Interview: Angela West by Kevin Thrasher

© Angela West, The Westmorelands, 2006

Angela West was born in Dahlonega, Georgia. She received her BFA from the University of Georgia and her MFA from Yale University. Ms. West’s work is included in the public collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The High Museum of Art, Atlanta; The Ogden Musuem, New Orleans, LA; and The Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. Additionally, her work is held in many private collections including The Sir Elton John collection and The Weiland Collection. Ms. West was awarded an Artadia grant in 2009. Angela lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is represented by Jackson Fine Art.

Photographer Kevin Thrasher has interviewed West for fototazo.

Kevin Thrasher: When did you start making photographs? Do you remember the image or work where you knew you wanted to become more involved with art?

Angela West: I started making photographs when I was 21. It was the summer between my junior and senior year at the University of Georgia.

There was no particular image or piece of work, but a general feeling I wanted to emulate. All of the work I fell for was invaribly made with a view camera.

KT: What impact did going to grad school have on your education, your photographs, your career?

AW: I know this sounds like such a bullshit answer, but I can't begin to know. It's hard to know what my career or artwork might resemble if I hadn't gone to Yale. In the most obvious distinction, I started to take color work more seriously in graduate school and began to understand its power and relevancy. Until recently, I have worked exclusively in color.

© Angela West, I'll Keep it with Mine, 2009

KT: Tim Davis wrote the introduction for a book published by your gallery, Jackson Fine Art. He writes, "West approaches the idea of 'Home' determined to pick through its ties to nostalgia with an archaeologist's thoroughness and care." You've photographed saved corsages, young women posed for sweet sixteen photos, saved postcards - how does nostalgia relate to your work? Is it a source of inspiration or a way to interpret the past?

AW: It is more of a way to interpret the "now." For me it is a way to make sense of the past and its relevance or relationship to me now. In some ways, photographing frees me from the emotions attached to those objects or ideas. Photographing these objects puts them in a state of limbo. To me, the images are articulate in style and quite contemporary, but one can't deny the nostalgia. That is the tension, I believe.

KT: I read an article that mentioned you have children, has that change in your life led to a change in your work?

AW: Mostly I miss the luxury of time. My relationship with time has completely changed.

KT: If you could give someone starting out as an artist a piece of advice, what would that be?

AW: If you are going to make your art a business, understand the business.

KT: You've photographed various mementos - letters, postcards unspooled cassette tapes - do you collect a wide range of objects, in hopes of photographing them later?

AW: No, I've never saved anything in order to photograph it.

KT: What's your relationship to the homes in the following photographs: The Masseys, The Waldens, The Buckheisters, The Westmorelands?

AW: They are all homes in and around the neighborhood where I grew up. Each title is the name of the family that lived in each home. They no longer live there.

© Angela West, Summer Still Life #3, from the series "Nature Morte"

KT: I recently had a relative pass away and a vase of flowers was sent to our home. It looks like it belongs in your "Nature Morte" series. I have always admired this series, but now the meaning to me has changed based on personal events. How did the project "Nature Morte" develop?

AW: Through a series of my own personal events I had a shift of perspective that summer and I felt that I had made peace with time in a different way. I memorialized this personal shift with those images. Each image is titled Summer Still Life.

KT: In a catalog written by Brett M. Levine, you say, in the context of the photograph Familiar Landscape #1 (2002) : "Some things are better left unearthed...although I love using different artistic conventions, especially portraiture and landscape, to rediscover something I thought was really familiar." This quote frames photography as a tool for personal understanding and reflection. Are you compelled to make photographs, re-examining moments of your life?

AW: I absolutely use photography to make sense of my personal world. In that sense, I am a very self-centered and self-serving photographer.

KT: I have lived in various Southern states for the majority of my life. The South doesn’t have any more mystique to me than the North, East, or Western United States does. Do you ever get the association or tag of being a Southern Photographer/Artist? If so, what do you think about that title?

AW: Of course I do. I think my relationship with that tag has gone through many incarnations. These days, I mostly consider it a description and an apt one at that...I am a photographer/artist and I was born and have continued to live in the South by choice.

KT: How do you evaluate your success or happiness with each new body of work?

AW: The work just needs to look exactly the way I want it to look and for each project that is something different.

© Angela West, Blackberry Winter, My 33rd Spring, 2003

Kevin Thrasher lives in Richmond, VA. He received his MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. His work has been exhibited in the Northeastern and Southern U.S.