Available light

During her time as the Tylee Cottage artist-in-residence, Marie Shannon documented the interior of the cottage. Her pared back photographs of the cottage’s architectural details feature in her solo exhibition, Sleeping Near the River, at the Sarjeant Gallery.

Known largely for her photographic work, Marie’s practice also incorporates model-making, film, artist’s books, text-based photography and video works, watercolour painting and occasional felt weaving.


Marie Shannon at Castlecliff, Whanganui. Image courtesy of the Sarjeant Galley.

What materials are integral in your work?

In terms of producing work, film and paper are integral. In terms of the content of my photographs, paper appears regularly, either as notes or other objects I photograph. I have also used brown paper with fold marks in it as a background in a couple of photographs. It has a certain neutrality but a recognisable character, which I like very much.


Describe your creative process.

I spend a lot of time thinking about things, and I work slowly. When I’m working on a series, I’ll usually start with a list of ideas, objects and locations. Or sometimes I’ll notice an object or detail around the house that has possibilities. When I take a photograph, I spend a long time on the set-up. If it’s a small object, I might set it up with a background, then move it around and observe the light. I work in my house, with available light rather than studio lights, so I open or close curtains, and maybe bounce some light into the image with a reflector. I work with a large-format film camera, so I get my negatives processed by a lab then scan them to make digital files to print from. I use Photoshop sparingly, to remove dust, and make small adjustments to colour balance, exposure and contrast. Kevin Church, at OpticMix, does my digital inkjet printing.



What is “home” for you?

Very much Auckland, as I’ve lived here almost my whole life, and in the same house for nearly thirty years. But when I visited Bluff for the first time a few years ago, I felt inexplicably and strongly drawn to it.


How does your childhood influence your work now?

I always liked painting, drawing and making things, and this was encouraged at home. I think I always had a project on the go. Though not an artist herself, my mother was interested in art and craft, and would take my sister and I to exhibitions. When I later had to choose subjects to take at school, I always chose art ahead of everything else, and was surprised when some friends were pressured by their parents to drop art in favour of more “academic” subjects. It never occurred to me that anyone else might make these choices for me. I was brought up in a way that made me feel that it was up to me to choose what direction I wanted to go in, and I was never given unsolicited advice.


What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was eight, I wanted be a pop star and/or a go-go dancer. It was the late 1960s.



What’s the most memorable response you’ve had to your work?

My survey exhibition Rooms found only in the home, curated by Lucy Hammonds and Lauren Gutsell at Dunedin Public Art Gallery, was reviewed for PhotoForum when it was shown at Te Pātaka Toi Adam Art Gallery in Wellington. The reviewer was Mary-Jane Duffy, and as well as the review, she wrote a poem in response to the show, which was also published on the PhotoForum site. It’s a beautiful poem, written in a form that echoes my video work What I am Looking At. To me, this is the best response possible, to have someone make a creative response to your work.


Do you collect anything?

I really try not to, as I live in a small house, and I feel like I have too much stuff. However, I do let certain things accumulate, then keep them for too long. For example, when our cat AJ – who has recently died at the age of seventeen and a half – was a kitten he used to bring small sticks into the house, like a little dog. We thought this was very cute, so we saved them in a Crown Lynn vase. There are ten sticks, one cabbage tree frond and one lancewood leaf, still in the same vase, and I think of it as AJ’s collection. Now that I’ve kept it for nearly eighteen years, I can’t see myself throwing it away.


Money is no object. Which priceless artwork do you buy?

Edward Hopper’s painting Seven A.M. But I’d be just as happy to go and visit it again at the Whitney Museum.



Images are from Marie's exhibition, Sleeping Near the River, at the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua until 14 November.