Carrie’s work explores roots, rootlessness, and restlessness, generally in the context of her own upbringing as the child of a broken family. Her work is personal like Larry Sultan’s Pictures From Home but set in an installation like Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz’s The Pedicord Apts at the Weisman Museum of Art. She is the recipient of three MN State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grants for Photography along with a McKnight Artist Fellowship for Photographers in 2009.
Notes From My Therapist
Notes from My Therapist came out of both my apprehensions about therapy and need for therapy. This project is collaborative, just like the act of therapy. My therapist wrote me notes and made a portrait of me every week. An example of the notes would be, “Why don’t I believe what people say to me?” The notes are things I said during the therapy session. These notes helped me make images weakly. I did not illustrate the notes. As a whole, these images, the ones made by me, tell the significant emotional stories and events that have happened while I was in therapy. They are the heart of the project along with the small book within the main book. This book is titled Broken Family Road Trip. This section shows what I lost and one of the main reasons I needed therapy. From the book Broken Family Road Trip, “When my son was only six months old his father and I separated. We are still close. We still share many friends and our sweet boy. But our deep love for each other has faded and for a long time, this was a huge sadness for me. My parents divorced when I was four and I vowed as a child to never allow the same thing to happen to my children. So when it did and only six months after Goma’s birth, I was devastated. Last summer Goma’s father and I decided to go on a road trip with our son. I named this trip, The Broken Family Road Trip. We spent nine days traveling as a family. It was an odd idea. It seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. I am not going to pretend it was easy, but what I can say is that it was very healing. I’ve spent the last three and a half years filled with guilt about breaking up our family. This trip opened and lightened my heart. It reinforced the decision to separate with Goma’s father. The trip was so much more than an eye-opening experience, but this alone was worth it. What I now realize is that my broken family is not actually broken it is just different. I feel blessed to have such a loving broken family.” With Notes from My Therapist and Broken Family Road Trip, I want the viewer to feel the therapy experience on a personal and vicarious level. To take this feeling into the gallery, next month I am going to remake the waiting room of my therapy office. In this room, I am going to have many copies of my book as reading material. This will put the viewer in the place of a person waiting to see a therapist, maybe a somewhat vulnerable state, as they look at my book Notes from My Therapist.
When you first started going to therapy, did you imagine it would become your next project?
CT- At first, I didn’t know it [going to therapy and having her photograph me] was going to be a project. It was just something I knew that I had to do because I was mentally…not doing well. Since my mom is a therapist, I am very against therapy. Not because therapy is bad, but just because we hate to be our mothers and hate turning into our mothers, even if they are nice, wonderful people. We all want to be individuals and it was hard for me to realize that I needed to go to therapy, because of her being a therapist. And then, once I was there, I did not feel interested in telling a stranger about my life. So, I decided she should photograph me. And she was terrified, in a really great way. Her fear of taking a bad photograph in front of me, a photographer, seemed like how I felt sitting in front of her, telling her things about my life. The first few pictures she took of me were completely out of focus. It felt less one-sided. After that experience, I thought that this could be interesting. It became a collaboration, me and her working together towards the common goal of me doing better in life.
Your projects are deeply personal. Some critics have said “too personal.” How do you respond to that?
CT- It has always been something I struggle with: trying to make a balance between personal and universal. It also seems like I can’t do things unless I’m invested in them. So, when it’s personal, I’m more invested in it. I also think everyone has something to learn from someone else and I don’t feel like people share as much as they should-at least not about topics that are hard for them. I feel like it’s important to do that, and hopefully people can get something out of it.
Why did you decide to make a book within a book?
CT- I started therapy a year and a half after leaving Goma’s dad. Part of the struggle was how to be a good parent when you’re a co-parent. How to deal with issues of having other partners.
“Notes From My Therapist” is a footnote about a person going to therapy. The “Broken Family Road Trip” is the heart of the book. It is the only part that is straight-forward personal. It shows pictures of a specific family. All of the other pictures in the book, besides the ones my therapists took of me, don’t have heads. I wanted those to be portraits of anybody, not specific people.
For this project you recreated your therapist’s office- and for the project you’ve been working on since, you recreated your home in a gallery space (using real items from these places). What is it like sharing these typically private, personal spaces with the public?
CT- With “Notes From My Therapist,” it felt like the only way for people to experience the book itself, and not just be a part of some exhibition. Building that room was a place that I made for the book to be digested, because the main part of the work is the book. The waiting room itself seemed like a place that was really intimate in real life. In the gallery, most people think they should look at art, so they sat there. And they are all together, forced to look at really intimate parts of my life. The experience as a whole with all of those people was really interesting, and something that is hard to have happen with just pictures on the wall.
The other thing about the room. I was always early to therapy. I would wait for her, feeling really nervous. The weird thing about the place is that it was an old Victorian house that wasn’t soundproof at all. So, every room had sound machines in it. The sound machine muffled people talking. So you could hear people crying or their serious talks, but you couldn’t make out what they were saying. It was an odd experience of kind of being a part of the person before you, and kind of not. And then being nervous yourself and wondering if someone waiting in the room can hear your muffled cries. I brought those sound machines into the room I recreated.
As a self-proclaimed introvert, how do you regroup after you share a lot of your life with the world?
CT- I think I take a pause in between every project because I can’t give so much over and over and over without going totally insane. So, I started doing pottery to relax myself. I also read a lot, which helps me wind down and think of my next project…different things that are creative, but not as “feelings driven.”
To view more of Carrie Thompson’s work please visit her website.