'ThE Story SeriES'
Carolyn Marks Blackwood
Words by Miss Rosen
Plates Courtesy of the Artist
It all began with a snowstorm whipping past the windshield of the car as Carolyn Marks Blackwood and her husband Greg drove from New York City to their country home back in 2012. Blackwood was transfixed by what she saw: the wind whipping flakes of snow hither and yon. She knew then and there what had to be done. When they got home she grabbed her camera and asked Greg if he would take her back out again.
A year later, she began posting the photographs on Facebook along with descriptive lines that read more like a page from a book giving us a window into the protagonist’s soul. Her friends began to engage, adding their elements to the story.
It quickly became clear to Blackwood, a screenwriter and film producer, that the words were an integral part of her art, and she began experimenting with how to make it work. Eventually, 'The Story Series' emerged: a photograph and caption that were inextricably intertwined in the perfect work that was one part film still, one part fiction, and one part poetry.
Here, Blackwood shares her experiences creating 'The Story Series', which is currently on view at Von Lintel Gallery in Los Angeles, through February 17, and accompanied by a book of the same name.
Miss Rosen: In your conversation with Barbara Rose in the book, you discuss how your emotional experiences as a young girl were a catalyst in driving this series. What were those feelings, and how did engaging with nature and photography connect you with them?
Carolyn Marks Blackwood: Ever since I was a little girl, I loved the snow. For me, there was a certain coziness to it. I wondered what was happening in all those houses around me. There was also something very primal within me that felt like, “Aren’t we lucky that it is so warm inside, when it is so cold out here?” It’s something that everyone takes for granted but I don’t. It makes me think of people who aren’t lucky, who are out in the elements and don’t have a home.
Some of the stories are my stories, some of them are other people’s stories and some of them are made up — but the whole series is dependent on empathy. I could tell you the whole story behind the sentence or two that I put there, but I decided to make them ambiguous. All of the stories deeply touch my heart, make me feel funny, have this sense memory, or make me feel something. I thought that if they are so evocative for me, maybe they would be like that for other people — and they are.
If a person is closed off to their feelings, these stories are not going to affect them. Their feelings must be accessible for a story to have its full impact, and I have been shocked by how moved some people have been. I saw this first at the Brussels show, at the Roberto Polo Gallery, where people actually came up to me, holding their hearts or weeping, because they came upon a story that touched them. I was actually flabbergasted by people’s reactions. It was very emotional.
We are so numbed out most of the time, and everyone has their own story. If the work is a catalyst to a person’s memory or experience, and they get to feel something, it’s good. I think we need to feel more in this society, not less.
MR: Quite often, particularly in photography, artists have a reticence towards words but you are coming from a different background in film. Rather than distill the essence in a single moment, you have created cinematic works that are continuous. Could you speak about the way in which The Story Series acts as a bridge between the mediums?
CMB: A lot of my images have a mood, an atmosphere that I actually felt while taking the photograph. As I was walking around, I was looking at these houses. On the outside they looked normal, but I wondered what was going on inside. I’ve known since I was a little girl that the way things look isn’t always the way they really are. I realized that and always tried to find out what was really happening. I became the Greek chorus in my family, insisting on speaking up when I saw a discrepancy.
I am a screenwriter, as well as a film producer. I started to make up these scenarios in my head and I put a few of them with some of the photographs on Facebook. It was wild. People immediately started responding and jumping in, adding their own stories, adding to what was already there or completing them. I saw that for some, the stories became personal. It was quite wonderful.
After seeing people’s responses, I started to think that perhaps I should give little pieces of paper to people in the gallery, so they could write down their own stories, adding to mine. Then I realized this was not necessary — that they could remain private. They didn’t have to become Yoko Ono pieces, where you had to participate. I realized that, if you were participating privately, that was enough.
MR: How would you describe the fundamental themes of The Story Series?
CMB: I guess the big theme would be, the human condition. I have been greatly influenced by the political things that are happening now, that are very much on my mind. A few of the stories are about our ghastly immigration situation. I live in an agricultural community, and there are families here who are threatened every day with being separated. Horrible.
Other themes are about relationships, abuse and sexual politics: being different (Gay or Trans) and living in a small town, knowing you may have to leave in order to survive. This is what they mean to me, but they are not explicit. They may mean something entirely different to someone else.
Most of the moments that I have chosen are pivotal moments, where the trajectory of your life changes. That moment where you find the courage to face something you’ve been avoiding or come to grips with knowing something you don’t really want to know. That moment where you’re finally strong enough to let yourself know the truth. That moment, when you find the courage to do what you need to do, to be true to yourself, or even save your own life.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue, Dazed, AnOther Man, Aperture, and The Undefeated. missrosen.com