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[Interview] with Rebecca Pyle

By A.M. Larks

Click on each image to enlarge

[KELP JOURNAL] I always find it interesting to hear about how an artist found their way to art, this is especially true for those artists who practice in multiple disciplines, as you do. Did you come to art at an early age? Was there one form that came first or called more loudly than others?

[REBECCA PYLE] My father worked for a large company, which sent him many places, even to Brazil and Iran for fairly long periods of time. I grew up living in many places across the United States, everywhere but the mountainous West (where I live now). So, I had a terrible jumble of memories and images to contend with in my brain; I think, with every move to every new state I became...quieter. But in an art class, I was like a muted person who could suddenly sing, surprisingly. Without sound. Even materials didn't matter (though I was an utter disappointment with anything three-dimensional).

Given anything to draw or paint with, even drawing shapes in the sand, I was resolute. An image was like a room which formed itself as you worked. It could become more real than any real-nesses around you as you worked it; and if it succeeded in some way, it would continue to exist as if on an island, to which only you, really, had the true rowboat. A camera's that way, too, no matter how simple: your hallway or room of relayed, patterned shadow and light, and a button which lets you keep it, a souvenir of having been really there, having been transfixed, by something.

[KJ] Were there any artists that influenced your artist style?

[RP] I loved any artist whose work told you in a moment that he or she was still really and richly a child, inside their head. A sense of play. Though, oddly, that expressed sense of play usually seems to invite in doom: as soon as you like how Roualt braced everything with thick lines of black, you begin to think of gloomy churches, their stained-glass windows, and how those figures seem trapped forever, unable to move. Picasso, often so bright and simple, but his figures, outside of his blue period, could also be like angry puppets. Miro and Chagall, their bright shapes, their feeling of flying or sailing through the sky or space. But didn't they make you feel, too, that they were running away from something, or there were parts missing in puzzles, which the artist was still looking for and couldn't find? The same follows in photography: the more deliberately unpolished the photographer is, the more like a child she takes the picture—as in Diane Arbus, whose figures in images just seemed to awkwardly be there—somehow, the more sadness and desperation you find in the photo. So, I guess, childish, basic wonder is a portal to art: trying too hard to be sophisticated isolates you from the real, often subterranean, or behind-the-shadows-and-mirrors subject. In other words, art of all types is doorway, but part of the way you lead the expedition as an artist is by definitely not knowing where the expedition is going to go, just as a child doesn't. You'll find out later, and possibly often only through others' eyes.

[KJ] Still life has a long and storied history, but it can be seen as less challenging than other forms of photography, such as street or nature photography. What goes into a still life photograph for you? Do you go through multiple setups and objects before finding the right balance and the right story?

[RP] I've often thought still life work is the refuge of the artist in winter, long ago. They wanted to study something indoors, in the warmth of the house.

My favorite way to find an image is suddenly, with one photograph. But that's rare, isn't it? Today, I photographed a blooming white amaryllis in my kitchen; it feels right, all the accidental gleams of handles and pots and potatoes all over the place, under the asparagus-upright-and-tall amaryllis so eager, eager to bloom. If it happens, in one or two photographs, you feel the deepest gratefulness, sense of luckiness, about that luck.

[KJ] Do those considerations change if you are shooting tonal shots? Like the sepia toned or blue hued ones we have included here?

[RP] I love the brazen quality of monochromatic images. The decisive pattern of shadows is definitely the major character on the stage, the Pied Piper calling you home. Shadows can enclose you with their emotion.

As a child, you sense the shadows as a coziness, almost an invitation to the blanketed and pillowed wonders of sleep. As an adult, the older you are, the more they (shadows) have the portent of death; you know you will not always be frolicking on the surface of this earth, in the sun. The shadows are almost the ever-present jesters, reminding you. So, you take them much more seriously. In fact, the color image can become an affront, a non-reality to you. I suppose I'm saying that the old movie The Wizard of Oz, in black and white at first, and then changing to color, is in the wrong order. Black and white or monochromatic work is your glad relief, truth and simplicity, after the home, I have even tuned a small color television into sepia tones, and that utterly changes what you're viewing, as if you're hearing old Icelandic poetry, instead of boppy, cheerful tunes. I swear, you hear the past calling, and the future, too.

Sometimes I begin to miss color. But frequently, I don't.

Find more of Rebecca’s work at

Photography & The Wave Editor

AM Larks (she/her) writes fiction, nonfiction, children's literature, and drama. Her writing has appeared in Scoundrel Time, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, Five on the Fifth, Charge Magazine, and the Zyzzyva and Ploughshares blogs. She has performed her stories at Lit Up at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, California. She is the current photo/visual arts editor at Kelp Journal, a multimedia literary revue, as well as the Editor for Kelp Journal’s blog, “The Wave”. She is the former fiction editor at Please See Me literary magazine as well as the former multimedia editor of The Coachella Review. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, a Juris Doctorate, and most recently a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University California Riverside Palm Desert's low residency program. She is a longtime patron of the arts and enjoys stories that capture the complexities of life on the page or screen.


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