Self portrait/ A. Hedison, 1997

  Self portrait/ A. Hedison, 1997

SG: The day you decided to swap your career, from actress to photographer, you took a self-portrait. Why? How do you see that image today?

AH: At the time I was experimenting with cameras and film, and took a camera with me wherever I went. This is obviously before we had phones that had cameras in them, in fact it was before we carried phones with us at all. It was clear to me at the time that my interest in photography had far surpassed that which would be considered a hobby. I also was deeply unsatisfied by the work I was doing as an actress. Lots of TV hour dramas that meant nothing to me, other than providing me with the means financially to support my photography “habit” at the time.

The black and white self portrait is a significant one. It was taken at what turned out to be the last audition of my career as an actress. After the audition, I went into the bathroom in the building and for a reason I can’t remember, decided to take two photos of myself with my camera extended from my body. By doing this, I wouldn’t know the framing of the photographs until I developed them. What I discovered were two images that cut my body in half. Using one photographic piece of paper, I went into the darkroom and developed both images on the same page. This process involved covering one photo after it was developed and blindly lining up the second image with the first. What resulted is a kind of perfect architecture of lines and dissection. The photos together on the page make up my body, without arms. The space between the two is where my heart would be. This particular image marks the a point in my journey as an artist where I began a kind of conscious exploration of the space between two defined points.

SG: Have you ever regretted moving to the other side of camera?

AH: Not for one minute.

SG: You spent four years taking photographs before your first public exhibition. What were the main problems you faced and what did you enjoy most about this lengthy first stage?

AH: In the beginning, I was shooting in Malibu just when there were storms, in the winter. That was when I first started. Then I shot two winters in a row from the same points on the beach, under the houses mainly. After that, I started going back more. I was shooting at different times of day... different seasons. It was like I was doing forensics.  I was shooting the same locations, the same spots underneath the houses.  The same points on the beach, which of course dramatically changed from season to season so nothing, really, was the same. Because I was experimenting with this idea of “storytelling,” I wanted to use as many cameras as possible.  One of the cameras I used for this project was my Father’s Nikon from the 60s.  I have memories of both of my parents shooting with that camera when we lived there. I like the idea of using the actual lens from that time. I also used medium format film cameras, as well as digital cameras. This process lasted almost four years.

SG: There seem to be similar choices and approaches in the different series that you have done over your career, like a focus on the unfinished, the idea of change, the ephemeral. Also, this appears to be transmitted through less appealing places and “less important” things. Do try to find some kind of coherence in the way you approach the different themes or do you prefer to be guided by impulse, by instinct?

AH: I am guided my impulses, which can be both good and bad. The work from Rebuilding felt very clear to me when I was doing it. I was drawn to these demolished buildings and homes, and didn’t struggle with my impulse to photograph them. With Ithaka, I was completely frustrated by the process. I’m not a landscape photographer so I didn’t understand why I had the impulse to shoot in such a dense natural landscape. Before I focused on the temperate rainforest in the Pacific Northwest I took photos everywhere I went. I would shoot everything from tangled branches, weeds, trees…I was lost and it took me a while to realize that the work, itself was about just that.

SG: Is it just my impression or do you really like getting into the insides/the bowels of the places you photograph?

AH: Absolutely. A good deal of my interest involves mining the psychological self. Some of the impulses are unconscious and become more revealed through the act of discovery, photographing, sorting, editing, reviewing.

SG: Throughout your work, we often find images of windows that hide more than they show what lies beyond them. Why do you seek this veil effect in your work?

AH: I’m not sure. But I’m endlessly drawn to veils like screens or curtains. A screen forces the viewer to include themselves in that which is being viewed.  It’s an identification of the present moment. When looking at a landscape, we are looking “over there” at something beyond.  To look out is to project one’s imagination. I’m interested in a dialogue about the space that lies between the present moment and that projection. Maybe these veils in my work are an invitation to that dialogue.

SG: The Rebuilding series was done at a particular time in your life, when you had broken up with someone. The titles of the photographs are important dates in your life and not the dates the photographs were taken. Your expression through film seems to be very determined by what is happening in your life at the time. Am I right?

AH: Art is always a process of personal discovery in the hopes of visually communicating that journey to the viewer. To know one’s self and to be known is an elementary impulse in every artist. In the case of Rebuilding those dates were about trying to identify points of transition. Asking the question, when did this reality shift from here to there? Trying to pinpoint something that is constantly changing. A futile attempt…

SG: Let’s talk about Malibu. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere is about revisiting places that are very familiar to you, unlike the previous series, Ithaka, in which you wandered around unknown places. Can you tell us something about the experience of photographing in those two situations – as a “familiar face” and as an outsider?

AH: Both places grabbed me viscerally and emotionally. Nowhere is about returning to a familiar memory and examining it through a different lens, one worn and changed by time and tide. Ithaka is a journey too, albeit a different one. I am wandering through somewhere new but primordial. It’s about trying to make sense of an infinitely unknowable natural landscape without previous reference. The image of the digger moving the sand shows us the more visceral and aggressive side of the place. It seems that by choosing it, you wanted to avoid people seeing this exhibition like some fairy tale constructed in a beautiful place. Am I right? The digger image says it all. That bright yellow, the sheer power of human driven metal shifting the landscape while unearthing a mysterious underbelly beneath the sand. I loved that on one occasion it wasn’t there at all, and on the next it was at work, mining underneath the house.

SG: You made a point of saying that you have a strong, personal connection with Malibu and with the places we see in these photographs. Do you think much about the intimacy you create (or not) with those who see your photos?

AH: When you undertake a project it’s because you have to. It’s a mission that starts with personal impulse. Then as you start refining the ideas and images, you begin to see the meaning reveal itself. That process is so exciting. Seeing a truth emerge. Seeing the beauty in it. But only then do you ask yourself, how can I communicate this feeling, these ideas, this energy to others? This effort at communication is as much for yourself as it is for others, reaching out to be known. 

SG: For this work, you often returned to places in different seasons. Why did you do this?

AH: The Nowhere work is about memory and the process of constructing a story over time. The beachfront in Malibu is in constant flux with the seasons and times of year. Because this specific place is part of my story, it was easy for me to make a connection between a shifting landscape and the nature of memory.

SG: I'll risk another interpretation: looking at the photos of Malibu, I get the feeling that they describe something that has gone forever (the end of an era, childhood, stability, predictability ...). Is this the celebration of the end of something or the attempt to revive what has been lost?

AH: I think both are true, equally. I try not to judge when I photograph. I try to just follow the feeling and let the images evoke multiple possibilities for myself and the viewer. There is so much duality and complexity in the experience of art. Why limit our relationship to the images to one feeling or experience?

SG: The montages with photos of stakes are reminiscent of Ray Metzker’s long sequences of shadows. Is there any influence of this master of American photography on these particular images?

AH: No, although I like the architectural and graphic aspects of Ray Metzker's work. My black and white images have been compared to some of James Welling’s camera-less work which I wasn’t familiar with at the time. The Nowhere photographs are very much about the camera, and the memory of film. The black and white geometric compositions emerge from the timber bracing the underneath of the beachfront homes in Malibu. The photos have been arranged in non-sequential film strips and include the rebate edge as an extension of the work itself. 

SG: Are these sequences, which produce almost abstract images, a way of appealing to a purely sensory side of that place?

AH: Absolutely. They are also specific to my description of memory…my way of describing the things we remember and what we choose to forget or omit.

SG: The meeting of Man and Nature is very clear in the exhibition. Isn’t it amazing that these houses are still standing, despite the ravages of the sea? Weren’t you afraid that everything would be swept away while you slept?

AH: I spent enough time laying in bed listening to the crashing waves when I was growing up to know that they are a familiar constant. Change is something you have to count on, by its’ very nature altering everything in its wake. Luckily so far the places haven’t been altered beyond recognition. Someday the structures may be gone completely.

SG: Do you still photograph Malibu? Can you easily identify the signs that point to the end of a job and the beginning of another?

AH: I never know where my interests will take me. Sometimes something or some place will nag at me for years. I circle around it, obsess, return. The full idea of the project takes shape over time. I’ve learned to be patient. 

SG: You talk about this work as if it were a song you were singing to us. Do you think about the sound and rhythm at any point of the creative process, selection and display included?

AH: I suppose I meant that my work is my language. It’s what comes out of me as a full range of expression. Is that like a song? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s more like a soundtrack. The ocean, too is a soundtrack. The waves, crashing down onto the sand and then pulling back. Back and forth. There's a rhythm to it, for sure.

SG: I wasn’t quite sure if you have good or bad memories of this "dramatically changing" place. Do you still have the house? Do you like going back?

AH: I left Malibu when I was 10 years old. My life growing up there felt primitive and deeply unconscious. So are the memories. Some light, some dark. Going back to do this work was a true exploration. What is the truth? Can I find it in these images, both from the ones in my memory and those I have made? 

SG: I read you have a Rineke Dijsktra photograph on yourwall, at home. Are you a collector? What other photographers’ work do you have?

AH: Ah. I sold that Dijsktra photograph when I moved to London years ago, not knowing I would one day, move back. It’s one of those regrets that haunts me. I think about that piece. Art always surrounds me in my home. I collect what I love looking at when I putter around the house thinking. Each photograph is a potent story you can walk by and just kind of tap into for a moment. I don’t think I’d call myself a collector. Just someone who loves art.

SG: I also realized that you have a special relationship with this photo, which expresses, subliminally, the loss of innocence. Are you immediately aware when you’ve fallen in love with a photograph?

AH: Yes. Although that love can grow the longer I look at it.

SG: Can you tell us about your basic routine of a day shooting?

AH: It’s always different. When I can, I like to shoot on my own. There’s often a lot of wandering around, like I’ve lost something and I’m retracing my steps. Lots of careful consideration. Sometimes I’ll shoot only a few hours while other days will be much longer.

SG: In relation to Ithaka, you said: “For me, it’s more about trees than the forest”. Can this be applied to your approach to photography? 

AH: I think I said, “This work is not about trees. It’s about the process of discovery.” And it definitely applies to the approach with my work. 

SG: Can you describe the last photograph you took?

AH: The last photograph was probably of a shadow I saw on the floor or a reflection through a window. Or maybe of my dog who is really cute. My iPhone is filled with pictures that are somewhat useless but inspire me when I’m flipping through them. Right now I’m working on a series of images taken from construction sites in Paris. I’ll be shooting there before the opening in Cascais. So my guess is that the last photo I'll have taken before October 7th will be of something most people walk by and try and ignore.