to develop a photographic work for an outdoor space was a great opportunity. The piece uses Direct to Substrate UV printing directly onto the steel surface, a relatively new technology that allows me to place these photographic works outdoors. As far as cross-media, my work has always worked using a combination of techniques, and my studio practice is one of experimentation with a range of materials. I am constantly adding more ideas and processes to the studio.

Wilson_Letha_1.jpgKilauea Seaview Concrete Ripple Tondo, 2017, 54 x 54 x 2 inches, concrete, emulsion transfer

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Rabbit Ears Pass Concrete Bend, 2015, 60 x 45 x 2 inches, Unique C-prints, concrete, emulsion transfer, aluminum frame

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Valley of Fire Steel Fold, 2016
24 x 48 x 252 inches,
UV prints on steel, steel pipes
Installation view at Galerie Christophe Gaillard, Paris

JC: I found another your artwork showed at MassMOCA, Hawaii Lava Concrete Bend, is really fun piece. Could you briefly share the creation process? What is the role of image, you feel, in the photo-based works?

LW: That particular piece is one of the many concrete works I have created that combine traditional color photographs (that I print myself in the darkroom) with concrete, poured into either metal frames or a wood mold. For the past seven years I have been experimenting and using concrete as a material alongside photographs, and the relationship of these materials has surpassed all my expectations. A new relationship is created in these works as the image of nature, in this case lava rock, is literally pressed up against the concrete material to create a new form. As far as the images, all of the photographs in my work are ones I have taken myself from travels, often around the Western U.S. as my family still lives in Colorado. This particular piece uses images from a trip I took to Hawaii in 2014, generously supported by a travel grant from the Jerome Foundation. I was born in Hawaii, but hadn’t visited since I was four years old, so that was a special trip for me.

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Hawaii Palms Green Triangles, 2015, 20 x 30 inches, archival inkjet print, aluminum

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Headlands Beach Concrete Fold, 2014, 17 x 13 x 2 inches, C-print, concrete

JC: Do you see the limitation and/or potential of landscape photography in recent years? If so, what is that about? Otherwise, any thoughts to share with photographers who are out there shooting our mother nature?

LW: Perhaps with the ease of camera use and ways to share these days (iPhone, Instagram) this opens up landscape photography to anyone. This may allow people to stop and appreciate the outdoors more, or, will they get lost behind the camera and forget to look with their own eyes? In my own experience of shooting, I have changed my perspective over the years. I used to have a certain scene / landscape / image I was going out in search of, but would be disappointed when I didn’t find the right shot. What I realized after spending time more closely observing nature, taking walks, getting lost, is that there are potential photographs all around you. My job is just to pay attention and take notice of the moments, as they are fleeting. So to be present, be aware and observant of what you discover on the trail, and have your camera in hand.

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Moon Wave, 2013, 12 x 8 x 5 feet, site-specific installation: digital print on adhesive, wood, existing gallery column
Installation view at Art in General, NYC

JC: What will be your next project? Any future plan you would like to share with the readers?

LW: I am preparing now for a solo exhibition in New York City at GRIMM Gallery, at 202 Bowery. The show will be up March 18 – April 23. Also I have a new piece hanging at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the Peter Sharp Building lobby, through spring 2018.

Artist Bio
Letha was born in Hawaii, raised in Colorado, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received her BFA from Syracuse University, and her MFA from Hunter College in New York City. Letha attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2009, and her artwork has been shown at many venues including MASS MoCA, Art in General, DeCordova Sculpture Park, Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park, Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, and International Center for Photography.

Letha's work has been reviewed in Artforum, Art in America, the New York Times, The New Yorker, among others. Letha has been awarded artist residencies at Yaddo, The Farpath Foundation (France), Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Headlands Center for the Arts, and the Sharpe -Walentas Studio Program. In 2014 she was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Photography and chosen as the Deutsche Bank Fellow, and was awarded a Jerome Foundation Travel Grant. Currently Letha has several works at Mass MoCA for the In The Abstract group exhibition, and a large-scale outdoor sculpture for the Platform series at DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA; both exhibitions are on view through Spring 2018.

Judy Cai is Program Officer of NYFA Learning/Asian Affairs at New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA). She facilitates various professional development programs at NYFA, such as entrepreneurial boot camps and the Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program, to better serve individual artists. With a strong interest in arts and cultural exchange, Cai also manages a number of NYFA’s China programs, and conducts outreach to local Asian artist communities. Since 2013, she has led three intensive professional development training programs for Chinese arts administrators and curators in the United States. She is also the Chief Representative in the United States for the Shanghai Interactive Festival of Theatre (SHIFT), the only festival focused on interactive theatre and arts and technology in Mainland China.


Prior to NYFA, Cai was the Outreach Coordinator at the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts. To become a strong advocate of a global arts exchange and to gain extensive experiences in international communications, Judy also worked at Christie’s, Dance/USA, and Shanghai International Arts Festival. Currently based in New York, Judy Cai has a MA in Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon University, a BS in Culture and Arts Management, and a Bachelor of Law, from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

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