Ben Bowden Lee
Ben Bowden Lee (b.1990) is an interdisciplinary artist working primarily with photography, marking making, found imagery, and text. Lee’s work has been exhibited at Day & Night Projects, Atlanta (2016); Colorado Photographic Arts Center, Denver (2016); Doppler Projects, Atlanta (2015); Illges Gallery, Columbus (2014). His work has been included in Atlanta Celebrates Photography’s publication Inspired Georgia and will be the 2017 Artist in Residency at Elsewhere, Greensboro, NC.
The family photograph for many has been nothing more than a record of the past, stored away or scattered in frames throughout the home. However, for others, these 4x6 images hold more than just visual information. They can contain an entire gamut of life events, experiences, and emotions that can transport us to forgotten familiarities. Ben Bowden Lee explores these objects of memory, and uses the material passed down through the generations to recreate strange and bizarre scenes.
Deconstructing and restructuring family photographs for him is a way to cope with feelings of forfeiture and frustration brought on by the memory loss of family members and the death of family lines. His use of digital manipulation allows him to mesh scenes together as seamlessly or abruptly as seen fit within the physical limitations of the initial photographs. It allows him to bridge the gap of past and present in a way that illustrates the failures of memory.
He forms clouds or screens of confusion and passages between time and space by manipulating the imagery present within the photographs. Multiple memories colliding into one another on the flat surface represents an overall recollection of self and place. The use of playful abstraction, expressive mark making, and erasure are actively used to represent the constant flux of memory and the mind over time. In the end, the piece resembles something between painting and photography, often incorporating both digital and physical marks, creating a unique sense of space and texture.
Interviewed by Samantha Long
Q: Tell us about the most recent body of work you are creating.
A: The most recent body of work (The Feeling of Being OK) explores the found photograph and vernacular image. I am fascinated by what people have documented or collected, what they once deemed so vital and important to their lives, but has since been lost or abandoned. I’ve collected and repurposed these snapshots into a collage, seeking to re-contextualize the experiences of others, in order to build new relationships and narratives.
Q: In your work, the failure of memory is a crucial component, yet photography has traditionally been associated with preserving memories. Describe the way in which you play with the concept of memory failure, and how this has manifested itself in your work.
A: To me, I think dealing with memory loss is the most terrifying thing in the world. I had to come to grips with that when my grandfather, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, didn’t recognize me anymore. I had inherited a King Collection cigar box containing photographs and negatives upon his passing. It got to the point where my mom said that he might not have even taken these. The family history narrative got really complicated, and it amplified the fact that anything he could have told us before he passed was now lost. That’s where memory and photography gets really interesting and complicated, for me, because it’s so fragile and it can be so full of fabrication.
Q: Where did you go to find the photographs you work with?
A: I started out with my family, because of that moment where the photographs in question may or may not have been part of my family history. Eventually, I started finding and collecting other peoples’ photographs, comprised primarily of photographs that I have just found. I have turned to places such as estate sales, eBay, Goodwill, and on the ground. I have found entire family albums just lying on the street. These are things that people have obviously let go. It’s like trash, you know? If it’s out by the curb, it’s public domain at that point. But I just have to keep looking and keep an eye out, because they are everywhere.
Q: What do you want viewers to take away from your work?
A: I want them to have the same dream-like feeling of discovery while looking at photographs that I do. I feel like other people are also fascinated with looking into the lives of others, and hopefully there is something to take away from that. It’s going to be a very subjective experience. I have my own reasons for choosing the photographs I work with, and I have my own experiences that I’m pulling from, but my hope is that those experiences can be shared with other people. If it’s not, I’m just sharing part of myself.
Samantha Long grew up in Nyack, New York, and got her undergraduate degree in Photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She is a 2nd-year MA Art History candidate at GSU, with a concentration in the 19th-century history of photography.