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SPBH Ten Questions

Carol Mavor

We speak to this Professor of Visual Studies and writer about her upcoming book, being a life long aficionado of Roland Barthes, and nudes in sand dunes.

1. Show us a sample of your work.

The images that I have chosen are all from the novella that I am currently writing entitled Like a Lake.

1. Regina Peterson, photograph of a meteorite, from her Find a Fallen Star (Berlin, 2015).

2. Isamu Noguchi, Mitosis, bronze, 1962.

3. Minor White, test print for his series The Temptation of Saint Anthony is Mirrors, contact photograph, 1948.

4. Edward Weston, Nautilus, photograph, 1927.

5. Carol Mavor, Untitled, snapshot of camera obscura, San Francisco, ca. 1997

2. What research is currently most informing your practice?

For the novella that I am currently writing, I am researching modernism, California in 1967, familial love, incest, boyishness, the internment of Japanese in America during WW II, Minor White, Edward Weston, mothers as artists, the magic of photography, beauty, love, perfection.

As Sylvia Plath notes: ‘Perfection is terrible, it cannot have children.’

3. Which photograph are you obsessed with right now and why?

Edward Weston, Nude on Sand, 1936. Long ago, I found myself alone looking at a book of photographs by Edward Weston. Weston writes compellingly about seeing the marvellous in the everyday through the lens of his camera. But on that day, I was not reading his words: I was in awe of his astonishing photographs. On that day, I became obsessed with this photograph of Charis Wilson. It was her idea to take off her clothes and roll down the sand dunes wearing nothing at all. Hers is the body that make Weston’s pictures so desired. ‘This is not the body an “audience” sees, but the body a lover knows,’ she will later write.

4. What video can you not stop watching?

5. Can you give us five links to things you think we should know about

1. Bernard Faucon

2. The Drawings of Anthony Goicolea

3. Jonny Briggs

4. Esther Teichmann

5. Samantha Sweeting

6. How many photos do you have right now on your phone? Please share one

…and feel free to give us some context if you feel like it.

The muteness, the scale and the beauty of the horse has been changing my dreams, which are very vivid lately. I have a strong desire to know certain horses: especially Eli (pictured) and Mephisto. I have only about ten photos on my phone right now.

7. Can you send us a pic of your desk/workspace?

8. What is the most coveted photo book you own and why?

My most coveted photo book has to be Camera LucidaI am a life-long student of Barthes. (I shall never be weaned off of him; I am not a good subject.) Just as Barthes never desired to be ‘weaned’ from his mother, Camera Lucida is where my mind goes to make friends.

This photograph of the young (but not so young) Barthes held, if with difficulty, by his mother Henriette, appears near the start of the author’s most nostalgic book: Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes. Here, the viewer feels the weight of his long boyish legs (he is too old to be still held by his mother). Perhaps referring to this photograph in Camera Lucida, Barthes writes: ‘contemplating a photograph in which she [my mother] is hugging me, a child, against her, I can waken in myself the rumpled softness of her crêpe de Chine and the perfume of her rice powder.’

9. What concerns you?

The environment. I am trying to find ways to successfully incorporate the urgency of the environment into my lectures on art and literature. I am currently reading Wild Reckoning: An Anthology Provoked by Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’, edited by by John Burnside and Maurice Riordan. It is a book of poems concerned with the fragility of living things. I believe in poetry.

10. What makes you happy?

The colour blue. My boys. My father. My husband. My students. My friends. My dog Romeo. Horses. Our teeny-tiny cottage.



About Carol: I am a writer who takes creative risks in form (literary and experimental) and political risks in content (sexuality, racial hatred, child-loving and the maternal). I try to share this provocative approach with my students as Professor of Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester. I have written six books, which have been widely reviewed in the press, including the TLS, Frieze, the Village Voice and the Los Angeles Times.

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