Disclaimer: I met Amelia Morris 4.5 years ago when she walked into my office, introduced herself, and shook my hand. I own two of her photographs and currently am vying for a copy of the faux-tattoo print though a trade is not set in stone. Amelia knows all the best restaurants to frequent off the beaten path in Indianapolis and can whip up the best cupcakes on command. When I presented Camden with the concept of doing interviews for this blog, she was one of the first people that came to mind. She'll be famous someday. Just wait and see.
Jacinda Russell: Self-portraiture is an important aspect in your work. Can you describe its role in the three images you've submitted for the Collective?
Amelia Morris: When I first started submitting postcards to the Collective, I thought it might be a good way to experiment with something new or branch out from my usual modes of working. However, I’ve discovered that old habits die hard, and so far have continued to utilize self-portraiture. In the future, I might try to wean myself off the self-portraiture by photographing my cats in funny costumes but include a glimpse of my foot in the corner of the frame…wait…32 cat costumes! I’m so ready for the next exchange! But in all seriousness, I feel most drawn to personal subject matter, both in my own and others’ work. If I’m feeling introspective, it makes sense to use my physical self (or a surrogate in the form of a significant object or photograph) in the image. It’s most autobiographical that way.
JR: Writing or drawing on skin is a common motif on your postcards. Curious people might want to know the story behind the faux-tattoo. Is there anything else you'd like to reveal about it other than it giving you more street-cred?
AM: Ohhhhh, where to begin? My father and his family are British, and since my early teens I’ve thought about applying for dual citizenship as a way to try to preserve my roots back in England. As wonderful as I think it would be to have citizenship in two countries (or as my boyfriend says, to have a place to flee to if things get too crazy here), I’ve heard horror stories about people being stranded abroad due to silly clerical errors compounded by the fact that they belong to two places. This has lead to a fear of commitment concerning the whole issue, and I haven’t moved forward in exploring my options.
About a year ago, I was immersed in a project about that side of my family that brought these feelings back to the surface. One day, I stumbled across a photo of a Victorian-age tattooed lady, complete with a chest piece featuring a crossed American and British flag. It seemed to sum up perfectly what I wanted myself, even with the extreme commitment of having it permanently displayed on flesh. I asked a friend in Muncie, IN working as a tattoo artist to produce a faux-tattoo for me, so that for at least an afternoon, I could appear to be as self-assured as the woman in the photo. The tattoo made it into this image, which is now part of a working series about my post-undergrad blues.
The night before the “Faux-Tattoo” postcard photo, I tried to scrub the marker off my chest with a little soap and a washcloth, but didn’t make much progress. In the morning, I couldn’t help but enjoy the bruise-like quality of the faux-tattoo, and decided it needed to be documented for posterity. The intensity of the collaborative process was really different from how I usually work, so I thought image leant itself well to the theme of “newness.” The text on the front of the postcard is meant to be both silly and self-deprecating. While in Muncie, I met up with some friends at a great local bar, and it being the height of summer, had the faux-tattoo on display under a low-cut tank top. As someone who avoids drawing attention to herself, I couldn’t tell if I looked absolutely ridiculous or slightly hip. The faux-tattoo may have fooled a few folks from a distance, but my bad-assness faded upon closer inspection.
And in case anyone wants to know, a paste of baking soda and castile soap makes an effective faux-tattoo/permanent marker remover.
JR: I view "Remember" and "Try to forget" as a diptych that followed one another three months later in the mail. In addition to having the most fascinating handwriting of anyone I've met, I am really drawn to your use of text. "Remember" is faint when it should look permanent. "Try to forget" is written in thick, block-like letters when I expect it to be washed away. Can you tell me more about your process in using text both on your body and underneath the photograph?
AM: I’m not sure how my interest in text got started. Phrases tend to get stuck in my head, and when they make their way into my work, it’s usually in a confessional context. Though the image should be able to say what I want it to say on its own, text seems to push things a little closer to the territory of a cryptic diary entry, and I think it adds to the narrative of the piece (…and since I’ve failed too many times when it comes to keeping a diary, perhaps it’s good to express these feelings in this way).
I remember a conversation in school about using a piece’s title card to present a creative title or back story for the image. We decided that if the text was so important, it should be inseparable from the finished image so that the viewer would be forced to acknowledge it. I’ve experimented with both incorporating text into the finished image (perhaps most successfully here and with further examples to be found here) and outside the frame as a caption. When I do this, sometimes I feel too Duane Michals-y, but the separation of text from the image feels best with what I’m working on now. And I think I’ll stick with utilizing my handwriting (few things can be as personal and telling as someone’s handwriting, you know…), unless I suddenly find myself enchanted with the idea of anonymity.
The “Remember” and “Try to Forget” postcards are my first experiments with using text on my body for the purpose of an image (though now that I write this, I seem to half remember a shot from Photo II where I drew something like a broken heart on my chest....yikes). “Remember” was originally inspired by a conversation with a friend about how our reliance on gadgets has hindered our once basic abilities to remember things like phone numbers, birthdays, or even when to take a pill. When I’m in danger of forgetting something urgent, I write whatever it is on the back of my hand for safe keeping (seeing it every time I look down really makes a difference).
Around the time I was thinking about making this first postcard, I was trying to come to terms with the project about my Grandmother’s home and belongings. I felt overwhelmed by the fact that no matter how hard I try, my memories will lose their edge. I’ll be stuck with a reminder for something that’s no longer there. It’s funny that you can have a set idea of what you want an image to look like, but when you’re working on it, it just doesn’t feel right. I took several shots of my hand with remember, but until I took a short break and washed my hands, I realized that the faded reminder was exactly what I needed.
When I signed up for the next exchange, I didn’t set out to make my second postcard a sequel to the first. However, after hearing some disturbing news and not being able to set myself free from it, I realized that making a photo about it could offer some kind of catharsis. Thinking about the delicate manner of the first postcard, I knew that the text would have to feel drastically different, almost violent. I think I wielded a magic marker like a machete for that one. Unfortunately, I haven’t really forgotten anything.
JR: Your postcards work well as straight images sent through the mail. Is this your ideal way of viewing them?
AM: I've been thinking about this question a lot lately because I'd like to share the "Faux-Tattoo" image beyond the context of the Postcard Collective. I haven't worked in a small scale like this for some time, and though I like it, I'm not opposed to seeing the images in what has become my usual size, about 10x14 inches. I wrote the message on the back of both the "Try to Forget" and "Faux-Tattoo" postcards off the top of my head, but now I'm not sure I'd feel the same about the image without its accompanying text. The message on the back of the card helps complete the narrative by adding further meaning to the front. Aye aye aye. I'll have to figure out some kind of resolution.
JR: What is the most memorable comment made about the title of your website thanksandsorryphotos.com?
AM: Oh, I get good-hearted laughs from some, perplexed looks from others, but always a slow reading aloud just to make sure they’re reading it correctly. After reading the name, someone once said, “Oh! I can tell we’re going to be great friends!” Maybe I should have stuck with something still self-deprecating but a little more to the point like “ameliaoccasionallytakesphotos.com.”