Mary Akers: Hi, Penelope. Thanks for agreeing to talk with me today about your wonderful photographs. We were so fortunate to have you offer up your talents for our April 2017 issue and I had a lot of fun matching the words to the images. I’m inspired by how your close attention to objects, people, and the natural world makes the ordinary seem extraordinary. All artists spend time in composition and also time in creation, but I’m curious, which you feel takes more time and effort in your case? Do you prefer the composition and capture phase? Or the processing and selection phase?
Penelope Breen: Without a doubt the composition and capture phase is the most enjoyable. I tend to get lost in it more often than not. Being dreamy, focused and in the moment at the same time–the so called zone–is the best part of being an artist. Processing and selection provides the opportunity to see the concept completed but feels much more technical. It has its creative moments as well but takes more time and effort.
MA: In terms of “image hunting,” do you go to a certain place looking for specific things that catch your eye? Or do you set out with openness to the process and assume that interesting objects are everywhere and your job is to discover them?
PB: While I do capture numerous images close to home there is always the “pull” of my garden, books, films and chores. If I am traveling and working on a project I am able to put all my energy and focus on that one thing. The freedom to do that is essential to creativity for me. Invariably, film and the influences of favored directors are referenced. Books play a significant role as well. Sometimes a sentence alone or a phrase provide a spark. My work for the last several years has not been random. There is intention.
I have been working on the notion of thematic purpose within the structure of a photographic project. I explore a set of ideas (inspired by films, books, poetry, etc.) and photograph scenes. An artist’s statement accompanies the project, which enables the viewer to have an understanding of my intentions. Engagement of the viewer, exploration of themes and interpretive conflict are my primary concerns.
MA: I feel as if the images you choose become something more than the thing that they already are, by virtue of your focus and composition and I would imagine this leads to emotional interpretations specific to the individual viewer. I know some of our contributors contacted you about your work. Did any of them interpret your images in ways that surprised you?
PB: I am always surprised by the interpretations of my work. An effort is made on my part to create a moody cohesiveness, however, I am interested in exploring ambiguity and interpretive conflict. Each viewer is encouraged to read the image and use their imagination. Cinema is always a strong influence. So, yes, the interpretations produced by some the writers were surprising but welcomed. I am in awe of their work.
MA: And finally, because we are a recovery themed journal, what does “recovery” mean to you?
PB: Honestly, aren’t all humans recovering from something? The website pieces offered a multitude of interpretations. It was a pleasure to be a small part of that effort. Writing is a gift. One that I admire immensely. When writing an artist’s statement it is a slow process and agonizing for me. I am in awe of all the writer’s ability and congratulate them. My preferred way of expressing recovery entails using a camera and a lens. Artists are all subject to tools, aren’t we? Pen and paper, canvas and paintbrush and so on.