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Interview by Ruth Grim, Chief Curator and Gary R. Libby Curator of Art
Seeing Differently: Photography by Margo Kessler Cook
Open at MOAS March 20, 2021 - July 18, 2021
Artist, Margo Kessler Cook
Margo is a Fine Art International award-winning photographer. She is also a self-taught artist who has worked in printmaking, fabric design, and metal-smithing. Her approach to photography is that of a quiet observer who discovers interesting things in ordinary places; shedding light onto subjects that many times go unnoticed. Cook is known for her B&W architecture images. She often takes the language of shapes, forms, and lines creating abstract compositions giving the photograph a degree of independence form the normal visual reference.
RUTH: Margo, can you fill in us in a little about how you came to become a fine art photographer?
MARGO: It was an evolutionary process. I started taking photos out of necessity. I had to submit photos of my art for juried competitions and exhibitions. After doing that for a while I started to see the camera as more of a means of artistic self-expression instead of a tool to document my artwork. So, I kept pushing myself in that direction, experimenting and seeking out ways to express an idea, a message, or an emotion using a camera. In all the mediums I work in I find it's the most creative for me. When looking through the camera lens, it's an imagination parade that takes you on a never-ending journey.
RUTH: Can you explain a bit what leads you to search out details and patterns to turn into works of art?
MARGO: Assembling a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle to produce the image on the front of the cardboard box might be a clue. Do enough of those when you're a child and something sticks. Your past experiences somehow manifest themselves in unusual ways in your future endeavors. Maybe linking those pieces to create a picture was where it started. I like the connectivity of things; how one thing is associated with another, how they fit and are built to create the end results. I look for visual clues and details that others might miss and present them in a way to make the viewer see it differently.
RUTH: You have worked in other media - such as metalsmithing and printmaking -- throughout your career, as well. How do you think the experience of these other techniques has influenced your photography?
MARGO: All the elements of line, shape, color, texture, form, space, and tone come into play. There are certain mechanical skills necessary in metalsmith and printmaking to create a piece of quality art. With photography, there are technical things like sharpness, contrast, lighting, etc. to produce a good photo. They all embrace one another. I lean on my artistic eye and the discipline achieved from working in these other mediums to create my photographic images. I find the most important of skills learned is that of good composition.
RUTH: I first saw your photography when I juried an exhibition a while in which you submitted "Liquid Metal." I gave you an award for that incredible photograph and was so intrigued by how you happened to take this photo of the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. A good number of your photographs have some interesting stories about how they came about - can you tell us some of these? For example, the story behind "Between a Rock and a Hard Place."
MARGO: It was a bit of a challenge. I was in LA at the time and took a day to visit LACMA. In particular, I wanted to see Heizer's "Levitated Mass." Seeing it for the first time inspired me to search for a unique and meaningful image. It made me think about the old adage of being caught 'between a rock and a hard place' that proverbial difficult situation of having two equally unpleasant or unacceptable options. I wanted to reflect that and express it somehow in a photo utilizing his masterpiece. So, I decided the best representation would be to capture only one man trekking the 456' viewing pathway beneath the 340-ton monolithic sculpture. The day was a typical LA hot, sunny, smog-filled day with hordes of people walking the path. I waited for over an hour in that blistering heat. Two 16oz bottles of water later, a sun-crisped noses, and a need to find the nearest restroom, I finally got my man!
A printed copy of this photo is hanging in my studio. I find it provides a striking visual aid to reflect upon during challenging times. Although this image has a pathway that seemingly leads to nowhere, in particular, it nonetheless offers an escape route from being caught - Between a Rock and a Hard Place.
RUTH: Your list of awards is truly incredible. Can you tell us about some of your most recent and most distinguished? Any awards that mean a good deal more to you than others?
MARGO: Of recent, recognition from BIFA (Budapest International Foto Awards) for a Silver Award, "Rise and Fall" in Architecture/Interior category. This series is part of the "Seeing Differently" exhibition here at the Museum. Also, an Honorable Mention for "He Loves Me" from TIFA (Tokyo International Foto Awards).
Winning Third Place, from IPA (International Photography Awards) in the Nature/Flowers category for my floral series, "Her Breath of Sensuality" comes to mind. This award took me to enjoy the IPA gala at Carnegie Hall in NYC. Four photos from that series are here in the "Seeing Differently" exhibition. These photos were the result of an experiment using my cell phone with an attached macro lens.
All the awards are a blessing from above and I'm truly grateful for them. It's an honor to be included with so many incredible photographers who participate in all these competitions.
RUTH: Tell us about your most recent works and what has inspired them?
MARGO: "A Bite Miami" is one of my favorites in line of recent works. It took me by surprise as it was not my intent to create a silhouette. I was out and about taking architecture photos when I looked up and saw this young man having his lunch. The background of the Miami blue sky was so intense I couldn't help but take a few quick shots. It wasn't until I returned to my studio and began processing the images that I noticed the photo. Again, the blue sky contrasted with the man's silhouette right at the moment of the 'bit' caught my eye.
It made me recall the delight of seeing things in a silhouette form so it helped me create this photo as a visual aid allowing one to see MORE with LESS.
RUTH: Any new directions or new ideas germinating, that you think will lead to some future projects on your horizon?
MARGO: I'd like to continue experimenting with my macro lens on my cellphone. There's an adventure that happens when I can buy a bouquet of flowers and explore new ways of capturing their beauty and sensuality. I'd also like to get back to doing some photogravure printmaking. I would also like to continue to participate in photography competitions. It helps me be a better photographer by constantly pushing myself to review my work; weeding out the good from the bad.