Saturday, May 24, 2008

Art Space Talk: Rebecca Greenberg

Rebecca Greenberg is the third place finalist of the Next Perspective photography competition. The Next Perspective competition was sponsored by myartspace and HotShoe International. The winners of the competition-- Laura Pannack, Dana Mueller, and Rebecca Greenberg --were selected by the contest jury which included Henry Horenstein from the Rhode Island School of Design, Dr. Juliet Hacking from Sotheby's Institute of Art in London and Clare Freestone from the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Rebecca Greenberg's collection of photographs was originally presented as her senior project, entitled "Self-Titled". It is a body of work that has come together over the process of four years. Rebecca has stated that the photographs are color images of female-born men and women who are challenging the gender role assigned to them in some way. There are people who identify as women, men, FTM, tranny, boi, butch, and gender queer amongst others. It is in this way that Rebecca's project is self-titled. It is made up of fifteen people who have labeled themselves or not labeled themselves however they feel most comfortable.

Dyke March. 2006

Brian Sherwin: Rebecca, you were born in Connecticut and received a BA in both painting and photography from Bard College. Can you discuss your upbringing as well as your academic years? Did you have any influential instructors?

Rebecca Greenberg: Growing up in suburban Connecticut was somewhat idyllic. It was the kind of place that a lot of people look back on fondly as a nice place to grow up, but have moved on to one extreme or the other: small town or big city. First I went to the small town and now I am sort of living in the big city, staking out space in Brooklyn. I chose Bard College specifically because it was a tiny school in a tiny town. The landscape was beautiful and it was the only school that upon visiting, I knew I would fit in without putting on any sort of performance. I grew up taking art classes and had even studied classical painting from age 12 on, but I still didn't know if I wanted to major in art or not. I now know that Bard was one of the only places I could have fished around in advanced classes to later turn to painting and even later to photography. I didn't take my first picture until I had to get a 35mm for an intro class the first semester of my sophomore year.

I think the community as a whole at Bard influenced my artistic process. Every one on my peers was extremely talented and I was very lucky to be one of the first students in a number of years to be welcomed into both the art and photo departments. To credit a few names Joe Santore taught me how to appreciate paint, color, and light, while Amy Sillman reminded me to look back to my impulses and asked what I drew when it wasn't for class. In the photography department I worked very independently, but found amazing instruction from Stephen Shore, Tim Davis, Larry Fink, and John Pilson.
Phoenix- 2006

BS: You currently reside in Brooklyn, New York. How has that experience influenced you?

RG: Living and working in Brooklyn has allowed me greater access to the community that I was able to find connection with in my photography. I see people all the time that I wish I could photograph. I need to get over my fear of approaching people I don't know.

BS: Rebecca, you have photographed what you describe as color images of female-born men and women who are challenging the gender role assigned to them in some way. The subjects of that series of work are people who identify as women, men, FTM, tranny, boi, butch, and genderqueer amongst others. Can you discuss this series of images and the thoughts behind them? Perhaps you could tell our readers about the process involved in this project?

RG: I started photographing my queer women friends while I was still in school. The pictures are quiet, shy and a little reserved…pretty indicative of my own queer identity at the time. The "Self-Titled" series came out of a real desire to further explore my relationship to the queer community and those people in it who I always felt myself drawn to. I wanted to leave the subject matter open, but found eventually that all the work really focused on the FTM transgender and genderqueer communities. Friends of friends let me work with them and I placed a few ads to look for subjects. I found the most meaningful images the ones of people who let me spend an extended period of time just hanging around their space. I always made sure that they chose the location and that it was important to them.

I was also very interested in my nervousness, their desire to give a certain look on film, and the reversing of these roles throughout the time I spent with each person. Often the best images came during the middle to end of a shoot where I had opened up and the subject had let down their guard. There are a lot of trust issues on both sides of the lens and I am very very fortunate to have been welcomed into so many lives.
Julia- 2006

BS: Do you have an emotional connection to your work? Or are you more connected to the process? Is the finished photograph nothing more than a reflection of the process that interested you... or is it the unification of that process and the emotion, methods, and techniques that you utilized?

RG: I have an extremely emotional connection to my work and to the process of creating images. I genuinely admire and respect each person I worked with. Most are still a part of my life in some way and the images do reflect for me the experience of meeting them, being a voyeur behind the camera, and my self-exploration via image-making. I think the images successfully reflect this process, my eyes watching this person, and the emotion they feel being photographed.

BS: When you are behind the camera do you view yourself as if you are on the outside looking in or in the inside looking out? I suppose this is a philosophical question... do you have a personal philosophy behind your work?

RG: Once again I am going to have to say both. I am a voyeur watching from behind the camera, peeking into someone else's life. At the same time, because I feel such an affinity for the people I photograph and have a connection with them if not in their exact gender-identity, than in my support of their choices, I think I am in a way looking out of many of the pictures. I identify so much and in so many different ways with everyone I work with that I think it is hard not to say I am in each picture and that a different aspect of myself lies in each one.
torch, Marker, acrylic, watercolor, and collage on paper. 2008

BS: Rebecca, you are a painter as well. Based on what I've read about your painting it appears that with some of your work you are interested in the post-apocalyptic visions of humankind-- both the truth and illusion of those concerns. Can you discuss this body of work and the social implications that they convey?

RG: My paintings are constantly evolving in their representations of the actual and imaginary world. The majority of the abstraction comes from things I experience everyday, images I have seen and ideas that people believe will become reality. I think the paintings are a surreal and extreme version of the number of visions people have for the future. Some are even just a more focused look at what is right in front of our eyes.
I see grass growing on the roof of an abandoned concrete building every morning on my way to work. I flip through a National Geographic magazine and notice the concentric shapes made by three mountains in an old black and white photograph. I look on in disgust yet intrigue at the phosphorescent colors of spilled oil at the construction site near my building. Consciously and subconsciously we are constantly taking in so much visual information.
I think my paintings remind you it's there and project what it might be like if everything were chemically altered and only pieces of once elaborate structures were left…disgustingly attractive and forming a new system all together.

BS: What else you can tell our readers about your photographs and paintings?

RG: The only other thing I can say is that both my painting and photographic processes are separate yet equally powerful and necessary. Each feeds a different desire within me needing to be expressed and neither could really work as well without the other. I haven't found a way to combine the work and at this point, am not interested in doing so. It is the distinctness of each that keeps me very balanced.

BS: What about other influences? For example, are you influenced by any specific artists or art movements? Music perhaps?

RG: I feel that I am so influenced by everything around me that it is hard to pin down exact ideas, structures, and systems. I know that I am interested in so many current abstract landscape painters, the rhythm of the city at rush hour, the light just before dark, unnatural colors, historical buildings, isolation, attraction, and my relationship to other people and the world around me.
Dyke March- 2006.

BS: What are you working on at this time?

RG: I am constantly working on both new photographs and new paintings. They are in the same themes as my previous work. It has been a struggle to find the time for both while trying to make a living in New York City, but I think I have been pretty successful at pushing myself to keep going and getting new work out there.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the goals that you have?

RG: It is very validating to receive such positive feedback on my work. Thanks so much.

You can learn more about Rebecca Greenberg by visiting her You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- Rebecca is also a member of the community.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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