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Interview: Laura Noel's Metaphoric Images

Interview: Laura Noel's Metaphoric Images

Lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

As a child, I listened closely as the adults whispered about my family’s southern gothic roots. Though my work is not particularly romantic and doesn’t employ styles or motifs commonly associated with this kind of art, my fascination with storytelling, coupled with an obsessive drive to document life as it speeds by, made it almost inevitable that I would become some kind of artist. Even though I was raised entirely in Atlanta (a city that arguably shares more with Phoenix than Charleston), our family’s small town past in the deep south was always close at hand. The branches of our family tree grew eccentric painters and writers, as well as shopkeepers and farmers. Our fortunes seemed to rise and fall in unexpected ways, guaranteeing drama. Being immersed in stories about my relatives, most of whom I never met, showed me what life could be, largely, because the mundane details of their lives were washed out in the telling. Everyone seemed to have lived large, whether their fortunes were rising or falling.

Blues, 2021, found objects on wire frame, 11 x 11 x11

What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

I studied public policy as an undergraduate which proved to be an indirect path to documentary studies and later fine art. When I was a senior, I gave up pre-law to pursue art. Some of my earlier projects grew directly out of my interest in public policy. I spent several years making psychological portraits of smokers in response to new legislation that banned smoking indoors and in public spaces. The idea that an entire group of people became societal refugees because of a habit fascinates me. In a way, smokers became outcasts when they failed to change when sociey's views shifted sharply against smoking. My series, called Smoke Break, isn’t a defense of smoking - we can all agree it’s deadly - but, is more of an attempt at understanding. As my career progressed, and I eventually obtained an MFA, my work has shifted away from public policy and straight documentary work.

The Fourth Wall, archival pigment print, 24 x 20 (work in progress)

What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

I'm absorbed by several ideas - the relentless passing of time and the mystery of the self - who am I and why do I struggle to understand the person I know the best, myself. These unanswerable (mostly, at least for me) questions have led me away from straight photography and into other mediums, as well as a more conceptual kind of image making. My series, The Inside Dog Barks the Loudest, was one of my first photographic projects that was created by making images as metaphors in my studio, instead of looking to life on the streets.

Kitchen Table, archival pigment print, 24 x 2 (question about self - Inside Dog)

Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

My early work was influenced by street photographers like Sylvia Plachy, Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, many of the Magnum photographers still working today - Trent Parke, Alex Webb, Jim Goldberg. Later I became interested in artists like Christain Boltanski, William Kentridge, Marlene Dumas and Sarah Sze.

Amy in her Backyard, archival pigment print, 24 x 20 (Smoke Break)

Where do you find inspiration?

Sometimes phrases lodge in my brain the way a bird drops a seed in a random yard and then later a plant grows. I read for pleasure and a sequence of words sparks an idea. Soon I start seeing visual representations of that idea as I go about my daily life. Or I start to play with it in my studio. The new work develops from there. I find inspiration other ways as well. Walking through new cities brings me back to my street photography roots. The joy of capturing something unexpected inspires me to work more in this vein and resume the loose visual diary that I keep picking up and putting down.  

Trumpet and Honeysuckle, archival pigment print, 24 x 20 (work in progress)

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

Right now I am working on an experimental novel that combines found and created photographs with text. I'm trying to harness the moment late in childhood when the world is full of possibilities, before adult doubts began to crowd out the wonder.

Thorns, archival pigment print, 24 x 20 (work in progress)

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

I look a folklore class in graduate school and became interested in fairy tales. Prior to that class, I never really thought much about how fairy tales are partly lessons society wants children to absorb. Warnings, really. I had already identied a moment when my carefree childhood turned dork. Following the narratives in fairy tales gave me a new way to work. 

Girlhood #1, archival pigment print, 24 x 20 (work in progress)

What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

Most visual problems have multiple answers. Working in a medium like photography, sometimes the choices present themselves as x or y. Pick this picture or that picture. There's usually a z, maybe a better choice. I have to remind myself to keep pushing past the limits of my imagination.

Entryway, archival pigment print, 24 x 20

What are you working on now?

The experimental novel mentioned above and sculptures inspired by all the boxes and packing materials I accumulated during the pandemic.

If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?

Don't give into fear. I wish I could say I have learned this lesson, but fear comes back fresh. Maybe I have accepted that I will always wrestle with it.

Split, archival pigment print, 24 x 20

About the Artist

Based in Atlanta, Georgia

I am a photographer, bookmaker, sculptor and installation artist based in Atlanta, GA. I dread the elevator speech. Whenever I start to describe what I mainly do, all the exceptions come to mind.

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