Ranging from ethereal landscapes to altar-like still lifes, Portland-based photographer Delaney Allen’s carefully sequenced images navigate the internal landscapes of grief, longing, and the search for clarity.
Allen’s recent series, Getting Lost, explores the sensation of “loss and lostness” over a period of time spent between Allen’s studio and the vast landscapes of the western United States. There is a sense of isolation in the work, which is at times mournful and at times almost ecstatic. Interspersed with book passages and journal entries, the series forms a kind of multimedia self-portrait.
SMBH: Could you tell us a bit about your series, Getting Lost?
DA: In its infant state, Getting Lost was a spur of the moment reaction to life. Almost simultaneously, in June of 2014, the relationship I was in ended as well as my cat dying. A month prior to this, my grandfather (last living grandparent) had passed away unexpectedly. Three months prior, almost to the day of his passing, my grandmother had died. All of this was occurring while my dad had entered the twenty-four month mark battling a cancer that had forecasted twenty months to live (he has since passed too).
Concurrently I was told to get lost, in regard to the relationship, while also facing this onslaught of continued physical loss in life. I turned inward attempting to pursue a sense of clarity. For me personally, one stage of grieving is to face and further examine the issue at hand. Having previously read Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide To Getting Lost I reviewed the book again in a therapeutic sense. The idea for my version of “Getting Lost” came from this reread and the highlighting of passages that are identified in the series.
At the outset of the project, I felt it necessary to investigate what lose/lost could mean. I deliberately headed out on long drives to corners I had yet to explore to both shoot landscapes new to me, as well as to get lost in my own head. The ocean, too, became important in regard to sitting and absorbing the movement and change in each coming wave. I felt mesmerized investing afternoons watching and waiting. Lastly, I took to the studio spending days on end creating a variety of almost altar-like still life’s reflecting on the life at hand.
As the edit began, I challenged myself to loosen the storytelling aspects I had assembled over the previous years. I spent a great deal of time studying the context of color and the symbolic meaning to various subject matter I had been focusing on. Those components come into play with the final edit of Getting Lost.
SMBH: The series juxtaposes painterly landscapes with studio-based studies, self-portraits, journal entries, and book passages in a collection of artifacts that together explore a period of time, sort of like a poetically condensed archive. What was the sequencing process like for you? Was it challenging to distance yourself from your own experiences enough to create a cohesive body of work?
DA: During the initial edit, I struggled as I was still in the midst of grief and recovery from this period. Spending time alone on the road coming to grips with life assisted in narrowing my focus on what the project could, and eventually, would become. But the test of confronting and combining these very distinct photographic elements into one cohesive body took time to resolve.
Connecting a thread in the edit didn’t really take until the incorporation of the roman numerals used throughout referencing the grieving process. Initially, the edit was disjointed as images sat amongst one another unable to provide a conversation. With this, I sectioned the imagery into time periods like you mentioned. Roman numerals I and V are less cohesive working as an intro and outro. Those alternative sections in the midst of the work lend to three distinct durations in shooting for the project.
Getting Lost pulled from storytelling aspects previously applied, to some degree, in my past works Between Here And There and Painting A Portrait. During their creation and editing I was living almost simultaneously life and what was becoming art. With the new work I felt semblance to those series, processing and constructing almost jointly. It’s a test at times but feel it also aids in an almost unconscious reaction while creating, allowing for spontaneity rather than overthinking.
SMBH: In all three of the series you mentioned, landscapes are represented in a way that gives them an intimate quality – like portraits. How did engaging with the natural world help you to find new perspectives on, or ways of thinking about, the themes you were exploring?
DA: I’m not sure I’d ever thought of them as portraits. But, that being said, I generally believe these bodies of work I’m creating – the portraiture, still life’s, landscape photography and text all apparent within the edit – to be classified under the umbrella of self-portraiture. The approach to those specific series came from the undertaking in my personal life that is portrayed within each body of work.
The landscape of the American West, and even more specifically that of the Pacific Northwest, grant a poetic vision in many of the directions you turn. I feel that engagement with the world came naturally once I placed myself within it. At the same time, existing simultaneously with these themes led me to exploration and photography of the environments that would purposefully further my storytelling. Those in-between moments – the drives and hikes to the locations – allowed for contemplative occasions that fuelled those new access points into each series.
SMBH: What books, films, and artists are you most inspired by currently?
DA: I tend to go through waves of interest in all that you mentioned. Just finishing up new work, I seem to be resting in the trough between the waves. Prior, as I was working my way through recent series ARTIFACT, I was continually looking at Roe Ethridge books. I find myself going back to his works intrigued by his means of editing. There’s an unexpectedness I observe as refreshing amongst a lot of other work floating around in the photo world.
To be honest, I find music as a vehicle of inspiration. I welcome those albums assembled to flow throughout with peaks and valleys. Using music as an aid, it allows an editing technique that puts as much emphasis on the softer moments or images as those stronger instances which garner more attention. Vaporwave mixtapes have been a big player in my house these past months.
SMBH: What are you working on at the moment?
DA: I’m guilty of working on each project individually throughout, never overlapping series. With that being said, having recently finished ARTIFACT, I’m currently pausing from the making aspects and focusing more on the promotional facets. This break will also allow for time to stray to some new locations in the region that I’ve had written down for some time. Soon, I’ll be ready to unpack the passing of my father and begin to build ideas surrounding that period in my life. Until then, I’m ready to enjoy the summer in Oregon.
See more of Delaney Allen’s work here
Delaney Allen is represented by Nationale and his work has been exhibited in the U.S., Japan, The Netherlands, Spain, and Germany. Upcoming exhibitions include Aperture’s 2016 Summer Open in NYC this July, and Future Tense, a group show at the University of New Mexico Art Museum lasting from June through September. His new series, ARTIFACT, was recently exhibited at Nationale in Portland.
Words by Tessa Bolsover