through time and thorns
Alyssa Leigh Thorn is a visual artist using photography, embroidery, and fabric in her work. Currently based in Columbia, SC and pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography at the University of South Carolina. Her work revolves around family, cyclical time, connection, memories, and significant place. Pushing others to understand feelings, emotions and memories outside of their own. She is an empath, that loves mountain views, big sunset skies, rainy mornings with tea and music; rock, alt, indie specifically. Big believer in astrology, and everything being connected.
I close my eyes and see CC teaching me to thread a needle.
To embroider and sew buttons onto handkerchiefs.
On the porch I can hear Pop Pop play his guitar.
I see my mom dancing in the kitchen, the light through the window dancing with her.
My brother laughing in the backseat on his birthday.
I smell blueberries, I see the sun, I can hear voices of people who are gone.
How does loss affect the people we become? Why does loss increase the flux of memories? Is time nonlinear? How does the circle of life trigger memory?
“An artifact is a text to display a form as a vehicle for meaning” Henrie Glassie (Material Culture). Blankets, t-shirts, photographs, small artifacts, I’ve always kept notes and items of importance, and could feel the emotion of these objects. Having tangible items from the people that mean the most to me, so I can have when I’m not with them has always been a part of me.
Exploring self identity while contrasting with family identity, collective memory, exploring empathy, working through grief, and re-emphasizing family lineage. Working through these ideas after the loss of my grandfather has only reinforced the themes, and made it vital to my work.
What were your motivations for beginning this work?
My sophomore spring semester I started getting into photographing my family. At first everything was just documentary, and because my family inspires me. Last spring I had my first exhibition, I was forcing things that weren’t working and my professor advised me to try to dig deeper into my family stuff. Around that time my grandpa was getting really sick, so I decided to start comparing his and my mom’s photos to my own, trying to convey how memories can be inherited. My grandpa passed away that summer. It’s been some of the hardest months of my life, but I decided to put my grieving into something more. I wanted to continue his legacy, and make his past come alive for me. It was a way for me to connect to him even with him not around, even connect myself to my other family members more. I prioritize my family, and all my work is what it is because of their legacies, and their memories.
Do you find influence for your work in things outside of photography? If so, what?
Music is something I have always been driven by. Recently I’ve been most inspired by artists like Kacey Musgraves, Greta Van Fleet, Twenty One Pilots, and Maggie Rogers. They are different but so true to who they are, and their music is done by themselves and their writing has inspired me immensely these past few months. It is so raw, vulnerable and open, but poetic. They have inspired me to write again and dig deeper. I would also say Pink Floyd, The Beatles, and John Denver has always been heavy in my art making, as I grew up listening to them, and are a huge part of my childhood, anything that can stop me from overthinking, put me in the moment and help me think. I’ve been reading Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” and apart from making me a better more vulnerable writer, it has been inspiring to help me see beauty in the small things. Veins in plants, the way the sun glistens on a lake, sunsets with clouds, long drives with the windows down, going down a backroad with the music blaring, feeling the wind on your hand. Music helps me appreciate small moments that lead me to things I want to try to represent in imagery.
How valuable is the photo community when making your work? Do you like to share a lot or is it more insulated?
My community is vital to me as a creator, having criticism in good and bad ways is always helpful to becoming a better artist. I feel like my community is always growing. Right now I am in an academic setting and have critiques in class, and it is very intimate and important to me. I’m very close with my professors and my classmates, and we are all pretty invested in each other. I am lucky to find people that care so grandly, and make me a better artist.
How do you find that the narratives created when working between multiple formats and mediums allow the viewer to enter the story of your family?
The dream is if I could shoot on film all the time. Not all dreams can come true. One of my professors, Eugene Ellenberg, told me to just create. Don’t always worry about the materials you have on hand. Whether it be a point and shoot, or iPhone it’s still a vital image if you feel that it is. Ever since then I’ve just been doing things in the moment, and allowing it to come naturally. I feel like if you were to walk into someone’s home and see photos on the wall, there isn’t always a specific type. In my room I have silver prints, mixed with digital, and film, and iPhone photos, because regardless of medium, it still makes me feel. Time changes ways we can document, so I want to show that.
You use a visual language that evokes the sense of touch in many of your images. I can feel the softness of the blanket, the sea wind on my skin. What kind of thoughts and connections do you want your viewers to take away from the work?
Memory is something that guides me even when I don’t always know it. Even though people can’t always experience death, or a specific family type, all types of people can come together and know how it feels to be in the car driving watching all the green become a blur. Being caught in a rainstorm, or feeling comfortable with your favorite blanket. I am very empathetic in ways I don’t always understand. But under it all, I want multiple types of people to be able to feel, feeling outside emotions that aren’t theirs. Feeling someone else’s emotions and experiences can help understand others more, and stepping outside of yourself is important to bettering yourself as an individual and an artist. I want my work to be able to out people in memories that aren’t theirs in small simple ways that they could feel it.
What made you want to start Cumulus Photo?
I feel very strongly for artists supporting artists, and boosting each other up. I feel like there isn’t always space for up and coming artists to get to ask other artists questions, or talk about their work, or be on the other side of being interviewed and being the interviewee, so I wanted to make one. I’m really glad Brennan wanted to also be that voice for younger artists, as well. If there isn’t something like you want, do it yourself. So here it is. I am very happy and I feel like it’s already been very rewarding in giving others a platform to promote their work. I’m excited to see where this goes.
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