Mary West Quin

Mary West Quin

Mary West Quin’s work explores a paradox of photography, which makes fleeting ideas and feelings into permanent images. She draws on concepts from anthropology and philosophy to explore the space between camera and subject that often mirrors the spaces within and between people. Working with an 8×10 view camera and platinum/palladium prints, Quin stays grounded in the historical roots and questions of photography — permanence, concerns of objectivity, and the nature of human existence and relationships.

“My upbringing was a hybrid, with elements of the Deep South—with all that means in popular culture—and aspects from other areas. I grew up at fishing camps and on boats around barrier islands in the Gulf. My parents resented many of what are considered stereotypical social mores and roles of the south.  We never drank sweet tea and I didn’t wear smocked dresses. Our family friends were diverse in every manner. An examined life was the ultimate value in our home. We learned at a young age to distinguish between character and personality. While some southern values are endearing and nurturing, others are oppressive and alienating. I find the superficial niceties of the south tiresome. I have found, though, that there are wonderful people who feel the same and we seem to find one another. I want to believe that being genuine and kind is a significant contribution to the evolution of the Deep South.

The word oppressive is often synonymous with the Deep South. I think it is fair and common to claim that both the climate and the social conventions can be oppressive.  When I think of this use of the word oppressive, I think of needing to do constant maintenance, altering my thermostat physically and psychologically. What a fabulous way to continue to grow and defy becoming complacent. Oppression is uncomfortable. For some this means to find a good air-conditioned room and sweet tea. For me, it keeps me searching. I find that beneath the lingering oppressive conventions are human beings longing to belong in the world. I have been blessed (at times cursed) with the comfort of being an outsider, a constant observer. When I’m printing, it keeps me present.  The moisture in the air has a huge influence on a print.

I remember printing one summer in Jackson, MS. I did not have an air conditioner in the studio so I had to consult the daily humidity before I began printing. I have to do the same when I’m moving through the customs of the deep south—it gives me something to push back on, to reflect on. I need this. It keeps me present to my little corner. I live in constant examination of my place and space. I’m not responsible for my neighbors customs and conventions. I’m responsible for mine. Today, I find this utterly inspiring. It brings me to an internal place of reflection—of knowing my space. I think this is the silver lining of oppression—it pushes us inward. It all depends upon how we navigate that inward push.”