An Interview with Courtney Egan

I contacted New Orleans artist Courtney Egan recently, as I had come across her work during a google search. She too has an interest in looking through glass at nature, and has produced some beautiful and mesmerizing works, including large scale interactive video projections.

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Above is a still from her amazing Cluster piece, but you need to see it moving to get a full appreciation of it here:

She was kind enough to answer a questionnaire that I sent her.
Would you describe yourself as an environmental  or eco artist ?
I am personally an environmentalist, but I don’t consider myself an “eco artist,” in that the work does not directly advocate for specific change. It is more of an exploration of my interest in and awareness of seeing the world through a lens.  The lens or the glass distances us and brings us closer to nature at the same time. It’s an effect that I find uncanny but is becoming ubiquitous for consumers of media.
When did you first fall in love with the lens as a creative medium?
I started taking photos of my cat and the alligators on my parent’s property as a tween. We lived on a river in a tiny town – I was on a constant quest to photograph the alligators in the river. I had my first experience with photography in Girl Scouts. I fell in love with the darkroom process and the philosophical nature of photography- questions about how photography can be manipulated and how seeing is not always believing. This was pre-Adobe Photoshop.
I also fell in love with television at an early age, when unrestricted viewing in America was the norm for kids. My parents were fans of public television, which rubbed off on me, and nature documentaries were on almost every night.
What do you love about the lens, or viewing the landscape/nature through glass? Why do you think it is a suitable medium for themes of environment or
the natural world? Why, in your opinion, is it a preferred medium to painting or drawing, for example?
I see lens based work as the extension of painting and drawing, not necessarily in opposition to it. The lens brings a whole new range of considerations to bear, which are pretty much the same as drawing – close observation, patience, attention to light and color, and awareness of the “window” through which we are presented with a slice of the world, composition. The main difference (for me) is the addition of motion to the image, and the addition of manipulation of the photographic image, and the constant push and pull between what’s “real” and what’s “imaginary”, or you could say “altered by human desire.” But the thing about flowers is that they have been altered by human desire for centuries now, and author Michael Pollan suggest the flowers have been altering human behaviour for centuries as well.
Your work touches on environmental issues – yet I see a sort of mystical beauty and tranquillity in your images – am I correct in thinking that you try to
capture the spiritual aspect of nature within your work?
I work within the tradition of the botanical as a metaphor for spirituality, physicality, and imagination.
The Romantic artists often including a figure in their paintings to give this impression of vast, awe–inspiring landscapes, and the sublime and often
terrifying forces of nature. Do you feel that your projections trigger these emotions to the audience?
I like to think that a viewer looking at my work IS the figure, and is aware of themselves as the figure, in comparison to the pieces. They may have to deal with their memory of the images as they may know them from their reality, verses the alterations that I make in the images.
Do you think that the use of lens-based media/technology can connect this generation of youngsters to nature, or help to re-enchant the landscape?
As a teacher, I find the basics are to teach sensitivity to light, and from that, all follows. The sun as a phenomenon that our bodies are intimately connected to, as a vehicle for metaphor and a source of beauty – refining our vision to be aware of the qualities of light, I think. helps us conjure the enchantment that can be created by light. Also, the urge to share – “I saw that” – is very important in terms of connecting with other humans.
There’s often a discrepancy, when one sees a thing, one sees it again in a photo and sees different things in it. That gap between experiencing something, then seeing a representation of it, can be profound. I often find things that I wasn’t aware of in my photos. This enchants the process of vision for me, more than enchanting the landscape or any particular object.

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