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Conjuring an Imagined Past

A glimpse into a photographer’s Secret World at the PRC


The slide show above features images from all participants in the PRC Annual Juried Exhibition.

Inside Anastasia Cazabon’s mind are surreal images of children hiding in bushes and a woman’s head disappearing into a sink — her photographs tell these stories without using words.

“I’m fascinated by how memories change and evolve over time,” says Cazabon. “The farther you get from the actual occurrence, the more distant and difficult it is to remember.”

Cazabon’s work is nestled among art from all over the country for the Photographic Resource Center’s 14th Exposure: the Annual PRC Juried Exhibition, on display through June 28. BU Today caught up with Cazabon in the Berkshires, where she is spending some time away from her Cambridge home.

BU Today: I especially love your From the Secret World photo series. Where do you get the inspiration for your photographs?
From the Secret World began as a way for me to hold onto my fading memories. Obviously the photographs never actually occurred in my childhood; it’s my own imperfect remembrance.

When this project began, my images were based on discovery, play, and wonder. But the more I worked on the series, the farther away it got from those themes. It has evolved into a series that revolves around guilt, jealousy, narcissism, and competition. The title for the project, From the Secret World, has two meanings: it refers to the private, imaginative world that young people create, but it also refers to darker secrets that people hide from each other, whether it’s fear of embarrassment or a moment one might be ashamed of. I love mysterious puzzles, when things at first appear innocent, but through further investigation become darker.

Do you have a favorite response to a particular photo? For example, the girl over the sink?
The image of a girl bending over a sink always seems to raise a lot of questions. What’s interesting is to see who views that image as a girl washing her hair versus a girl throwing up. People ask me what my intention was or what she’s actually doing. There’s no right or wrong answer. The image is about not knowing what’s going on. It’s about the mystery of the event and the questions it raises.

Do you use friends and family as subjects? Do you compose the shot completely?
I usually use myself. I’m introverted and taking photos is a very personal and private experience for me. So I have to be very comfortable with people if I’m going use them in my images. When I do use others, they are always close friends. I usually tell them what I want them to be thinking about or I give them a very basic story the picture evolved from.

Why photography, as opposed to other media?
Before I began photography, I was an actor. The way I photograph is very connected to my background, and it was a natural progression. Photography is a way for me to tell a story and create mini-plays. But unlike film or theater, there is no beginning, middle, or end — just one moment with no definite answers. I love the uncertainty of photography, how it leaves so much of the narrative open-ended.

At the moment I’m also exploring filmmaking. I’m at the very beginning stages, so I’m not entirely comfortable with it yet. With photography I’m in complete control, and it’s also a somewhat solitary way of working, which I enjoy.

What makes a great photo? Can it be analyzed?
Many photographs are beautiful, but don’t raise questions or challenge ideas other than beauty itself. A great photo has something deeper beneath its surface that makes it hard to forget. For me a great photo makes me think and question what is going on and conjures up my own emotions. Of course, all of this is dependent on the viewer; what I might consider to be an amazing photograph others might consider horrible. I’m a strong believer that everyone’s opinion or critique is valid. I guess that’s what I love about art: that there’s no right or wrong answer.

Exposure is on display at the Photographic Resource Center, 832 Commonwealth Ave., through June 28. Center hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays, and noon to 5 p.m. weekends. More information is available here or by calling the PRC at 617-975-0600. The PRC is free for members of the BU community, $2 for non-BU students, and $3 for the public; free to all on Thursdays and the last weekend of the month.

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu.

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