Ruth Lauer Manenti Interview - The Hopper Prize

Ruth Lauer Manenti

Ruth Lauer Manenti on finding stories that need telling, working intuitively, & how thoughts and memories are mirrored within the rooms of home.

How did you get into making art?

My mother was an artist. During my childhood in the evenings, after my brother and I were supposedly in bed, she painted. She had an easel set up in the laundry room. She wore a purple smock over her clothes and played classical music and worked from sketches she had made earlier, or she would set up a still life from things around the house like kitchen towels and fruit. I sat at the top of the basement stairs and enjoyed quietly spying on her. Our walls were covered with paintings and as a child my mother took me often to the museum. I guess from early on I probably thought there was no more purposeful life than to be an artist. I think the music, the purple smock, the cigarettes, and the late-night hours that I witnessed in my mother gave it a kind of glamour and importance in that it seemed to counter the mainstream and belong to a secret society.

What are you currently working on?

In the last year I made a series of pictures having to do with the way my thoughts and memories are mirrored within the rooms of my house and brought to light by the rituals of daily chores. I photographed everyday objects; silverware, kitchen towels, the bathroom sink, as well as activities such as me sweeping or baking. I often feel that all the people I love, still here or not, live with me in my house. I also ponder whether some part of myself will remain in the house, even when I have either moved on or passed away. Though I did not intend for it, the spirit of these ponderings ended up in the pictures. Currently, though I am continuing to make pictures for the series, I am working towards finding a way of sequencing and sizing the images for a photobook, an object that can be cherished and looked at many times over.

I often feel that all the people I love, still here or not, live with me in my house.

Ruth Lauer Manenti

What inspired you to get started on this body of work?

This body of work came out of being at home more than usual. My husband is a nurse and was working with the Covid population, so we had to be extra careful not to have people over and not to go anywhere. I’ve always felt pressure as a photographer to leave home to find that which is worth photographing; a story that needed telling. Since that pressure was lifted due to the quarantine, I realized that my own life had enough pathos to work with.

Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?

I tend to make work for a while before thinking of it in terms of a project. I photograph what I love, what I see and want to share. Over time I can to some degree articulate what the work is about or means, but for the most part it’s an intuitive process as simple as I love the light in the afternoon as it comes in through the kitchen window.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

My time in the studio is spent taking, scanning, editing, organizing, and printing pictures. While I often photograph elsewhere; in my house and/or outside, I always have something going in the studio usually consisting of rotating old glass bottles and cups on a white enamel table. My background is in drawing and painting and that kind of quiet solitary studio practice is deep rooted in me. In the last few years, I have made more of an effort to get my work seen by others and to build community. This means that I spend more time applying for juried exhibitions and grants as well as writing proposals, taking classes, and working on assignments. Though all of that is time consuming it has brought me much joy.

Who are your favorite artists?

It’s hard to start listing favorite artists as I have so many. From the indigenous people in small villages who weave rugs out of rags, baskets out of grass or make twine out of paper, to the master painters like Giotto, Rembrandt, Holbein, Titian, to more modern painters such as Philip Guston, GiorgioMorandi, Mark Rothko, Agnes Martin, Piet Mondrian, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, and the many auspicious and amazing paintings and artifacts I have seen in museums and
libraries whose authorship is unknown. I have a lot of favorite filmmakers as well; Abbas Kiarostami, Elia Kazan, Terence Davies, Andrea Arnold, Chantel Ackerman, and writers Joan Didion, William Faulkner, Edith Wharton, Jane Austen and on and on and on. Fortunately for me I have always had an appetite for art. It never fails to align me with what I feel is important and lift my spirits. As for photographers- Julia Margaret Cameron, Henri Talbott Fox, Thomas Eakins, Lois Conner, Jenia Fridlyand, An My Le, Tim Carpenter, Raymond Meeks, Sabiha Cemin, Rahim Fortune, Richard Rothman, Walker Evans, Uta Barth, Rebecca Webb, Jan Groover, to name a few.

Where do you go to discover new artists?

To discover new artists I am still old school in that I’ll go to a museum, walk around the galleries, or check out a bookstore before thinking to look online. One of my dearest friends has an extensive library of photobooks and I find a lot of interesting photographers through her collection. Recently I found a book by Anne Weatherby on her living room table.

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