"In times when history still moved slowly, events were few and far between and easily committed to memory. They formed a commonly accepted backdrop for thrilling scenes of adventure in private life. Nowadays, history moves at a brisk clip. A historical event, though soon forgotten, sparkles the morning after with the dew of novelty. No longer a backdrop, it is now the adventure itself, an adventure enacted before the backdrop of the commonly accepted banality of private life."
-- Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting 1979
This shift that Kundera speaks of is a recent shift and the former cultural norm he speaks of is still held within a collective cultural memory -that what happens in the home is paramount in importance. But everyone is constantly bombarded with the stuff of the world, the stuff of history as it happens via newspaper, radio, television, internet. Multi-media mass communication brings in to every home every bit of the world, every bit of the adventure going on everywhere around at a pace too fast to possibly take in even a small portion of it. This barrage particularly of images has only accelerated and is an assault on active looking and comprehension. The saturation of visual information undoes the contemporary relevance of a decisive moment. Then inevitability and possible meanings of images diminish.
The painter Giorgio Morandi wrote, "One can travel the world and see nothing…to achieve understanding it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see." My domestic interiors are a celebration of the ordinary, of a calm or soothing or just familiar place that does not have the velocity or multiplicity of the outside world. If there is clutter, it is the domestic clutter that dust has comfortably settled upon. If there is life, it is plant life that grows little by little -imperceptibly. If there is human life it is already fixed in time as a photograph, now re-photographed. Though these pictures celebrate the banal, they also act as reminders that something, many things, are happening outside of the frame.
In photographing interiors of generally middle-class suburban houses, I am working in the tradition of the new topographic school of photographers and am particularly drawn to Lewis Baltz, Chauncey Hare, Bill Owens, Robert Adams, and Catherine Wagner. I was born in the decade that these photographers were documenting suburban sprawl. Born into this changed landscape and growing up with its visual language, my approach is less documentary. Rather, my images are often diaristic, shot within domestic interiors or places that I know intimately. I look critically and with awe at ordinary, seemingly aesthetically devoid spaces.
Similarly, when traveling, the quiet time on the plane or in the train or car is the most suitable time to really look. The excitement and newness of unfamiliar places is quite stimulating, but for my work I need time slowed. I have a certain ambivalence about how horribly marred the earth is by humans and how the destructive imprint is stunning visually. I want to depict that imprint in all of its brutality, elegance, and humor. More, I want to elicit that ephemeral feeling of anticipation or reflection that happens as I travel to or from a place. In editing I am always drawn to the images that I made while getting somewhere or returning home, rather than using images made of an unfamiliar place. The visual language of vehicles is universal.
The world is a sad, sad, funny place. Absurdity abounds and time transmutes joy and suffering into nostalgia. In isolating and fixing a time and place with photography, I use specificity to hint at the universal.
- Kate MacDonnell