Gabrielle Russomagno is a Philadelphia-based photographer. She graduated from Yale University in 1989 with an MFA in Photography but her work has been exhibited since 1985. Her work is included in the permanent collections of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, among others. In 2008 she founded TangenT, an art collaborative with sculptors Yvonne Love and William Cromar, dedicated to mixed media, project based, immersive art environments exploring socially relevant and politically current themes. Her website is gabriellerussomagno.com and you can also find her handmade artisan jewelry at www.ilsalovesrick.com
Interviewed by Helen Berhanu
Edited by Linda Lin
What first inspired you to pursue a career in art?
I simply fell in love with photography when I took an Introduction to Photography class in my senior year. In one month’s time, my acumen in this area had already surpassed the other art forms I had been studying for years. The other primary reason has to do with the culture of art communities and the work itself. I wanted to live a life that had creativity, ideas, and making at the heart of it. Since I am a person who is not motivated by money particularly, or the traditional professional careers, I was able to make choices about what I wanted to investigate and express.
Could you give us a brief introduction to your art, for example, the themes you explore and the mediums you use?
From my earliest days as an artist, I have been drawn to work that is anthropological in nature: beginning with portraits of American culture, to a surgical look at how boys and girls grow up, to artworks related to global warming, the body, waste, permanence and our public and private lives. I began as a modernist gelatin silver photographer, who only reluctantly embraced color digital photography of the mid 2000’s. I had collaborated with sculptors, printmakers, and painters, and I have worked in film and installation art. Today, I make pictures, mount immersive environments with a small team of collaborators and I run a small design studio that makes handmade artisan gold jewelry.
Is there any project or work that you are especially proud of or best represents you as an artist?
I have done so much work over the last 30 years, but I think The Story of Boys and Girls a silver portrait project that is equal parts memoir and anthropology best reflects my interest in intimacy, seemingly insignificant moments that make up a life, and things beautiful and sensual at once.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently I am working on a series of large-scale multimedia sculptural installations. RedAct is a series of artworks that explores visual renderings of facts detailed in redacted public documents. Drawing from state and federal reporting on individuals and institutions, RedAct is as much a meditation on information control, privacy, and truth as as it is about what we choose to record, see and know. Fly Spec No. 1, the inaugural artworks in the series,, uses the patterns of redacted text coupled with an original soundtrack as a metaphor for disconnection of experience, falsehood and a suspension of truth.
Would you say that your gender has had an impact on your career? If so, how?
When I was attending graduate school at Yale in the late 80s, there was only one tenured female faculty member in the whole school, and only a handful of non-tenure track female appointments, so I was aware at a very early stage that this was a boy’s club. Academia was as bad as the art world as a whole, exhibiting 15% female artists in top venues globally. However, I have a tendency to go for what I want without any consideration of my gender. I felt a great degree of comfort going toe to toe with male counterparts. I never once felt that my gender held me back. It did however present some considerations that men just do not have to think about: when I was pregnant and nursing, I couldn’t be around photo chemicals, so I was out of commission for a while. Balancing family with artwork was much harder for me to negotiate that teaching and art-making as I see them as one fluid continuum. It’s not that women can’t have it all, it is just that we can’t have it all, all at once.
How do you think women can become more prevalent in the art world?
Be relentless. Take risks. Work outside of your comfort zone. Don’t take “no” for an answer.