December 18, 2017 FotoFilmic



Marisa Chafetz, a recent graduate of Tulane University (BFA in Photography, 2017) is a New York based artist who works primarily in photography. Her work explores the blurred lines between fictional tableaus and traditional documentary photography. She often deals with topics such as family life, American suburbia, and coming of age. In 2017 she received a grant from the Michael P. Smith fund for Documentary Photography, as well as a Georges Lurcy Grant. Additionally, a photo she made for New York Magazine’s ‘Sex on Campus’ cover story won an American Photography Award and was published in American Photography 32.

Further highlighting her rising presence on the international contemporary photography scene this fall, Marisa is also the recipient of FotoFilmic’s SOLO II EXHIBITION AWARD, the second of a new 4-part juried call series launched in August and designed to provide emerging and mid-career photographic artists working on film and analogue media a unique opportunity to connect their work to some of the most respected photographers working today including Todd Hido (SOLO I), Alec Soth (SOLO II), Mark Steinmetz (SOLO III) and Alex Webb & Rebecca Norris Webb (SOLO IV).

This 2nd SOLO edition juried by Alec Soth prompted responses from many sharply talented photographers from no less than 19 different countries making it highly international in reach and representation. Alec’s choosing of Marisa’s ongoing series ‘We are Ugly but We Have the Music’ thus bears special curatorial significance and confirms her position today as one of the hotly contested ‘photographers to watch’ category in the coming years. With this in mind we’ve reached out to Marisa to ask her a few questions on her recent achievement, as well as to dig a bit deeper into her practice and the making of her selected work.

FotoFilmic: Welcome to FotoFilmic! And congratulations on being awarded the second solo exhibition of our new SOLO program series this fall, we’re excited to provide an additional platform for your series ‘We are Ugly but We Have the Music’ to grab the public attention it deserves! How does it feel to have one’s work selected amongst so many other strong candidates by such an important, iconic artist in the field as Alec Soth?

Marisa Chafetz: It is so exciting- I don’t quite have the words for it! It’s an incredible feeling to have this work recognized by someone whose work continually informs my practice and taste. It is especially gratifying to have this particular body of work recognized- as it is a documentation of my own family and it is obviously incredibly personal. It was scary to release this work into the world… knowing that it resonates with someone as prolific as Alec Soth makes the vulnerability feel worthwhile.

F/F: In his forewords Alec tells us that what really won him over in your photographs is that intangible feeling that they were all made ‘with heart’. As such they seem to him necessary images purposed with what he calls ‘entering a physical space’, one of emotional connectedness. Do you agree with Alec’s reading, and if so how do these remarks resonate with you?

MC: I’m so honored that Alec reads my work this way. Creating a feeling of emotional connectedness is always my goal, first and foremost, when I am making an image. It’s important to me that my work is accessible; that there is an emotional entry point for the viewer. I made this series hoping that the viewers would feel the connections between myself and the subjects within the images. It means so much that Alec recognized this aspect of my work.

F/F: Most of your photography, especially the present series, explores the intercrossing contemporary realities of suburbia, domesticity and familial identity. The voice of the work relies on a beautiful, open narrative format part autobiography part fiction: can you elaborate a bit on how you manage to achieve that kind of diffused subjectivity and ambiguous narrative in your work? Is it all carefully controlled, or on the contrary much more organic to your approach of photography?

MC: The way that I came to make work this way  (half fiction, half reality) is through my understanding of memory. Years before I began this series I was primarily focused on creating images that “looked” like memories. To me, memories are saturated, exaggerated, and often parts of them are completely made up. I have always made images that start with “truth” or “fact” as a jumping off point, and then spiral into fantasy from there. Ideas for my images typically begin with a memory. I attribute this part of my process as the reason my images are often somewhat ambiguous, and my narratives are often a bit scattered. It’s my hope that my series’ read as a supercut of something complex, something in my memory the way that I’ve remembered it, or the way that I will.

Regarding the “fictional” aspect of my work: part of the reason I find photography so powerful is because one can essentially curate a place, a person, or a period of time, etc, into a sort of fictional reality that is unique to their perspective. The way I see it, there is no objective truth, so I’ve embraced the fictional aspects of the intersection of photography and storytelling. To me, there is often more truth revealed in our choices (what we choose to stage, what images we choose to include), than there is in a series of purely “candid” images. With that said, every image in this body of work was made with intention, and chosen with intention.

F/F: As Alec noted, the heart of the work resides in its poetic anchoring to reality, in the fact that all subjects are true characters of life adressed in intimacy but tensed in future perfect-like narratives (like almost everything photographic). This dual storytelling track runs deep in your work as it simultaneously fictionalizes for the viewer while it documents pseudo familial relationships on the other hand for you. Beyond the artistry thus also seems to lie a sort of historical record, which is really interesting in the context of photographing on film: how do you feel the materiality of the medium here plays into the meaning of the work?

MC: The materiality of the film certainly adds an interesting layer to this work. My titles all include locations in the parenthesis, and this is to document the constant changing of my family’s home base. We’ve moved quite a few times in the past few years, and throughout my childhood we had satellite locations that we considered home. To contrast, the making of this work, especially on film, gave our lives and our story an unchanging permanence. At the very least, it gives us objects that we can hold and touch, that won’t move or change, and that we can return to.

F/F: In looking at your work Alec made mention of Peter Galassi’s ‘The Pleasure and Terrors of Domestic Comfort’ seminal 1991 MoMA exhibition. Speaking of influences and subjective documentation, Nan Goldin’s preceding ‘The Ballad of Sexual Dependency’ (also at the MoMA in 1985) also comes to mind. Has the work of Alec Soth been a source of inspiration for your photography, and if yes in what way?

MC: Oh yes, so much! One of my professors showed me her copy of Niagara at the end of last summer, and seeing that body of work is one of the reasons I actually decided to start shooting my family. I was working on something else, but after I saw Niagara, I thought that I had to make something that had real depth. Alec Soth’s inclusion of his subject’s handwritten notes in Niagara also inspired me to include the voices of my subjects. So my project includes diary entries from my family members. I don’t think I’d ever been so moved by a body of work before I saw Niagara, and it made me realize the kind of power an intentionally narrative body of work can hold.

F/F: As mentioned earlier your photographic practice is rooted in the analogue film medium: what is your relationship to digital photography today?

MC: I am constantly struggling with digital photography! I use a digital camera for my day job, but when it comes to my personal work, a digital camera just disrupts my process. As much as using film is often a burden, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I even enjoy the failures that come with shooting on film. For now, I am happy to stick to film.

F/F: What’s next for you? Any special project or achievement you have in mind that you’d love to see become reality soon?

MC: My next goal is to get ‘We are Ugly but We Have the Music’ published as a book. I have a few mock copies that I’ve made, and I am taking the next steps to hopefully have it published professionally. In January I’ll begin work on what will be my next long term project. Lastly, I want to go to grad school to get my MFA within the next few years!