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Interview: Anna Thorne

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

Inkjet print from the ongoing series Traces of Being

1) Could you introduce yourself? Where did you study art, and when did you first see yourself as an artist?

My name is Anna Thorne, I grew up in a small town in Florida near the Kennedy Space Center and am currently living in New York City. I completed my undergraduate degree in photography at the University of Central Florida before earning my Master of Fine Arts Degree in studio art with a concentration in photography from the University of Notre Dame in 2021.

A particular moment occurred when I was twelve years old that sparked my fascination with photography. I was gifted a point and shoot camera for my 12th birthday, a pink Sony Cybershot to be specific. Later that year I was at one of my school’s track and field meets. I was sitting underneath a tree a fair distance away from the track when ahead of me I saw a couple watching the events, the woman was resting her head on the man’s shoulder while his arm gently wrapped around her side. The sun was beginning to set behind the track, and the scene made such a striking impression on me that I pulled out my small camera and made an image of what I saw. It was only later when I realized the man was my P.E. coach, a man I thought to be mean and uncaring at the time. That single image allowed me to see him in a whole new light, it completely challenged and expanded my perception of him, and in turn helped me to understand how unfixed and malleable my perceptions of my entire reality really are. It was this alchemical ability of the camera to help expand my consciousness that drew me to photography as a psychologically artistic tool.

Documentation of how a lenticular photograph (Untitled II) from the series Luminous Visions changes with the movement of the viewer

2) Could you talk about your Near Death Experience which shaped your current bodies of work? What do you think was the object of light that you saw? Did it communicate with you in any way?

My decision to focus on natural light as my primary subject matter is inspired from an abruptly transformative experience I had in my early twenties which is commonly called a Near Death Experience. Moments before this occurred, I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom when I intuitively felt that my body was drawing in its last breath. All of the sudden I was surrounded by black nothingness. I was no longer sitting on the floor of the bedroom, in fact, I had no awareness of having a body at all. All sense of identity and external surroundings vanished. Time, meaning, thought and emotion all ceased. Though this may sound terrifying, it was not. On the contrary, the entire experience was immensely peaceful. Surrounded by complete darkness, a single bright light began to reveal itself. This light, a visible incarnation of love itself, consumed my awareness and eventually brought me back into my body. Ever since then, my aim in this life is to honor that light that felt like my true home, a light that is not only seen with the eyes but felt with the heart.

Inkjet print from the ongoing series Traces of Being

3) Near Death Experience is documented to have been experienced by many people world wide. What makes your perspective and vision different or new from other works that potentially deal with NDE?

I cannot say what makes my art different from others who have undergone a near death experience, but I can attempt to describe how it has personally impacted the way I create. For the last few years the focus of my work has moved away from the photograph as the desired end result and more so as a remnant of the present moment. What I mean is that the focus lies in entering into a state of presence within myself, while the photograph serves the function of a remnant.

Presence is a state of ineffable clarity, an experience universally available to all yet few have truly experienced its fullness. Photographing natural light has become my meditative practice, helping me to slow down and immerse myself into the present moment by attuning my vision with the marvelous subtleties of natural light that constantly surround us yet often go unrecognized. It has never been about re-creating the near death experience, but expanding it - like a thread that connects all seemingly disparate moments into one ever-evolving present moment. Ultimately, the near death experience has taught me that the greatest artwork of all is not found in a marvelously composed image or on the surface of a beautiful paper, the greatest artwork of all is one’s own way of being in the world.

Installation views of Luminous Visions, Snite Museum of Art, Notre Dame, IN, 2021. Framed Lenticular Photographs, 20 x 20 inches (50.8 x 50.8 cm) each

4) Your recent body of work called "Luminous Visions" reminds me of the Abstract Expressionist painter, Agnes Martin, whose work is described as an "essay in discretion on inward-ness and silence." What are some of the similarities between your and her works, and what are the differences in terms of concept, process, and materials?

Inward silence is a cornerstone to most of my work, particularly the Luminous Visions series. Such a similarity through the concept of internal stillness in Martin’s paintings along with our mutual minimalist aesthetic draws many core parallels. Apart from these, what marks our work as starkly distinct from one another lies in the subject matter and materials.

My work focuses on using natural light as the primary subject matter, a subject matter that we all have access to. Natural light is ever present and yet ever ephemeral, providing a magnificent visual medium for grounding one's awareness with the present moment.

The other primary difference of our work lies in materiality. Luminous Visions is the first photographic series I’ve created that utilizes lenticular technology. This technology strengthens viewers’ active relationship by making their movements an integral component of the visual experience. Lenticular technology allows the photographic object to oscillate in direct relation to the pace and movements of each viewer. By activating the role of the viewer with the work, it shows that we are not passive bystanders of life, but active co-creators of our lives and the world around us. This life is an opportunity to co-design our reality by living consciously in the present moment.

Inkjet print from the ongoing series Traces of Being

5) What is your series called "Return to Earth" about? What new opportunities for image are there in New York City? What do you think makes New York City ideal for your photographic practice even though you do not engage in street photography or architectural photography in the traditional sense?

The Return to Earth (NYC) was created on a holiday trip to the city just before my permanent move here. I had no intention to turn the images from this trip into a series, I was simply photographing what was visually interesting: natural light coming in through the apartment, city lights reflected off the pond in Central Park, colorful lights from the 5th Avenue window displays spilling onto the sidewalk, etc. It was only after the trip when I was editing the images that I started to see a series naturally emerge. The hand-written text alongside the images were snippets from journal entries I wrote around the same time I made the images. While I thoroughly love harnessing the non-verbal nature of images in most of my work, at this particular time I wanted to create a series that captured the psychological state I found myself in at that time. I also immensely enjoy the art of sequencing work, so I really loosened up with this series and allowed myself to experiment with new ways of sequencing my work outside of the traditional format of reading images from left to right.

Having been used to photographing in more rural environments, I find New York to be a challenging place to photograph natural light. There are innumerable textural surfaces and colorful backdrops for light to reveal itself. The textures and colors can be visually overpowering, making the light appear as background information rather than the primary subject matter. However, I enjoy this challenge, it keeps my vision sharp and open to photographing in a new way. Prior to the city, my photographs have leaned towards an ‘undisclosed’ (a term created by art critic, curator and writer Lyle Rexer) aesthetic, photographs that resist revealing any obvious sense of proximity, scale or orientation. Now that I’ve been in the city I’ve noticed my work has naturally become a bit more representational, revealing recognizable elements such as doors, windows or a stray passer-by. I initially pushed away from this more traditional form of photographing, but through sequencing I have discovered that interweaving undisclosed and representational photographs together offer a more visually engaging experience.

Inkjet print from the ongoing series Traces of Being 6) What are the advantages and the limitations of the camera in its ability to capture the moment and the transient qualities of the light? Are your photographs literal representations of a reality or are they more of rudimentary visual objects that signify a greater and deeper dimension of reality?

Any conceptual attempt to grasp the ephemeral nature of light or the ineffable quality of presence is bound to entangle itself in its own snare. This is why it is tricky to attempt a linguistic definition of the photographs. Photographs tend to be thought of as capturers of a particular moment in time, understandably so as they document the world in a mere fraction of a second. However, the limitation is not in the mechanism of the camera but the way we view time. Wittgenstein spoke most eloquently on this subject, as he saw time as a “line…that does not ‘break off’ but rather reliably extends from the past into the future” (Rennebohm 2020, 54). Instead of perceiving time as a constantly fragmenting experience that underlies nature, I view time as a human construct that illusively makes our lives appear to be a collection of disparate events. In this manner of seeing, the camera reveals the eternal nature of the universe and shows us that the only limitations are those that distort our perception of reality.

It is also worth briefly mentioning that all photographic images, at their base, are images of light. When we look at images we think we are seeing the representation of objects, but what we really see is the photons bouncing off of objects and into the camera’s sensor which turns photons into pixels. That is why, above all other mediums, I find photography the most conducive for my work.

Documentation of how a lenticular photograph (Untitled XI) from the series Luminous Visions changes with the movement of the viewer

7) How do you decide what materials and processes to use to print your photographs? What is lenticular photography and how do you use it to convey your ideas and visions?

While I occasionally experiment with film and alternative processes such as photograms, I have primarily worked with digital photographs printed onto various paper types. In graduate school I went away from the photograph, preferring video and installation works, because I was dissatisfied with how photographs are static and thus ask nothing out of the viewer’s physical presence. I wanted to create a body of work that gently engaged the viewer in a nuanced way for my thesis series Luminous Visions.

Enter lenticular technology.

Lenticular technology strengthens viewers’ active relationship by making their movements an integral component of the visual experience. This technology consists of vertical lines (called lenses) being laser etched into a sheet of polyester material. The material is then cold-laminated over a single photograph that comprises two of my digital images, allowing the two images to exist simultaneously on a single object.

Lenticular technology allows the photographic object to oscillate in direct relation to the pace and movements of each viewer. By activating the role of the viewer with the work, it shows that we are not passive bystanders of life, but active co-creators of our lives and the world around us. This life is an opportunity to co-design our reality by living consciously in the present moment. Luminous Visions is a pioneering series for its combination of photography and lenticular technology, as this evolved photographic fusion has yet to be written about in the history of fine art photography.

Each lenticular object, being comprised of two photographs, references the ungraspable quality of presence. The lenticular visualizes the nature of presence, for it is both here and there, synchronizing two seemingly separate moments into one indivisible experience. The qualities of light visualized in Luminous Visions offers us a chance for clarity, to immerse ourselves in the boundless becoming of the present, free from the limitations of mental constructs, particularly the constructs of time and meaning.

On a side note, I’ve also been experimenting with the NFT medium and exploring how that completely non-material format of creating art impacts photography. I wrote an article on this subject, titled On The New Futures of Photography Created by the Non-Fungible Token published in Kahlo’s Newsletter.

Inkjet print from the ongoing series The Poetics of Being Human (2020-)

8) What is the significance of text and handwriting in your photographs, such as in the series "Poetics of Being Human?" How does text enrich the content of your work without taking away from the image?

Most of the time, I let the photographs exist independently from words, as I think their innately non-linguistic nature best mirrors the ineffable state of presence. This way of creating art is a kind of projection of my own interior state: I tend to prefer floating in a space where I feel like a shimmering cloud as opposed to being a concrete human being with a personality. However, there are other times when I have particular experiences and thoughts I feel the urge to express through writing. I am an avid journaler, and most of the text I integrate into my work comes from those journal entries that are originally written with no intent to ever be shared. The Poetics of Being Human is the only ongoing series I have that integrates text with images. It’s a bit of a practice in expressing myself on a more personal level, where the work is projecting outwards a precise idea to the viewer/reader as opposed to most of my work which is intentionally intention-less, allowing the viewer to project her own inner workings onto the art.

Inkjet print from the ongoing series Traces of Being

9) Who are your favorite artists/photographers? What do you learn from them?

Some of the artists I look up to include Robert Irwin, James Turrell and Uta Barth for their mindful perceptions of light; Aaron Siskind for his vision of abstracting the ordinary; Arno Minkkinen for his immensely inspiring presence, work and words he offered at a workshop I attended while I was a photography student at Daytona State College; Duane Michals for his witty wonderment and the interweaving of handwriting he brings to his work; John Cage for his sentiments of presence in relation to sound. Other humans who have inspired my life outside of visual art include Ram Dass, Lao Tzu, Alan Watts, Joseph Campbell, Aldous Huxley and William Blake. They have all, in their own way, taught me how to go deep into myself, into that private space no one else can gain access to. They have taught me to see more clearly not just with my eyes, but with my heart and mind.

Documentation of how a lenticular photograph (Untitled IV) from the series Luminous Visions changes with the movement of the viewer

10) What are your goals and dreams for the future?

My goal is simple: to not merely make work about presence but to be a walking embodiment of presence itself; to be fully involved with the here and now that all illusions of separation fall away. I wish to treat this life as the ultimate artwork, with the photographs working as extensions of my temporary life here on this earth.

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