Stephanie Dowda on Her “Lost World”

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Georgia Museum of Art

Artists Stephanie Dowda (above) and Kelly Kristin Jones sat down at the Krog Street Market—the bustling new food hall in a repurposed warehouse—to discuss the project Dowda with create with her recently awarded Idea Capital grant. Dowda is known for enigmatic black-and-white photographs that purport to capture the emotional energy of a place. Here, she talks about her technique, assumptions, loss, and how the recent death of her mother has impacted her work.

Kelly Kristin Jones: I like that we’ve decided to meet here at Krog Street Market. I find it fascinating that Atlanta is rapidly refilling and reimagining itself with these renovated spaces and newly constructed mixed-use “Yipster” developments. Does a space like this carry sensations? Or does that only exist for you in the natural spaces that you explore in your series Topophilia?”

Stephanie Dowda: That’s really interesting to think about, and architectural theory is something that I’ve always been interested in. I like trying to understand constructed space and how it influences how you feel or navigate a space. I first started this progression to “Topophilia” many years ago when looking at architectural things through my photographic work. While, I really don’t know how to get there in the work right now, I do think that it’s inevitable in this new “Lost World” work.

SCAD - Derrick Adams

KKJ: Are you planning to shoot the new work with the same manipulated camera?

SD: Yes, I am. I don’t know what’s going on with that yet, but that’s how my work is. The work somehow precedes me. It’s like it’s happening and I have to somehow catch up to it. But, going back to the idea of a place like Krog Street Market, I do think that there are things here. This is why you go back to your childhood home and have a sensation. There are things that come through—signs of a particular place—and that can be any place.

KKJ: You’ve focused on nature and natural locales. What is more appealing to you about the natural space? Is it more universal? Is it just something that you’ve connected to more personally?

SD: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’m really interested in the differences in time between nature and humans. Arguably, a lot of nature has a very short period of time. Some bugs only live 24 hours. I’m sure someone out there can point to how wrong these statements are! I like to slightly believe in things that are wrong.

Some scientist is going to be like, “what’s that girl talking about?” But I think about the fact that rocks live for millions of years and I think about forest systems that live for, I don’t know, hundreds of years.

Stephanie Dowda, Tree Tops in the Sun, 2015, Fuji Instax film.
Stephanie Dowda, Tree Tops in the Sun, 2015, Fuji Instax film.

KJ: Certainly longer than most of what is here in Atlanta.

SD: Exactly. I think there’s something strange and mysterious about that sense of time. And this thing—this whole thing works together. Ecosystems can just be themselves and don’t have to get up in the morning and put a tie on. I’m really interested in that. People are cool, but I’m not that interested in people. I’m not that interesting. I love a lot of people, but I’d still rather go sit by a river. That sounds sort of terrible.

KKJ: You’re not so interested in yourself, but a larger idea and larger world. This is why I find the “Lost World” project so intriguing and why I see it as a potentially huge shift in your work. Can you tell me more about it?

SD: It’s a large project. With the “Topophilia” project, I visit natural places. I’ll look at the map and figure out how I can visit certain sites and explore places. I don’t really research the location because I want to be in a place unfiltered and react through my camera only when I have a sensation. So, I walk around looking at things, making notes, and then I go back to the darkroom and match those things up.

KKJ: Even as you’re in the darkroom you’re looking for that same sensation?

SD: Oh yeah, and it often matches up. Then, I do research about the place and put it all together. It’s both scientific and not very scientific. It’s like I’m always trying to disprove that “Topophilia” is a thing because it seems so crazy but I don’t seem to be able to disprove it right now.