A couple weeks ago Adore Magazine featured and interviewed me for their January/February issue. Here is a selection of the photographs that were published and the interview:
AN: Please introduce yourself. Where are you from?
MT: My name is Manuela Thames and I was born and raised in Germany. Growing up I lived in various towns and cities, the most well-known of which is Cologne. I also lived in Switzerland for a year which is where I met my husband, who is American. In 2004 we got married and I moved to the US. We now live in Saint Paul, MN with our two young sons.
AN: How did you become interested in photography?
MT: My grandfather was an amateur photographer, and I remember how his old black and white family portraits used to inspire wonder and fascination in me. Also, my father carried a camera with him almost everywhere he went (he later gave me a couple of his old film cameras). So from as far back as I can remember I have been around photography and found it alluring.
When I got my first point and shoot camera as a teenager, I used to lock myself in my room and take self portraits. I dressed up in different clothes and created my own little world away from my reality, pretending to be someone else. I never showed these pictures to anyone, and unfortunately I don’t know if they even exist anymore. But it wasn't until years later, after a life changing year of experiencing the death of my brother and the birth of my first son nine years ago, that I began to seriously pursue photography, partly as a way to work through such intense and confusing emotions, and partly to use this time of interruption in my life as a chance to explore some new dimensions and possibilities within myself.
AN: Please tell us about your series “Broken Mirror.”
MT: We had a mirror hanging in our living room that I always wanted to use in my pictures.
I had a vision of an entire series using just a mirror and myself as an object, which then evolved into the idea of using pieces of a broken mirror and playing with the distortions and partial reflections. Before I start photographing, I often have a very clear sense of what I want a picture or series to look like, and then I just need to get it out. In this case, however, I just took the mirror off my wall and broke it myself so that I could play around with the pieces.
I had been thinking about the way we see different reflections of ourselves throughout the day, not just mirrors but also windows or other surfaces. And each time I am surprised at how different each reflection is and also how different I probably look to others from what I think I look like. This has always brought up the questions of perception, truth, reality, and how a reflection can be really deceptive, even though it’s usually assumed to be true.
AN: Can you tell us a bit about the technical process for this series?
MT: Answering questions about technique is not my favorite subject, as I am not a very technical person. For me it's all about the end product; I don't spend much time thinking about how I can get there, especially not in terms of efficiency. Much of the process is trial and error, and I just keep working at things until I get what I want. To a certain extent I find that approach quite engaging. That said, I do try to educate myself on different techniques and ways I can achieve certain effects, because it will greatly expand my possibilities and save me from a lot of trial and frustration.
In this series the mirror images were shot digitally and processed a bit in Photoshop. In addition, I used black and white nature images shot with a Holga camera to produce a double exposure effect or to create some texture. In some of the pictures it is more obvious than in others.
AN: What inspires you?
MT: I get inspired by nature, books, especially poetry, music and other photographers. But mostly my inspiration comes from my own experiences, thoughts, struggles I am trying to work through and conversations with other people.
AN: What or who are your influences?
MT: I seem to get obsessed with one particular photographer at a time. I read everything about them and try to find every image they have ever taken and my work gets influenced by their work, then I move on to another one, and so on. At least that seems to be my pattern.
In the beginning I was inspired by Harry Callahan’s work. I love the simplicity of his photographs and his stunning nude portraits of his wife. Then for a while it was Francesca Woodman. I was intrigued and saddened by her story and her images are still among my favorites.
I absolutely love Sally Mann’s work. And like Woodman, it isn’t just her photographs that inspire me, it’s her life as well – how she lives her life with so much authenticity and simplicity. She has been living in the same place for many years on her farm in Virginia away from most technology. As her kids grew up they ran around in nature all summer long and played board games for entertainment. And she created some of the most stunning images while caring for her children and going on about the tasks and chores that had to be done on a daily basis. I love living in a city, but feel very drawn to that kind of lifestyle.
AN: Do you have any upcoming projects or shows?
MT: I am currently in the process of working on a new series titled “Milk Bath”. This time it won’t be a self portrait series, but portraits of a variety of people of all ages and backgrounds, and they all have to get in a bath tub filled with milk water. I don’t want to give too much away, but very broadly speaking this series will explore themes of dependency, equality, and unity.
Also, I am preparing for a fairly big show in June here in the Twin Cities where several of my self portrait images will be exhibited. The show will be curated by Twin Cities-based photographer Douglas Beasley, and I am very excited to be part of it.
AN: What is your final say?
MT: I think I would like to end this interview with one of my favorite quotes by Sally Mann, and I don’t think I need to add anything to it.
"Artists go out of their way to reinforce the perception that good art is made by singular people, people with an exceptional gift. But I don’t believe I am that exceptional, so what is this that I’m making?
Ordinary art is what I am making. I am a regular person doggedly making ordinary art. But as Ted Orland and David Bayles point out in their book Art and Fear, “ordinary art” is the art that most of us, those of us not Proust or Mozart, actually make. If Proust-like genius were the prerequisite for art, then statistically speaking very little of it would exist. Art is seldom the result of true genius; rather, it is the product of hard work and skills learned and tenaciously practiced by regular people. In my case, I practice my skills despite repeated failures and self-doubt so profound it can masquerade outwardly as conceit. It’s not heroic in any way. To the contrary, it’s plodding, obdurate effort. I make bad picture after bad picture week after week until the relief comes: the good new picture that offers benediction." ~Sally Mann
What is your official website?