Wavepool – I see that your aunt and uncle helped you while working on Record of Cherry Road. How exactly were they involved? Did they influence any decisions related to the visual outcome?
Elizabeth Moran – My aunt and uncle were the first to introduce me to the work of contemporary paranormal investigators. Years ago, when they were first starting out, my aunt showed me this tiny spy camera that she bought specifically for ghost hunting, and I was fascinated that there were specific tools made for such research. This thought stayed in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t until a few years passed that I thought this was something I should explore in my next long-term project. But it was only after my initial research phase, working with paranormal investigators in the Bay Area and in New York, that I began working with my family. Already knowing the tools and investigation process allowed me to arrive in Memphis and immediately begin to work with them as a team member. We were able to spend more time discussing and researching the history of the house, the original plantation, Memphis, and our family – stories that I could never have come upon on my own that became important to the project, like my collection of family grave sites and Cary’s original Record of Cherry Road from the 1960s.
Wavepool – In your statement for the project, you ask the question “Do we simply see what we believe or do we believe what we see?” Do you have an answer to the question?
Elizabeth Moran – No. And I believe this is a question that has existed since the dawn of the medium. When I was just beginning to research the paranormal, I reached out to and began learning from paranormal investigators in the Bay Area and in New York, who shared with me their tools, pseudo-scientific theories, and tricks of the trade. This is when I was first introduced to laser grids, EMF meters, and thermal imaging. In exchange for this education, I began working as a photo analyst for a paranormal investigator in New York. I looked at lots of photographs that, to my eyes, only appeared strange due to long exposures, lens flare, reflected camera flash, etc., but people submitting these photographs from all around the country were seeing something entirely different – orbs, mists… classic evidence of paranormal. It was really through that experience that I began to read artifacts of the camera as having possible meanings beyond what I had been trained to see.
Wavepool – While Record of Cherry Road entertains the possibility of a paranormal presence, the accompanying publication, Correspondence 1, seems to disprove this potential occurrence. How do they inform each other?
Elizabeth Moran – I decided to make Correspondence 1 as a response to my work as a photo analyst. My instructions were to find any rational explanation for what appeared in the photographs, for this investigator was only interested in evidence that could not be explained by a trained photographer. As paranormal investigators say in their version of the scientific method, if a result can be replicated, then it cannot be paranormal – a total reversal of traditional scientific practice. However, my opinion is no better than those who submitted these photographs for analysis – I just happen to have a different belief system when viewing photographs. In my side of the correspondence, I often begin my notes with “I believe…”. This was the important learning for me prior to traveling to Memphis for Record of Cherry Road. I couldn’t just make photographs about contemporary paranormal investigators and paranormal photography without embracing this other way of seeing photographs and photographic evidence. In Correspondence 1, I chose only to include our written exchanges, in place of the photographs, to point to these different belief systems at work and to show that the photographs themselves don’t really matter when what we believe changes how we see.
Wavepool – In addition to those written exchanges, you seem to use existing, non-photographic material regularly. Do you think it’s important to introduce variety or is it based out of necessity when photographs fail to reveal something?
Elizabeth Moran – As an artist, it’s always important to ask, “Why this medium?” I think photographically, so it is most often my medium of choice. But I also recognize its limits and what viewers expect from photographs as opposed to text or sound. I love that text and sound, especially in the case of Record of Cherry Road, allow the viewer to create an image in their mind’s eye that is wholly their own. I hadn’t considered it before your question, but I suspect I work with found text and audio because the process is quite similar to how I make photographs: editing together moments that already exist in the world.
Wavepool – For Christopher Fife depicts common office spaces and The Armory depicts production sets of Kink.com, both work environments. How did your interest in these spaces come about? what are some conceptual intersections between the two projects?
Elizabeth Moran – For Christopher Fife came out of my personal experience of working a white collar job throughout the recent recession. I had earned my BFA and got the “good” job with a 401k like any recent college graduate would want. Then suddenly, everything became unstable and coworker after coworker was laid-off. I felt like I was receiving a new “good-bye” email every day, while simultaneously, a smaller and smaller group of people took on more and more work. The thought to focus on the space came naturally as a stand-in for those who were recently gone and to depict what was left for those who remained.
The Armory was my primary project during my time at California College of the Arts. Following For Christopher Fife, I was still interested in how we perform for our jobs and what happens when our job, becomes an extension of ourselves. I had also recently relocated from New York to San Francisco and was fascinated by the (re)emerging tech industry. Pornography, arguably, is the most successful industry on the internet despite providing really only one product that is infinitely repackaged as something new. Employees are to appear as if they’re not working at all, and their place of work, these sets, take on the role of packaging this work/life fantasy.
Wavepool – Were there any memorable moments of development while studying at California College of the Arts, or in your development as an artist in general?
Elizabeth Moran – CCA definitely pushed me to question every choice I make as an artist beginning with “Why this medium?” I spent a good part of my first year of graduate school questioning, really for the first time since picking up a camera at age 14, why I use photography at all. I love photography, but I no longer feel reliant on it as my only mode of investigation. I had already been working with found text in Work Space 1: For Christopher Fife, but CCA helped me realize that this text wasn’t just supportive of the photographs but equal in weight and meaning. (I have since exhibited the emails independent of the photographs.) Working with paranormal investigators gave me a reason to start experimenting with audio, and it has been a really exciting process. I suspect audio will be coming into my work more and more in the future… but we’ll see.
To see more, please visit Elizabeth’s website.
Record of Cherry Road is currently on view at New York University’s Gulf + Western Gallery from December 4, 2014 – January 17, 2015.