Doin' Work, Flash Interviews With Contemporary Photographers: Amy Powell

Welcome back to Doin' Work: Flash Interviews With Contemporary Photographers. This is a place for me to celebrate the photographers who inspire me, and present you with an easily digestible bite of their personalities and work.

This week's guest is Amy Powell. Powell is a photographer and high school teacher from Columbus, Ohio. The oldest of four siblings, Powell has taken a keen interest in their upbringing as subjects of her photography. She has employed the camera to create intimacy, as well as distance, with her family. At fifteen, she began documenting the parts of life her mother (the family photographer) did not; the car being repossessed, cat feces on the living room floor, her parents discussing their impending divorce. Organizing the frame and composing a personal narrative that felt genuine helped to empower Powell in situations which often felt powerless. The camera gave her a sense of immunity from life's challenges.

Powell was born in Ohio and has a BFA from Columbus College of Art & Design and an MFA, as well as MA, from The Ohio State University. Her work has been featured with TIME Lightbox.

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The photographer with her camera at 6-years-old. Image via Amy Powell.

Where do you live and work and how does it inform your photography?

I moved to Dayton nearly three years ago. I like it here and I like photographing in my backyard. Never felt the need to travel to take pictures. The camera often becomes a license for adventure, but there's plenty of adventure happening right in front of me.

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Image via Amy Powell

How long have you been making pictures?

I got my first camera on my 15th birthday from my dad. I was immediately frustrated by everyone posing and smiling. I made it my goal to become a spy.

What compels you to pick up your camera?

I've been trying to figure that out for a really long time. If I knew, I'm not sure I would do it. Sometimes I think it's better to not know.

What are you working on now?

Getting acquainted with this FujiFilm X-Pro 2 I just bought. It's my first digital camera and I'm trying to resist the urge to take it back. After shooting medium format film for so long, it's super hard to walk away from that quality even if it is a pain to produce.

If you had to explain your work to a child, how would you describe it?

These are the things that happen in between the times you usually take pictures. Quiet, fleeting moments.

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Image via Amy Powell

Do you make a living as a photographer? If yes, please explain how. If no, please tell me about your day job and how you balance photography with said job.

I teach photography at a high school. I enjoy being around the kids. I never wanted to hustle to make money. I get to go to prom for like... forever. And I can work on my personal projects during the summer months. I have started to pick up some assignment work for magazines and that's rad, but it's nice I don't have to rely on it.

Show me your signature image.

This seems to be the one. People usually think I set it up, but I didn't. My sister and I noticed the ice accumulating on the window and I began photographing her as she touched it. She then ran off to the kitchen to grab a knife. I was mortified thinking she was ruining the shot as she scratched into the ice. What's any kid going to do at that point? They're going to eat it. This is one of those moments where I relinquished control. My own ideas for photos rarely work out. I have to just let things happen.

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Image via Amy Powell

What frustrates you about photography?

Everything after taking the picture. I don't enjoy scanning and dealing with files. I didn't fall in love with photography to sit on a computer all day. I understand why Vivian Maier didn't fuss with getting her work seen.

Describe your working process.

I shoot film in a focused and unrelenting way, make the contact sheets, and then just sort of dwell on the pictures for years. Time changes how I feel about editing and I think it's an important element in my decision making. Then someone steals my computer or my hard drive fails, I lose all my scans and have to keep starting over. I avoid the work even longer by getting a swallowing phobia or a puppy.

What does it look like when you're in the flow?

I wish I knew. So far I haven't been able to complete anything and I'm totally overwhelmed by my negatives.

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Image via Amy Powell

Describe the approach you take when establishing a relationship with a subject.

I guess I'm lucky in that I don't have to finagle my way in. I was born into a family and that's what I photograph, and my family is used to me taking pictures at inopportune times. It might sound sad, but in a lot of ways, it's how we interact with each other and show affection. When my mom photographed me as a little girl, it made me feel special. Photographing things you care about is what makes sense to me. They're the people and pictures I want to hang on my own walls. It also gives me something to do when I might otherwise be bored.

What are your thoughts on the vast sea of online photography?

I think it's great. It's too much to ever look at, but I love that everyone is a photographer now. Snobby art folks need to get over it.

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Image via Amy Powell

What are you most proud of in terms of your work?

Have you ever tried to focus a Mamiya 7 in low light? That.

What are you doing when you're not making pictures?

Cutting my grass and trying to maintain my 1940's cape cod. Going to cat shows. Thinking about working out. Listening to Mariah Carey. Wondering why I'm 36 and childless. Not really. But everyone keeps asking.

What do you think the future of photography might look like?

My teenage self wouldn't have guessed we'd all be carrying these amazing phone cameras around. I'm pretty terrible at predicting the future, but I hope I'll embrace the coming changes. One of my favorite people to follow on Instagram is a 90-year-old woman named Norma. New technology hasn't made her flinch and she has the best throwback Thursdays.

Name three contemporary photographers that blow your mind.

My friends on Facebook and Instagram. I really get into vernacular photography and searching various hashtags. All the conflict photographers. Seriously digging Luc Delahaye. And Tierney Gearon's The Mother Project.

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Image via Amy Powell

Dogs or cats? Why?

Anything but geese. Dogs and cats are both furry and cuddly. Can't go wrong with either. We all need something to take care of.