Space, place, and the haunting photography of Brit McDonald

Space, place, and the haunting photography of Brit McDonald

CultureMarch 03, 2014

Local artist Brit McDonald grew up in Charleston, S.C., where she started drawing and never stopped (except to become a baker … we can’t blame her). And although she’s in school at Metro for drawing and printmaking, she’s entirely self taught when it comes photography. She sat down with us to talk about her art, the concept of space vs. place, and the haunting lovliness of her photographs.

Medium: Graphite, paper, pen, ink, digital and film photography

What ideas are you exploring with your work?
Space versus place. Place exists regardless of humans or their interpretation of it. It becomes space once we give it meaning, history and personality by subjecting it to our own interpretations of it. I’m interested in how people anthropomorphize physical spaces with their own experiences.

What’s the purpose of obscuring your subject’s faces?
I like to identify my subjects based on their environments instead of using their faces. To me, faces are too literal, and I’m interested in exploring symbols of identity rather than literal identity. I like finding ways to abstract the real world, but still communicate the ideas that come from it. I think it’s because abstracting things makes emotions denser.

Can you talk about the use of dark space in your photos? There seems to be stark contrasts between light and dark.
I was trying to capture subject blending into their environment. I want them to be part of the room, to belong there and interact with it, so I use strong shadows to allow them to dissipate into the background and dissolve into the scene.

Where does your inspiration come from for your photos and sketches?
Fiction, allegory and storytelling.

How does your photography differ thematically from your sketches?
When I’m drawing, I try to use the idea of community or groups, but for me, photography is quiet and solitary. It’s one subject and their experience. With drawing, it’s easier to invent things and involve lots of characters or ideas because you’re not limited by your physical space.

Does art have to have a purpose? If so, what do you think it is?
It inherently does. I don’t think any art is made without a reason even if you never show it to anyone. It’s how people talk back.