Lydia Anne McCarthy New York, USA

Lydia Anne McCarthy’s photographs have been exhibited widely, including Daniel Cooney Fine Art and the Scandinavia House in New York and ACRE Projects in Chicago.  In 2012 she was included in the Humble Arts Foundation’s 31 Women in Art Photography at Hasted Kraeutler.  Lydia’s work has been reviewed and published in The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Dossier and the Huffington Post.  She received a yearlong American-Scandinavian Foundation Fellowship in 2011 and has held residencies at the Banff Centre and the Vermont Studio Center.  Lydia earned a BFA in Photography from Massachusetts College of Art and an MFA from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Lydia Anne McCarthy

Lydia Anne McCarthy was chosen by Pilar Mata Dupont


Laatikkomo’s interview with Lydia Anne McCarthy September 5th, 2013

Where are you from? (What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?)

LAMcC:  I was born and raised in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont when I was thirteen.  I definitely identify as a New Englander- there is something weathered, tough and practical that I love about that region of the US.  I now have two somewhat disparate places that I feel most at home in: Sweden, in particular northern Sweden, and Berkeley, California.  Both satisfy quite different parts of myself.  I lived in Umeå for a year in 2011, working on a project with the support of the American-Scandinavian Foundation, and was perhaps the happiest I have ever been there.  The people, language, culture and landscape fit me in a way I never would have anticipated.  This past summer I was in Berkeley for a month working on a new project with a residency at the Kala Institute and felt free, full and happy the entire time.


What is your earliest memory of photography?

LAMcC: I started taking pictures when I was in high school and immediately fell in love with the medium.  I was interested in art from quite a young age, but the process of photography was exciting to me.  The darkness, the idea of the latent image, it was all quite magical.  At that point, I imagined working as a documentary photographer.  Dorothea Lange was the first female photographer that I was aware of and I wanted to work in a similar capacity as the FSA photographers.  Once I started a BFA program at Massachusetts College of Art, I was exposed to a whole other world of image making and worked with many strong, successful women artists. Since that time my obsession with the medium has been growing exponentially.  Even when I make installation-based or sculptural works, they all center around photographic processes.


Many of your projects work with an elaborate process of combining photos and exploring the technical abilities of the camera and ultimately light. What kind of technical research is involved in your work beforehand or does most of your process happen through direct experimentation?

LAMcC: The technical research and experimentation in my work are in direct dialog with one another, although I would say that it’s more heavily weighted on the side of experimentation.  Photographic history is filled with artists who are tinkerers, pushing the medium to new frontiers and asking it to be something more than it is. In this spirit, I play around a lot with optical devices, in camera manipulation and some postproduction processes that explore the representation of reality.  I am someone who learns what I need to know in order to make the images I want to make, and in many cases this comes from an instinctual relationship with the medium.  Most of the research that I do is focused on the ideas in my work rather than the technical process.


The various objects depicted in your projects seem to be very carefully chosen. The placement and lighting almost make them look symbolic. Are these objects chosen for a purely functional purpose or do you have a deeper personal attachment to/interest in these objects?

LAMcC: I am deeply connected to the objects, people and places within my work.  While I do experiment quite a bit with what the medium can do, I am still very connected to a kind of photography that draws directly from the world and personal experience.  That may be one reason my photographs are still so heavily connected to representational images and narrative; I have never fully entered into abstraction.  My work is driven by a desire to show an alternate reality, a way of looking at the world that we are not able to access in our daily lives.  I want to show my own perceptions of that world in order to ask the view to re-examine their own experience of reality.  While these objects, people and places may have no special significance for the viewer, perhaps they will start to ask themselves what it is in their own experience that is analogous.


Each of your projects seems to hinting at something that cannot be visualized. A feeling or a sound; something almost mystic, generated from the special quality of light present in your images which almost make your subjects glow with a light of their own. Are there religious undertones in your work? Does spirituality consciously enter your work on a conceptual level?

 LAMcC: Spirituality is an extremely important part of the work I am making, although it is only recently that I have fully allowed that conversation to enter in so fully.  The first body of work I made that spiralled me into the themes running throughout my work was ‘The Light’.  This series was based on the idea of a mystical, transcendent experience through nature and light.  From this work, I began investigating the relationship between religious experience, mental illness, hallucinations and optical aberrations.  In many ways, however, I have been avoiding confronting the significance of this in my own life.

While in California this summer I began the series ‘I will be the void’, which the photographs exhibited in Laatikkomo are from.  The title comes from a passage in Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels and the work is investigating the journey of the seeker: someone searching for some greater meaning or connection with the unknown.  The images are of people I met, objects that have spiritual significance and still lifes set up based on passages from Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception.  It is the first time in my work that I am directly engaging with my own system of beliefs.  This is an on-going project and I am excited to see how it will unfold.


Could you list 5(or more) words you were thinking about when you made this work?

LAMcC: Reality



Cosmic energy









What is one of the most important questions that you ask, or would like to inspire others to ask, through your photographs?

LAMcC: Is this all there is, or is there something that exists beyond?


Thank you so much Lydia!