Tracy Fish, born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., received her MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts from Duke University in2015 and her BA in Art Studio from Coastal Carolina University 2012. She is currently an Adjunct Professor in the Visual Arts Department at Coastal Carolina University. Moving away from the city environment she grew up in and traveling across the country became a catalyst in exploring themes of place and memory in her work through a variety of mediums including photography, audio and experimental videography.
Tracy has won various awards and her work has been exhibited both at home and abroad. She was featured on Oxford American’s: Eyes on the South for her book “Chasing the Paper Canoe” in collaboration with photographer Tim Hodge. Images featured here belong to her projects “When the Road Seeks” and “Trees and Concrete”.
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, you are surrounded by continual energy and activity. When I found photography at 12 years old, it was a way for me to navigate through the stimulating environment I lived in. The camera gave me comfort as an observational tool that became an extension of myself. It still continues to help me make sense of the world around me.
I just recently completed my first year of teaching, which taught me more about my self than I was prepared for. When I was building my lessons last summer I often asked myself, “What do I want my students to understand about this medium? “What did I wonder when I was in their seats?” “What are the questions I still have?” Sometimes there’s no clear cut answer and I try to let my students know that’s okay, but the important thing is that they keep searching, discussing and thinking. I keep an open receptive mind, just as I always have, exchanging with my students and my co-workers. After being a student for 21 years and still being in academia, I realized one never stops learning and I continuously apply that knowledge to my ever-evolving work.
Robert Adams said an artist,
“…seeks to find order in life, and invent ways to put that sense of order in his work as a document of his understanding…”.
After completing undergrad I lived on the road in an RV, trying to figure out what was next, where I would live, all while visiting potential graduate schools. I had just completed “Chasing the Paper Canoe,” a collaboration and contemporary re-imaging of voyager Nathaniel Bishop’s travels focusing on the segment of his journey along the Waccamaw River. That work propelled me into the world of documentary photography. During my own travels, it was the first time leaving the east coast of the U.S. I of course photographed along the way.
The longer the time spent on the road, my images became less about the contextualized “Americana” and more about this reflective time I was experiencing. It was a search for home, a search for clarity, and ultimately a realization that there was no one way to define a place. Graduate school became a reality and I intermittently continued my travels and visited Brooklyn, my childhood home. I had lived away from NY for so many years, I felt disconnected from it. The city changed and so had I. After experiencing everything other than the urban landscape I knew, returning to Brooklyn left me longing for nature. I photographed NYC trying to capture a landscape I wanted to incorporate with my images from the road. This project existed in many forms and title changes until officially becoming two separate works that informed one another.
If it was not for the experience of creating “When the Road Seeks,” I might not have realized the potential for “Trees and Concrete.” The latter examines the New York City landscape, challenging expectations of how one might imagine a metropolitan area, seeking out the green spaces, which often remind me of places I had seen on the road.
I had once showed my mother an image taken in her company in south Brooklyn. She asked if that image was taken while I was in Kansas. I smiled. “Trees and Concrete” is my current work in progress.
Many photographers have stories of their first, often analog, camera. For me, I started with a 3mp point and shoot Olympus that went through far too many AA batteries. Being self taught for many years, digital was always the most accessible though I enjoyed the tangibility of analog (and still do). Since 2010, I have been shooting with my Canon 5D MK II and my 24-70 f/2.8 that on very rare occasion comes off the body. When I need a break from digital and a format change, I shoot a Minolta X-700 (35mm) and Mamiya RZ 67 Pro II. I am often told my cameras are larger than me.
When I was in undergrad, I was fortunate enough to study abroad in China and meet students from 5 different universities in Nanjing. The beauty of this exchange was that we barely spoke each other’s languages, yet bonded through the medium of photography. Together, we travelled to the island town Jiangxin Zhou, spending the day photographing along side one another. Very quickly the differences of how photography is approached were realized. It was that day that I learned that language does not have to be a barrier in understanding another culture. That is an experience I only hope to have again.
Contemporary photography is in a whirlwind state that honestly every day I try to figure out where I am situated within it. The success of social media is that it has the ability to reach a large audience, however even with all the platforms and new images that I am exposed to, I feel a sameness amongst them all. Sometimes from the over saturation of images my eyes need a break. I think about the state of contemporary photo on a regular basis and can/have spent hours discussing.
To keep making work I am passionate about.
Please share your influences and/or favorite stuff within and outside of photography:
Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation by Alexandra Horowitz
Goodbye to All That: Writers on loving and leaving New York
Vincent Van Gogh: [Explaining how he sees the world]
Look at the sky. It’s not dark and black and without character. The black is, in fact deep blue. And over there: lighter blue and blowing through the blues and blackness the winds swirling through the air and then shining, burning, bursting through: the stars!
[the sky gradually transforms into van Gogh’s painting Starry Night]
And you see how they roar their light. Everywhere we look, the complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes.
Something to say to our readers or aspiring photographers (or something completely random):
“Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.”- Henri Cartier-Bresson