Microcosms

PHOTOGRAPHY by Maren Robinson

Artist Statement: When I first moved to Chicago from Idaho via Montana, I found myself unable to navigate because of the lack of mountains. For a while I tried to substitute skyscrapers for the mountains, but after my first few months in the city I found my focus shifting from big spaces and big buildings to small details.  After my first bleak winter in Chicago, on an early, grey spring day I was walking to the el when I saw a perfect garden on the sidewalk. The water had pooled on the uneven pavement, chartreuse pollen floated on the water, and a single purple candy wrapper floated like a lotus. This old wrapper on a dirty street was lovely, a vision seized on an indifferent street. I did not have a camera with me, but that memory is the first photo in this series.

My primary artistic practice is theater, which is an ephemeral form. Most of the work I do disappears completely when a production ends. The nature of my artistic contributions dwells in conversations that fade and are forgotten. In fact, my work, when done well, should be absorbed and disappear into the fabric of a production.

I was drawn to photography as a both a counterpoint and a complement to my theater practice. With the camera I can catch fleeting moments. The solitary moment can be kept and also shared.  However the subjects I choose are often ephemeral or unnoticed. In many ways, I mimic my theatrical practice in my photographs. I attempt to disappear in the work, but I am also editing, framing and shaping. The content of the photos is more important to me than my taking of the photo, but traces of my presence are still there.

When I got my camera I made sure it had a depth of field of zero because I know I like minutiae.  It is an accident of camera terminology that a macro lens is necessary for getting at the microcosm. One must make the small large.

These photographs come from a variety of years, cities and even countries, but those distinctions slip away when the focus is closer. These are small worlds unto themselves. They can exist in a small and glorious detail that does not rely on the photograph being taken in Yellowstone National Park, Wales, Chicago, or Baltimore.

In selecting these photos, I was interested in repetition. Both the shapes and objects I photograph again and again, and the forms that echo through a series of photographs. Patterns that cross the urban landscape, signs of nature in obstinate moss or the tracing of a leaf or fractures in a rock or sidewalk, refraction in a pool or a window. The photos are grouped by these synchronicities of form rather than time or place.

Maren Robinson (MAPH ’03) is a dramaturg, and company member of both TimeLine and Lifeline Theatres in Chicago and is an Adjunct Instructor at the Theatre School at DePaul University. She is currently the Associate Director of the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities.