Sheila McLaughlin


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Sheila McLaughlin
About the author

Many genres of photography influenced my approach. Women photographers were uncommon when I attended the School of Visual Arts but the self-portraits of Francesca Woodman became known to me and were influential. I used a Leica, B&W film and took pictures of women alone on the dark streets of N.Y. They were solitary in an unwelcoming city; they seemed afraid but concealed it. They were representations of me. Postmodernism was in full bloom by the time I graduated. The untitled film stills of Cindy Sherman encouraged me to photograph myself. Simultaneously the first AIDS cases were identified in 1980. The epidemic swept San Francisco coinciding with the year I moved to attend graduate school at the SF Art Institute exposing me to the west coast school of photography. The collective grief that ripped through the city commingled with my own. The notion that life is transient, that it can come and go quickly, unexpectedly, had been with me since I had seen my own parents’ die. My work was a byproduct. I continued constructing situations in the series called Projections where my intimate relationships were photographed by draping family snapshots on myself. The desire to bring new life was realized with the birth of my son in 1983 but death continued to knock on my door and I lost my husband to it in 1986. I became preoccupied with the impermanence of life and the abandonment that accompanies loss. The series titled Boxed-In coincided with my employment as a Photography teacher to young boys. In a very small windowless basement completely isolated from the rest of the school desertion and aloneness set in. These environnemental portraits taken in San Francisco reflect my own sense of abandonment and confinement. The end of the twentieth century was imminent and I began to consider my position in relation to my past and future. I wanted to travel to Ireland where my parents were from in order to help me do that. The new millennium arrived bringing global economic boom. In 2002/03 I photographed throughout Ireland when the Irish economy was known as the Celtic Tiger. For the first time in its history Ireland was prospering and hopeful but I turned my lens on derelict homes where the evidence of past occupants haunted the images. More ghosts. By 2008 in the wake of the growing global financial crisis the Tiger had all but died. I returned in 2012 to photograph. I found the massive surplus of housing combined with the late 2000’s recession, resulted in a large number of estates being deserted, unoccupied or uncompleted. These Ghost Estates as they are called will undoubtedly remain littering the earth as it renews itself and life goes on undeterred. The words of Samuel Beckett describe the ebb and flow of life itself. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better”. In 2013 I began photographing the people of my neighborhood – our neighborhood, the Western Addition – in an attempt to weave together a community through photography where none exists today. The conceit was simple: I approach people on the street and ask to come into their homes and photograph. With surprisingly little hesitation, they’ve said yes. It turns out that I am not alone. Living in a city surrounded by people is isolating for many. We are crammed up against each other by concrete but might as well have rivers and mountains between us. My project documenting this shared experience is called Neighbors. As the inevitability of my own mortality nears I realize anew that the fleetingness of life is the very fact, which makes every day precious. It’s what shapes my time here. It’s what makes it so important that not a single moment be wasted. It’s what inspires me to photograph. Artist in residencies at: Light Work, Syracuse, New York Custom House Studios, Westport, Ireland Awards: Artist Space Gallery, New York, Grant recipient Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, Award winner San Francisco Arts Commission, SNAP, Award winner Collections: Biblioteque Nationale Private Collections