This interview is part of a series in which Olaf Willoughby talks with Leica Meet members about their photographic projects, their stories, goals and learnings along the way. This month’s interview is with Eileen McCarney Muldoon, whose project started as a subconscious journey and emerged slowly into a powerful portrayal of ‘Women of the World.’
Q: To start, can you give me an overview of your project? What is its title and main theme?
A: Yes, I’m calling it ‘Women of the World.’ The project started by accident over 30 years ago. I found myself in Greece and shooting just about everything I set eyes on. While I enjoyed shooting the architecture, the ruins and the beautiful landscapes, I found that it was the women of Greece that fascinated me most. When I returned home I brought one of my favorite photographs of a woman to a local art store to be framed. The owner suggested that I enter it into the upcoming art show in town. Well it turned out, my Greek Yaya won first prize and set me on a lifelong journey of photographing women around the world.
Q: And how does that theme develop as a story throughout the project?
A: The theme is constantly evolving. While I was in Africa, I spent a great deal of time photographing a particular baboon. She was so interactive that she anthropomorphized for me. She became a woman of the world with a story and history! I’ve even included her in this portfolio. I don’t actively look for women for my portfolio, but I enjoy interacting with other women and it often leads to photographing them. If there is one consistency throughout this project, I would have to say it is universality. Since I am not using a long lens and the women that I photograph all know I am photographing them, they share some very special attributes that may not be applied to all women. What I have found in common with this particular group is confidence, independence, compassion and a strong but gentle demeanor.
Q: Is the project purely for yourself or do you have a commercial or cause related end in mind?
A: At first the journey was subconscious. I have always been curious about the lives of women in my own culture and around the world, but I was unaware that I was amassing a large number of photographs of women that I photographed throughout my travels. About 10 years ago I was preparing for a gallery show and lined up a number of the potential prints to exhibit. It was striking how many of the prints were of strong and good-natured women in their environment. It was at that point I acknowledged the creative power of the subconscious and embraced the idea of photographing women around the world as part of my photographic journey. I don’t want to call it a quest because I believe that would destroy the subliminal power of simply enjoying the journey and trusting that I will encounter the right subjects to photograph. So, no, I do not have a commercial end in mind, although I do enter these photographs of women in many shows.
Q: What photographic choices have you made; colour palette, composition, use of flash, etc.?
A: My approach is straightforward yet considerate, I hope, so therefore I do not use flash. I generally try to stay with the subject for a while before I photograph them. Sometimes I use gestures or motions if I do not speak their native language. The composition varies, but always incorporates background or foreground details to suggest the cultural influence.
Q: What is your vision for the project and how will you judge if you’ve been successful?
A : I don’t know how to measure my success, but I love what I am doing and feel pleased when I have a print that expresses the state of mind I was in when I was photographing.
Q: Did any particular person or body of work influence or inspire you?
A: No, I have other projects that were inspired by famous or lesser known artists or photographers, but this project is personal and as I mentioned happened as an accident.
Q: Not all projects are smooth sailing. Have you had any setbacks and what did you learn?
A: I can’t say I have had any setbacks, because I have no goal for this project. However, I have learned very much over the years about approaching people. There was a time when I was nervous and very self-conscious about photographing people, men or women. I would often use a long lens so my subject would be unaware of my existence. That is fine and certainly can produce great results for some photographers, but it didn’t work for me. I felt like I was stealing and without rapport, I wasn’t getting the type of photograph that I wanted. I teach photography. One of the classes in our workshops is about the various approaches to people photography. I have also learned that collaboration can be a very effective tool in photographing people if done with care and respect.
Q: Are there any technical or workflow challenges you’d like to mention?
A: In regards to workflow, I am just now going back to my film days to unearth some old photographs that will fit well in this portfolio. Going forward, I have been keeping my “Women of the World” folder on a separate hard drive with both the raw and jpeg files. I just recently converted all of these images to black and white, so that color would not distract from their vital force.
Q: What Leica equipment do you use and how is it particularly suited to the needs of this project?
A: The Leica M has added a whole new dimension to this project. The size and weight of the camera allows me to bring it with me wherever I go. The size, in particular, is a great asset in not overwhelming my subjects. I also find the quiet shutter is very unobtrusive.
Thank you for your time, Eileen!
-Leica Internet Team
See more of Eileen’s work here.
Eileen McCarney Muldoon is a fine arts photographer living and working in Jamestown, RI. Her photographic style has been described as painterly, but she prefers to attribute it to the gift that photography has given her to see the world with the eyes of an artist. She uses natural light as a means to express emotion. When she is not working on her art, she teaches photography at local, regional and international workshops. Her work has been exhibited at Newport Art Museum, The Providence Art Club, Mystic Arts Center and numerous galleries throughout New England and New York. Additionally, she have published two books and is currently working on a third.
Olaf Willoughby is a photographer, writer and researcher. He is co-founder of The Leica Meet, a Facebook page and website growing at warp speed to over 4,300 members. In October, Olaf will be co-teaching ‘Visual Conversations’, a creative photography workshop with Eileen McCarney Muldoon at Maine Media College in Rockport. If you have an intriguing project or body of work, completed or in progress, that we might feature contact Olaf at: email@example.com or www.olafwilloughby.com