As senior Miranda Roelandt described her commencement into film photography, she recalled wanting to find a new way to convey the intersection between natural structures and freeform movement. Through the trial and error of learning film’s technical aspects, such as balancing chemicals and navigating the clumsiness of large format, she fell in love with the art form.
An English and Studio Art double major, Miranda is independently studying photography in her senior thesis workshop. She is focusing primarily on large format four-by-five film, but she has also incorporated more digital work this semester. Initially breaking into film photography her sophomore year, she started with large format film, and then 35-millimeter film. Previously, Miranda worked on drawing and ceramic sculpture, a background that continues to influence her film and digital photography, in terms of the depth and texture she represents.
“The work that I’m doing now is projecting images and textures onto the human figure, but also, more recently, into just space, because it’s been harder to get people to model because it’s such a crazy time … I’m working with light that bends around things, so I have to be especially conscious of form, and just thinking about how things look from all different angles and how things are bending. Spatially, I think about things that are not trying to just create a flat image that looks good from one angle. I’m always moving … the projected image around to see how it curves.” Miranda said.
Miranda considers the curvature of an image in her work, reimagining the role of photography in modern life.
“Thinking about how light curves around things, you kind of get into the conversation of distortion … As a medium that makes things recognizable, like it [photography] captures reality supposedly perfectly right, so the idea of working with something that could become no longer recognizable because of what you’re doing with the camera and what you’re doing with composition is really fun. And I like making people have to search for things.”
I asked Miranda if she is also searching for things.
“Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think this year … I’m working with really different types of natural textures and trying to focus on immersion, and this balance between nature and the figure and playing around with how those things distort each other. So I’m going out and collecting things and seeing how they work in the moment. So in all of my photoshoots, it’s always very playful. I’m always trying … things from different angles, which is why I started incorporating the digital camera this semester, because the four by five large format is really limited. Using the digital has given me the convenience and the portability to try different things.”
Just as Miranda explores new mediums, she also explores her surroundings and creates a relational experience between our local environment and the friends she photographs. Miranda goes into the Crum on outings that involve collecting natural and texturally rich items for projections superimposed over her models.
“A lot of it has just been walking through the woods…[collecting] lichen and fungus and things growing, especially this year, because I’ve been going out and doing that a lot during the wintertime. I’m working with the shells and the skeletons of things and bringing back the little pieces of life that are still growing, which are always like the really hardy, tough…less overtly feminine things as well.”
In physically overlapping the decay and quiet resilience of natural structures with the expression and corporeality of her friends, Miranda’s images suggest the metaphysical intersection between the earth and people.
“I think that all of my ideas have just come from seeing how light plays on trees and how shadows work. I’m really attracted to really organic shapes and kind of the unexpectedness of nature, and kind of how uncontrollable it can be, and how [uncontrollable] it is … I mean, even going back to looking at really early versions of photography, where people were just using pinhole cameras to project things and not even working on getting a permanent image.”
Miranda’s creative process transpires in both a critique space in Whittier and her studio space in the basement of Upper Tarble. First, she brings someone into the space, and then she sifts through a folder of images to project. She connects the projector, turns the lights off, and makes sure the model is wearing something relatively simple so as not to distract from the projected images. She doesn’t like to have competing imagery, and she moves the projector to adjust the size of the images, physically changing its position closer or farther, playing with angles, until she is satisfied with the convergence of the image and the person. The models are typically her friends, which makes for a more personal creative process.
“It’s meaningful for me who I’m shooting with. But I think for other people, a lot of what makes the person recognizable gets lost in the images that I’m projecting on them. But it’s really interesting, because I think, the more comfortable I am with a person, the looser they are in a shoot. And so we get more movement, and people are more relaxed, and it takes less direction. And it’s a little bit more playful.”
For her senior project, she has spent the whole year working independently and occasionally conferring with a professor. This semester, she progressed from exclusively focusing on portrait photography to working more with space and distance. It’s one of many adjustments she made in returning to photography on campus after the pandemic.
“I had to get used to being back and re-teach myself. I just kind of got into making work again, and going outside and collecting things was really helpful and really grounding … I’m working with this idea of immersion, trying to figure out how these kinds of images work with the human figure. It’s been more difficult, I think, in the past than when I’ve used flowers and stuff like that, because there’s higher contrast and more texture going on. And there’s a lot more work to get that kind of sweet spot between like, totally unrecognizable, but then also, exciting to search for. It’s definitely trickier because some of the images even lead into the more grotesque and scary and that’s not even my intention sometimes, but it’s a little more unexpected, maybe.”
Working remotely during the pandemic changed her process. Miranda’s original plan was to continue working with large format almost exclusively, but as the landscape of learning changed, so did her photography. She began including alternative processes such as cyanotypes, doing prints from her home in Utah and working almost exclusively with 35-millimeter. She discovered a more time-dependent process, needing to take even an hour and a half to get six shots, because she worked with one sheet of film at a time. Slowing down and creating one image at a time gave her a new perspective for faster paced photography.
In the future, Miranda hopes to continue to play with the camera and take a tool typically used for the reproduction of reality and transform it into something that can even be confusing. After graduation, she hopes to keep refining her work, trying new mediums, and working with new people. In thinking about her future endeavors, she said, “trying all sorts of new things, and maybe moving away from taking digital scans and printing them…and creating archival originals. That sounds incredible.”
Miranda’s culminating show is on May 12 in the List Gallery.
Stunning work, Miranda.