Ashley Whitt is a fine art photographer whose work deals with themes of duality within the self, psychological states, and mortality. She uses a variety of photographic techniques including dass transfers, digital manipulation in Photoshop, sculptural bookmaking, and traditional darkroom processes. Ashley is a Texas native and currently resides in Dallas.
How did the idea for The Haunted Mind come about?
I began the series in 2012, shortly after I graduated from Texas Woman’s University with my MFA in photography. My biggest fear after graduation was that I would not continue making art. I didn’t want to lose that fire to create, so I began to think about what was most important for me to portray in my work.
I began sketching storyboards and scouting locations for inspiration. I knew I wanted to make a series that tip toed the line between truth and fiction. I found the truth of the work in my struggles with depression and anxiety that I have battled since I was in high school. The fictions through dreams, memories, desire for narrative and inspiration from literature and film. Through the solitary performance of the work, my unconscious mind began to reveal underlying issues of my mother’s passing, and a fascination with death.
Can you explain a little bit about the physical process of creating these works (with dass transfers etc)? What drew you to working in this way?
The process I use within my work is called Dass transfer. The image is inkjet printed onto a special transparency film that has an emulsion coating on one side. Hand sanitizer or a special medium called SuperSauce are the two most common mediums used to transfer the image from the transparency to any final surface including paper, metal and fabric. The transfer technique allows for manipulation, and I use several methods to create my desired aesthetic. By applying more medium, I can create blurred areas in the image. I also use a bone folder to create different marks. I first learned about the Dass transfer process during my time at graduate school. I instantly fell in love with the technique and aesthetic.
What inspirations do you draw on when thinking of new images?
Many of my aesthetic inspirations come from film and literature. I particularly love horror and thriller films. A Tale of Two Sisters is a Japanese horror movie that I’ve watched over and over. I also love Alfred Hitchcock; Vertigo and Shadow of a Doubt are a few of my favorites. A short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne titled The Haunted Mind, has provided a well of inspiration for the series. Hawthorne writes about the edge of conscious and unconscious thought achieved on the edge of sleep. I saw many parallels to the imagery in the story and how I felt inside.
How do the chosen locations play into the images from this project?
I love exploring secluded parks or wooded areas that I can get lost within. A sense of solitude in my location choices is important to my meditative and deeply personal working process. Currently, I’m lucky because a quiet wood where much of this work is photographed is within walking distance of my apartment.
Has making the work for The Haunted Mind helped you in any way deal with the death of your mother or the subsequent depression, and how?
I lost my mother to cancer 7 years ago, right as I began studying photography. For a while I made work based on fairytales and children’s literature as a means to escape reality. As I started developing my voice as an artist, my work shifted and became a combination of fantasy and a fascination with death. As grad school ended, my work shifted again and began to discuss mental illness and its effects. Since grad school, my work has focused less on mental illness and become more about the psychological experience of loss and living with anxiety.
As an artist, I feel it is necessary to make work that reflects my own life experience and what lives in my mind. I think about my mom constantly, and wish I could talk to her and ask her questions. When I make art, I create a visual interpretation of my longing for her and the questions that will never be answered. There are ideas I cannot express through words, and only images can act as my voice. This is why I make art.
Since these images are one offs, how are they usually shown within an exhibition environment?
I can recreate similar techniques with the Dass transfer, but no two images are ever exactly the same. Each image is unique. I usually show the series in one setting or have a few pieces in a group exhibition at a time. I use magnets to suspend the images from the wall, which allows for the paper to move as people walk through the gallery. I also use grids to display my images.
What’s next for you?
Since April, I have been on hiatus from photographing for The Haunted Mind to pursue other projects. I still draw storyboards for images and scout locations for but I am not actively shooting images. Currently, I am making handmade sculptural books out of lumen prints layered with sewing, which I call Anxiety Studies. The books focus on the act of sewing as a visual interpretation of anxiety