Isabel Magowan

Feb 21st, 2017

Isabel Magowan


Isabel Magowan was born and raised in New York. She received a BA in History from Wesleyan University in 2011 and a MFA in Photography from Yale School of Art in 2015. Magowan’s work has been exhibited in New York and Los Angeles, and appeared in numerous digital and print publications including New York Magazine, The New Yorker, and The Los Angeles Times. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

Tell us about the images we are featuring?

These images are from a series I made entitled “Cygnets.” They we primarily made over the summer of 2014, and a few from early 2015. 

How does technology affect your photography?

This question is tricky, new technologies offer new modes of image making, which is incredibly liberating and yet, new technologies can become a source of anxiety, and a distraction from working with and utilizing what you have. What makes my work meaningful is my vision. The moment I start thinking new tools will somehow change the work, make it clearer, better, somehow more relevant, I overlook what I want the images to be and instead become hopeful that the new camera or lighting system can do all the work. It can create style, but it can’t create honest content. I have to say that the iPhone, its many apps, has allowed me to explore how to manipulate images in a really freeing and fun way. I wish I had some sort of equivalent for my computer.

How does social media affect your art?

I am curious about social media from a sociological and psychological perspective, especially as it relates to identity. Since my photography and my video work is concerned with identity formation, social media feels fascinating and out of control.  I love making weirdo video pieces on my phone and then having a place to put them. Social media of course is great as a tool for promotion and to keep those interested in your work updated. Much like new technology however, the wealth of new images and videos, the availability to see everyone and what they are doing, generally at their best, can feel demoralizing. Social media makes it feel like I am running out of time; I can’t help but start to get anxiety. “Why have I not accomplished more!” I therefore am very selective to how much instagram I actually look at, despite myself posting.

What are you working on right now?

Right now I am in the earliest stages of an editing process for a new series. I have made a lot of work over the past year, which includes having gone to New Orleans for two weeks. This new series has subjects in their late teens, twenties, and thirties. Young people who have grown up and have now learned that if they are to succeed they are to perform a certain version of themselves. I am also in the works to begin a video project, that is very special to me and that will be very personal.

Why did you start taking photos?

I was a ballet dancer growing up, very seriously committed. When I abruptly quit, I felt completely unstable with how I was to define myself. I took a photo class during the second semester of my junior year in high school. The first month in I thought “this is a terrible mistake, I don’t understand,” but then this thing happened, where I started organically playing around with the camera one day. I made a print from that little session and then when I showed it, someone said things that the picture made them think of or experience, things I knew I felt but didn’t know how to share.

What does the future hold for your work?

I hope to become more involved with video, image making, storytelling, editing and production. Certainly I would like to experiment more with film and video making. I hope to not get jaded or resentful, and if I do, to be able to step back and remind myself that I am not doing this for anyone else other than myself.

Do your parents like your work?

When I started photographing, I made work of what I had access to. At the time, this was primarily my family. It was hard for them to understand how and why pictures of them might be interesting. I think they were concerned them as a subject wasn’t enough for me to have a career. It was hard knowing that they didn’t like what I was doing, worse to think that they didn’t think I was good at it. However, in many ways it allowed photography to be my own endeavour. As a young dancer, my practice was intertwined with the relationship I had with my mother. It was nice for photo to be independent. Today they certainly support me, and I have proven that family life isn’t the main subject of my work.