Contributing editor Anne Veh introduced me to Linda Connor. I’d long been aware of her photography from sacred places, but had no idea what she would be like in person. I found her to be warm and direct, and we hit it off.
In spite of Connor’s unease with language as a vehicle for conveying the meaning and content of visual experience, and of her own work in photography, she agreed to talk with me about herself and her work.
One bright morning we sat down to talk in her home, which could easily be mistaken for a small museum of art, anthropology and archeology.
The images here are mostly from Connor’s books:
Odyssey. We didn’t touch specifically on her later work, which continues as does her teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute.—rw
works: In terms of a little background, what do you think might be relevant to your photography?
Linda Connor: I think probably one of the most crucial things about my life and going towards the arts is I am very dyslexic. I couldn’t read. I had trouble with any symbol systems, math, later on chemistry. I really didn’t start reading until about the fifth grade. I didn’t read a book from cover to cover until I was 17. I grew up in a time when they didn’t identify the learning disorder, but they knew I was struggling. Luckily for high school I went to a small Quaker school, a boarding school, which was a really wonderful place. The classes were small and I had smart roommates.
I mean I learned but I didn’t learn through a lot of direct scholarship on my own.
works: Right. So in grade school you probably had a lot of trouble spelling, too.
LC: Horrible. I would feel really stupid.
works: How were your parents with this?
LC: They were concerned and helpful. I had two younger brothers at that time. I remember having to listen to that awful “A is for apple” record over and over.
works: You are one of three siblings?
LC: I’m adopted. My mother had a number of mis-carriages. I was adopted and then they got pregnant and I had a baby brother who died of crib death at six months.
works: Oh, my gosh.
LC: Then they moved from New York and, a few years later, had two sons who I grew up with, who are four and five years younger than me. I lost my father when I was 16. Then, when I was 19, one of my stepbrothers, Jeffrey, was killed in a really horrible accident when he was working on my uncle’s farm. By that time my mother was pretty alcoholic.
works: So there were a lot of hardships.
LC: There was some drama, yes. I started going away to camp up on the coast of Maine when I was seven. I really took to that and went for the next seven summers. And I didn’t have a difficult time adjusting to boarding school. Then I went to RISD, which was only a few hours away from home.
works: So when you were in high school, did you start to connect to the arts in some way?
LC: Oh, absolutely.
works: When did that connection start?
LC: When does art start with any kid? Young. I used to have ballet lessons and art lessons there when I was seven or something. I also wanted to be a musician at that age, but I couldn’t figure out the notes. Of course that’s where they have you start. I’m not one of those people who can just pick up an instrument and do it. So I was not destined to be a musician, but I love the way music can transport you.
works: What instrument did you want to play?
LC: The violin. Impossible! And I also studied the piano for a while.
works: How old were you when you were adopted?
LC: I was a week old.
works: Did you ever connect with your birth mother?
LC: Yes, I did in my 40s. Before I located her, I had some information. Her name was Muriel King. I knew she was a nurse and had returned from the Second World War pregnant and had worked and lived in New York and made arrangements through the Red Cross for the adoption. Something in an affidavit had said something about her. So I was able to find her rather easily once I got a little advice on how to do that. In fact, I found her in less than an hour by making one phone call.
LC: It was terrifying, but quite interesting. At this point she was in her 70s. She never married and lived with her sister right outside of Pasadena. So I went down and met her. She was pretty closed off. I now realize that she was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
works: Okay. Now getting back to your interest in the arts, what was it in high school that was attracting you there?
LC: Actually even before high school, at the camp I went to, they had a good crafts department. I loved hiking, being by myself in the woods. It wasn’t until the end of high school that I asked for a camera. I was flunking French and my uncle, who was the family patriarch, paid for a summer in France so I could study French. I thought that Europe looked different and had a different light. I had taken the family Brownie basically. I was sort of embarrassed to use it, because this was in the ’60s and it wasn’t a 35mm. So what
I got later that year was a basic 35mm, and I just loved making pictures. From then on it was like, okay, this is it!
I had an aunt who had studied photography and she gave me a darkroom lesson. Then I got into RISD.
works: So by that time photography was your focus.
LC: Yes, by 17. And there was a little bit of ceramics. Then when I was at RISD, I learned about this place called Haystack in Maine. I would go up as a summer volunteer on a working scholarship, and I did that a number of summers. It was wonderful. It was on the same island where I’d gone to summer camp all those years earlier.
works: How did you like RISD?
LC: I liked it pretty much. I think I got a good art education. Socially I was sort of awkward. I felt much better once I was in the photo department.
works: In terms of the curriculum and the approach you ran into at RISD, what were the things that were difficult and the things that were positive?
LC: Well, for instance, their first year was basically a design program for all freshmen and then you would branch off into your more focused disciplines. So I didn’t have a photo class my first year, and that was very frustrating. The second year I was ready to go to town with photography. Luckily the academics were light.
works: So they weren’t pushing a lot of theory?
LC: We didn’t have any of that. Thank God! I had some good English teachers who understood they were in an art school.
works: So it wasn’t torture?
LC: Not torture. And the papers weren’t torture, either. Instead of a paper, you could do a visual project. So one of the projects I did was looking at Renaissance portraiture and then early American photography from the 19th century.
works: But before you got to RISD, you were given a 35mm camera and what happened there?
LC: I got the camera for Christmas and I started going out and photographing weeds and snow. I think I may have seen some Callahan by that time. My high school ceramics teacher told me about Callahan and I ordered his book, Photography
. I had it before I went to RISD.
works: When you were taking photos of weeds and snow something was going on there.
LC: Yes. I liked the absorption about seeing the landscape and not just walking through it—really concentrating on seeing small things, and seeing things more abstractly. It just seemed like an art form I could really call my own.
works: I see. Even in high school you were thinking about that and felt drawn in that direction.
LC: Yes, I really felt this is it. So from the time I was 17 on, I’ve not really ever thought I should be doing anything else.
works: What was the “it” there in “This is it”?
LC: I loved being out in nature and walking around and observing. Something I was pretty good at, even in middle school, was natural science. I would enter science fairs and win. I mean, I wouldn’t win grant prizes and stuff like that. I think I still have one of my little blue ribbons. My projects always had illustrations and visuals. As a kid I had a microscope, and I could get lost in there. That was in middle school. So I continued that in high school. For a while I thought I wanted to be an oceanographer and I liked biology. But when I got to chemistry in high school, I just about flunked it. That’s when I began to realize that the way that science was conducted was not for me. Then I didn’t get into the first college of my choice, which was Bennington. So I got into RISD, and that kind of set the deal.
works: So there were competing interests in a way—oceanography and art at that point.
LC: Or you could say natural science. But with hindsight I realized that in natural science it was the idea of wonder in the natural world and observation that interested me. Both of those things can be nicely absorbed into photography.
works: I see. That’s really nice.
LC: So it was very lucky that the arts won out, because—I mean, I still didn’t know I was dyslexic at that point. I didn’t find out until I was 30.
works: Oh my gosh. Did you go all the way through and graduate from RISD?
works: What were some of the best moments you remember at RISD with photography?
LC: Well, I remember Harry Callahan was kind of a shy and non-verbal guy.
works: Was he at RISD?
LC: He was my beginning teacher.
works: Okay. Amazing.
LC: Yes. And when I was finishing up at RISD, I asked Harry what I should do next. He said, “Oh, go study with Aaron.” So then I went and studied with Aaron Siskind in Chicago.
works: Was this an official academic thing?
LC: Yes. I applied and went to the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago.
works: To an MFA program or what?
LC: It was an MS, but it was a design program with an emphasis on photography. At that time very few places had MFAs. The other really important thing that happened at RISD at that time is that Emmet Gowin had come as a graduate student. So during my last two years at RISD he was there. He and John McWilliams and Jim Dow, and these guys formed a really powerful creative grad program. They would meet at Harry’s house at night and Harry would drink too much. They would have these intense critiques and discussions. And Emmet in particular was always a community guy. He was not a drinker. He was actually married at that point.
works: Were you part of these things?
LC: As it came down into the photo department, but I was very active there. I hung out with these guys and we’d go on field trips. Like we took a field trip to the Eastman house in Rochester—a caravan of seven cars leaving from Providence.
Emmet encouraged us to do a portfolio. I guess in his first year in graduate school he was using a 4 x 5. He made a portfolio of ten of his pictures, mounted. The camera cost $100. He made ten portfolios with ten pictures each and sold them for $10. He also convinced everybody that we should have a photo society and that we should do a student portfolio. He spearheaded that.
So in my senior year there’s a portfolio. Harry had a picture in that, too, I think. This was something they used to do when Harry was at the Institute of Design in Chicago before he came to RISD. But I contracted hepatitis A midway in my senior year and lost about six weeks of classes. So Emmet printed my picture for the portfolio, which was really kind.
LC: But I did graduate, and then went to Chicago. Then I hit the wall. So my first semester in graduate school was just agonizing. I couldn’t seem to get a footing in terms of what I wanted to do.
You should be very careful about having a single influence, you know, somebody who you just think is the cat’s meow. This is something I tell my students.
Walker Evans was my God apparent. So I was going about Providence trying to recreate the Great Depression and photographing people’s homes and making them feel nervous and miserable until I took the picture. I was also getting pictures on the wall behind them, or I would pose them with a picture of themselves earlier.
Then I found an old-age home for colored women in Providence, where they were kind enough to let me come in and photograph. I started doing portraits. Then somehow or other I gravitated to their bureau tops, because there were two women a room and the only territory they had left besides the bed or maybe what was in the closet was their bureau top that they would decorate with assorted things like family photographs and pill bottles—sometimes poignant things and sometimes whacky stuff. So I started photographing those.
So when I left RISD, I was on this jag, still a little Walker Evanish about pictures within pictures, and that ended up being basically what I did in graduate school. Where the shift really came is instead of trying to find that in people’s homes, I was constructing them as collages.
works: You mean by taking different photos and putting them together?
LC: Yes. Then at the end of graduate school, after doing that for two years and thinking they were all about nostalgia and the history of photography and blah, blah, blah, I realized it was really all about my adoption and the fact that I didn’t know the pictures of my own ancestors.
So I’d been going to this great flea market in Chicago every weekend and buying shit. I would buy these beautiful old Victorian albums. And because my parents grew up in the same town and knew each other all through school, they had these 5 x 7’s of everybody in their high school class. So I swiped those, too.
This [showing me] was the first picture where I ever set something up. It was at my grandmother’s house. In one room I found this unmade bed and that’s me in the middle with my adoptive parents. So I just moved that and propped it up. Then when I went to Chicago, this is one of the high school pictures of my mother.
works: This is your adoptive mother?
LC: Yes. Catherine. I wanted to float pictures over landscapes. With some of these I was doing some hand coloring. I was really playing around, because in Chicago when I tried to think about going into people’s homes, it was too scary. I mean, racially it was tense.
By now I’d seen Frederick Sommer’s work. So I was collecting everything. This was all happening and I was getting to smoke some dope, and then I met Imogen Cunningham.
works: You met Imogen Cunningham where?
LC: Aaron brought her out to the Institute of Design. She stayed for a week. She was just a kick. I lived just across the highway from the school and I had a car. I was delighted to be her chauffeur.
At ID from early on I hung most of the exhibitions. I would drive the visiting artists around. I was sort of the go-to person and thoroughly enjoyed it because I love photography so much. I thought by the time I was thirty, I was going to have a show at the Museum of Modern Art. I just thought I was God’s child in photography. At that time, SPE [Society for Photographic Education] was getting started. I’d been to the Eastman house and I’d seen Beaumont and Nancy Newhall and I felt part of photography history.
works: You were kind of in the thick of it, for sure.
LC: Well, you know what? I think when you’re not good at a whole bunch of things and you find something you’re good at, you latch on. Finally your life makes some sense.
Now technically I was not very good. Callahan would just sort of shake his head. I mean, I didn’t learn the f-stop relationship to depth of field for the longest time. The numbers on the camera would confuse me. But I worked sort of routinely at something, so I got relatively good. From early on I had a darkroom with an enlarger in my apartment. So in Chicago I had my own darkroom as well.
works: You met Imogen Cunningham and what happened there?
LC: By that time I hated Chicago and was pretty depressed, actually. I knew I wanted to get out of Chicago, but going back to New York City seemed like going from the frying pan into the fire. I didn’t want to move back home to Connecticut. So I was thinking either Seattle or San Francisco. In 1968 I came out to the West Coast for the first time, and I got a little taste of San Francisco.
works: So what was that like for you?
LC: It was a smaller city; it seemed sophisticated and seemed to have some history. And San Francisco had Weston and Adams and F64 and that history, and the ocean. I was from the East Coast, summers in Maine on the coast. The Midwest never made any sense to me. So I was driving Imogen around for a week and we had a chance to talk. I really enjoyed her and her sense of humor. I said I was going to come out to SF to see if I could get a teaching job and I asked her who to contact. She gave me Jerry Burchard’s name at the Art Institute and Jack Welpott at San Francisco State. So I wrote both of them. And she said, “Here’s my phone number. When you come out come see me.” And she meant it.
works: She was living in San Francisco?
LC: On Russian Hill. So I would visit her occasionally after moving out, and I still had the car. She didn’t drive, so I would always call up and make sure that she had a ride to whatever photography event was going on. She was terrific.
works: Wow, great.
LC: So I met Jack Welpott at San Francisco State. On that visit I also met Michael Bishop, who was a grad student there. He was the lab manager or something like that. Michael and I became a couple and lived together for three years—my first real boyfriend, live-in mate. He was the last one I ever actually lived with, and we’re still good friends. He was sort of the star photographer of their program. The two of us, our careers were sort of really getting going during that period. We were both represented by Light Gallery, and we were in publications.
works: Where was that?
LC: New York.
works: So that was an important gallery for a photographer.
LC: Yes. I think it was the second important photo gallery to be established in New York. Witkin Gallery was the first one. So, okay. I met Jack. I met Judy Dater, who was very suspicious of any young woman who was talking to Jack at that point, but we became good friends. I mean Jack was such a flirt, endlessly a flirt.
works: I see. Was she a couple with him?
LC: They were, yes. Judy and Jack were a couple for a long time. You should know that, don’t you?
works: No. I know a bunch of stuff and I don’t know a bunch of stuff. So that’s how it is with me.
LC: Okay. Jack and Judy were a powerhouse. He was at the top of his game as a photo instructor. Harry sort of had the East coast version. Jack had the one out here. They started a photo organization called the Visual Dialogue Foundation that I joined. I was the only East-Coaster. I think I was the only girl, besides Judy, and the others were mostly Jack’s students. We had shows at the Center for Photography down in Carmel. At that point it was the Friends of Photography.
Then when I went to see Jerry Burchard at the Art Institute, it was early summer 1969. When I came in, I noticed my letter to him was still unopened on his desk in this pile of papers, but he was very nice. I’d gotten a corneal infection in graduate school. So I was wearing a black eye patch and my hair was out to here [gestures] and it was mini skirt time. Then he found out that I was a Scorpio.
Now Jerry is gay, but he loves eccentrics and, at the time, astrology. So I made an impression on Jerry. He didn’t have any jobs open at that point. At this point I literally had a hand-written resume.
works: But you had some pretty good names on there and good stuff, I’m sure.
LC: Yes, I’d had some shows by then and a few things published. So I got a moving van, brought my stuff out and found an apartment on Haight Street. This was in 1969.
works: So you were in the thick of the hippie thing.
LC: Yes, but I wasn’t part of that—although I bought a $5 lid on Haight Street. My friend Bob, a high school friend, and I were moving in my furniture and stuff. I had a cat from Chicago. We’re not getting really stoned, but the cat is going nuts. We realized that I’d bought a $5 lid of catnip [laughs].
So Jerry, in my first interview with him at the beginning of the summer, had mentioned that he had done printing at the Lick Observatory. He told me about these wonderful glass plates because I was interested in old photographs and some of my work included glass plates and stuff like that. So when I couldn’t find any work, I called Jerry again and said, “By any chance do you think I could get a job doing some printing down at the Lick?” He said, “I don’t know about them, but we have a night class opening up, a beginning class. Do you want to teach it?”
LC: I said, “Yes indeed I do!” So I started teaching a beginning photography class at the Art Institute two nights a week. I got my foot in the door, and there you have it.
works: And you’ve been there…
LC: Forty-six years and I’m still teaching there.
works: When I first ran across your work, it was associated with something spiritual. Is that a word that you would like related to your work?
LC: Not a whole lot.
works: I know that word is problematic for a lot of people.
LC: So is “romantic.” I would say my work is fairly romantic. “Beauty” now is a death knell.
works: These words are problematic in the artworld, nevertheless they are reflective of major spectrums of human experience.
LC: Yes. Well, I think from my art history mostly at RISD, the types of pictures that I liked were not like Lee Friedlander multi-layers brought together in some graphic thing—but something sort of essential and beautiful and condensed.
Okay, remember I had mentioned my interest in Walker Evans, that he was my hero? At that time the other influences around my work at the end of RISD, what would they be? They were Emmet Gowin, Harry Callahan, Frederick Sommer and Julia Margaret Cameron.
works: That’s interesting. That’s fascinating to have Cameron in there.
LC: If you look at that constellation, what you don’t get is documentary photography; you get honorific photography.
works: What do you mean by that?
LC: You get photographs that are sort of constructed like altars. So that picture of my mother in the tree, that becomes, in some weird way, an altar. So the pictures are static, and by this time I own my own view camera. I’m working with a tripod, not grabbing something with a 35mm. I was still doing some pictures out the car window, but not much. So that thread of more honorific and still pictures you can trace back to my very early work. So where were we before that?
works: We were touching on some problematic words—romantic, beauty, spiritual—that are highly fraught in the context of the artworld.
LC: Well this is the problem with the fucking words and word concepts. Okay, let’s just point.
works: So that’s what you’re doing with your camera. “Look at this.” You don’t have to say what it is. “Look at it.” Right?
LC: Yes. See how you respond to it.
works: I think you said you went to a Quaker Boarding school, right?
LC: Yes. We had Friends Meetings twice a week.
works: Were your parents Quakers?
LC: No, we were sort of Congregationalists, but neither of my parents was religious. But I went to a Quaker boarding school in high school for four years. We had a class that met once a week, religious studies. We studied the Old Testament one year. We studied the New Testament one year, Quakerism one year and world religions.
works: How did you take all of that?
LC: It was fine. I liked the non-hierarchical part. It took a little getting used to sitting still like that, but on the whole, there were times when you actually would feel like you were in a communal space.
But I’m not religious. When I got to San Francisco in the late ’60s, I think I did EST. I went to a few of their training things. There was this West Coast New Age thing that was in the water. I never went too far with any of that. Luckily. I am too skeptical, and I had photography.
Here’s a funny story. When I was at RISD and starting out in my photo classes with Harry Callahan, my aunt and uncle said that great aunt Ethelyn had a special lens from when she had studied with Clarence White in the early part of the century. And if I would like to have it, I could.
I’d just bought a Nikon with three lenses. I asked my uncle if it would fit on a Nikon. He said, no.
So I said, “I’m not really interested in it. I’ve got my Nikon.” And luckily they just were, “Let’s give her a little bit more time.”
Then eight or so years later, “Linda, we have something for you.” This time they didn’t even ask. They went to the attic and brought down this old case. It opens up and there’s an 8 x 10-inch wooden Century View camera with a barrel lens that does soft focus photography. It was great aunt Ethelyn’s in 1905.
[Linda gets a book of her photography, Solo
, and sets it on the table.]
works: This is work you took with that camera?
LC: Yes, yes. These are all 8 x 10s.
works: How old were you when you did this work?
LC: I was in my late 20s.
works: This must have been powerful for you doing this.
LC: Well, a lot of people thought it was because I had an eye infection and was seeing fuzzy. [laughs] Especially men thought it was very romantic. This is about the time that people are starting to use plastic cameras. It was just at the very beginning of that.
When I was pulling these photos together into a book, I didn’t want to make sense of it for people. I didn’t want titles. I didn’t want dates and places. I thought because they were single images, I could just have a book of single images. I learned very quickly as soon as I put a dummy together that your pictures will make a sequence whether it makes any sense or not.
works: That’s interesting.
LC: So that’s when I began to learn the importance of sequencing. By the time I was putting this together, I had basically retired this soft focus lens and was using a sharp lens on my camera. This book comes out in 1979, and I get a Guggenheim in 1979 and go to Asia for the first time with a sharp lens. Now with this soft lens I could take something extraordinarily mundane and it is just radiant. But with a sharp picture, you can tell exactly what’s there and it’s not very mysterious.
LC: I like that radiance. I love, for lack of a better word, the romanticism that shifts something out of the world of the mundane. Now with the sharp lens I was having a hard time making elemental pictures that were strong and weird. But I knew it could be done because Frederick Sommer had done it. But with a sharp lens, if you want to be sort of mystical about it, then you really had to have mystical stuff. In going to Asia and India, in particular, or Nepal, I found there was magic, ritual and sacred stuff out on the street. You could encounter it and make a sharp picture that was, at the same time, outside of time.
I guess another element I’m interested in is sort of timelessness in my pictures. I appreciate people who photograph from their time, but that’s not what I do.
works: Generalizing, I’d say that in the artworld there’s often an attempt at a rigorous intellectual something or another. I’d say that the intelligence of feeling is not given much respect. I feel that you’re operating in this area of another kind of intelligence.
LC: Absolutely, absolutely. It might even be considered a female trait.
works: Well, the world is half female and we kind of overlook that at our peril, don’t we?
LC: Yes. I think it’s a terrible problem with our education system—the sexual bias.
works: You’ve had a long career doing your work and following a thread of your own. But I think you’ve been reluctant to talk about what it is, or maybe people haven’t really asked.
LC: Well, let me get back to one thing that we started to talk about and I didn’t get very far with. That is the sacred in the work. I’m interested in that even though most sacred art is religious art, and I’m not interested in religion. But I am very interested in the structure of the sacred and how that is played out in art.
That is what gets back to nature. So the balancing point that I think applies in most of my work when I’m out photographing is the relationship to the natural world in terms of the sacred.
So I believe that art started, if you want to call it art, when humans developed self-awareness so they realized their own death and that people died. When humans began to recognize their scale in relationship to the power of nature and the fickleness of their fate, they got very nervous. To control that fear they started to try to get ahead of it by constructing magic basically to compensate—to try and mitigate their puniness—with music, with trance, with setting up altars, with taking nature and manipulating or painting it.
Making a relationship with how often the moon comes with periods and all that seems to me to be the basis of art, and it’s the basis of all religious life.
Except for a little bit of the Renaissance, pretty much all sacred art is flat field and often symmetrical. Light plays a part in almost every religion with the lighting of candles or the way light is controlled in architecture. It comes down the nave and then you have the cross as the architectural structure. You have the oculus that goes up through the top of your head to God. I mean it’s all there in those structures. I’m really fascinated with that.
works: This is a kind of anthropological interest?
works: Have you ever read anything by Mircea Eliade?
LC: Yes. I used to make my students read his book, The Sacred and Profane
. In fact, I teach a class called The Sacred and Profane. So in my class presentations I can range anywhere from mask and identity to the way Diane Arbus photographs. I’m interested in religion in relationship to nature because I think nature is the starting point, is the grounds for our human activity in the sacred.
works: We are
LC: Yes. And we forget it. So I’m not interested in photographing new, modern, architectural, Corbusier-style churches. I’m interested in finding a really old falling-down temple that is going back into nature or has enough nature texture that I can have those two things.
works: Here’s a phrase I heard from a friend—it expresses an attitude that educated people often hold, that as we go back in time people knew less and less. It’s “our ancestors the dummies” view. What’s your thought on that?
LC: Well, I want to show you something. I think this is my favorite piece of art that I’ve seen this year.
works: Wow. I’m guessing that’s Paleolithic? [an image from the wall of a cave that includes a row of red dots that have been made on the wall]
LC: It was made 40,000 years ago.
works: What do you see there?
LC: I see this natural wall with this incredible intervention of those regular dots in that natural, dark world. I just think this is as good as anything that’s being made today. Whatever prompted them to make that, in that place, as that ritual, is what I’m trying to get at still, and it’s why I make pictures.
works: Well thank you for sharing that. It’s like we’ve gotten down to the bottom line here, right?
LC: [laughs] Yes.
works: So you’ve been teaching all these years and what do you tell your students? What do you hope to be able to give them?
LC: I do believe that having a creative practice is, if your lifestyle can fit it in, is really important for your development, for your own solace, for the way you connect with the community.
Photography is one of the more democratic forms. So I try to have my students figure out what their musical style is. Are they a trumpeter? Are they interested in jazz? A classicist? Are they introspective? An extrovert? A people person? A poet? An essayist? A journalist?
There are very different ways of approaching things. So I hope that I push them in a direction that seems right for them. At the same time, I try to pull the rug out from under them a little bit and challenge them. For instance, there’s a guy I was writing to earlier today who teaches business. I think he’s doing photography because he longs to be creative, but he doesn’t quite know how to get there because the means he’s used for other parts of his life aren’t working for this. It’s not to make him into Paul Caponigro, because I don’t think that’s going to happen. He may not exercise, let’s call it, the feminine side of his being, but I’m sure he has some of it. And in order for him to begin to develop and trust his own intuition and to better understand his range, he has to kind of turn off his words and naming center just to allow this other kind of experience in, and to function visually and spatially. Then hopefully, once he gets more confident and more experienced, the boat will float somewhere in the middle of the current and not so much just on one side.
works: What do you say to your students who are burning with ambition?
LC: You like them having a little fire in their belly, because they’re going to have to work hard, and they need to do a lot
of work to get somewhere.
I try to let them know the artworld is fairly fickle and that they’re not ready. As I said, I thought I’d have a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York before I was 30. I really did.
works: I believe you. Speaking of Paul Caponigro, it sounds like you hold him in pretty high esteem.
LC: I do. I think some of his early work is very, very beautiful. His work has been part of my education, let’s put it that way. You know that apple picture?
works: Oh, yes. Of course.
LC: That apple picture is one of the best ever. But he didn’t see that when he was photographing the apple! He saw that after he looked at the proof. He realized that if he added more contrast it would shift into an image of the heavens.
works: It’s really an incredible photo. Do you want to say anything about beauty?
LC: I think it’s absolutely essential. There’s that quote, “Death is the mother of beauty.” Again, it goes back to early human times when we started making rituals—in my theory—that making something beautiful is sort of an aesthetic hedge against death and chaos. So is that just an old rock wall, or is that a beautiful image?
works: Well, that takes me back to Plato’s view that beauty is one of the three aspects of the Divine. In that case, if it’s really beauty in that Platonic sense, it enters at a very deep level.
LC: And what are Plato’s other two aspects of the Divine?
works: Truth and Goodness. This is not language that contemporary thinkers pay much attention to today—although maybe things are changing now with how baffling quantum physics is. Some of this stuff just defeats the rational mind. So for a lot of people, I think mystery is coming back in some fundamental ways. And that’s interesting because it’s an opening to not knowing.
LC: Right. The unfathomable, which I think is a very interesting place for art.
works: Can you say more?
LC: You’d like something more coherent with that? [laughs]
works: [laughs] I’m always a little greedy—just in case there’s more!
LC: Well, getting back to my books, even in that one where I do have titles, they’re in the back and the places are generally mixed up. The images are not chronological; they’re not geographically, logically, culturally put together. They’re put together as you would a piece of music—maybe with emotion and tone.
I’m always pulling away from the rational. I think that maybe the unfathomable is the magnet in the world that, if we allow ourselves, we are drawn to. So it’s stopping and looking at the night sky, or looking at a sunset or a bug.
I mean, it can be totally clichéd. It can be used in very stupid ways. But it’s recognizing the existence of that which is beyond our capacity to embrace. We can get little pieces of it. We can glimpse it. But we can’t encompass it. Caponigro’s photograph of that apple is one of those things that reminds you that there’s the potential to see further, or to get closer to that ineffable.
We spend most of our days with our egocentric busyness, and having an art form that gives you a practice where you might occasionally glimpse something outside of that is quite marvelous.
More examples of Linda Connor’s work can be found at http://hainesgallery.com/