Innovating Through Artistry

Contestant #1 Mary Farmilant

In ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, Entrepreneurial Artist Contest Contestants on March 1, 2009 at 10:54 pm

mary-1I finally allowed myself to devote all of my attention to making art after a 26-year career in nursing. My evolution as an artist has been as excruciating as watching a butterfly attempt to struggle out of a cocoon, especially since the “left brain” skills required in nursing are the antithesis of the “right brain” skills demanded by the creation of art. A lifelong organizer, I distressed at the impossible amount of work required to manage a household, a marriage, a family, a job, and a career in the arts. I finally realized that the overwhelming chaos was best left to sort itself out while I attended primarily to making pictures. As it turns out, letting the mess take care of itself was the key to letting my right brain express itself.

Photography has been a passion of mine since I was very young. My very first camera was a Brownie camera given to me when I was in first grade. It was love at first sight. In fact, I was the photographer of many of our old family photographs. As much as I loved taking photographs, I never considered photography as a profession. It was never offered as a career choice. In the 1970’s, the girls in my high school class were either getting married or becoming teachers. I only knew I wasn’t interested in either of those options.

The career I eventually chose was nursing, which enabled me to travel, be useful to others, earn a living and be a caregiver for my children without relying on others. In 2001, I finally completed an undergraduate degree in photography that took me 17 years to complete. I am 54 years old and the mother of three children, ages 20, 15 and 13. My education was delayed by the birth of my three children and a decision to wait while my husband pursued his doctorate degree. I completed my MFA in 2005.

The women in my family have always embraced change and are open to learning new things. My Aunt, who had a Masters in Social Work, decided at the age 60 to return to school and obtain a Masters Degree in Music. She proceeded to tour abroad with a group of organists who traveled for the sole purpose of playing music in the cathedrals of Europe. My mother finally decided to “retire” at 78 and went back to school to learn Adobe Photoshop and calligraphy as forms of artistic expression. I want to model for my children the importance of having the courage to take on new tasks at any time in the life cycle, as the women in my family have demonstrated for me.

The examination of objects and the spaces they occupy is a predominant theme of my work. My photographs explore the liminal moment that hovers between perception and recognition. I am fascinated by “found still-life” and become engrossed in recording and studying them. These scenes have a forensic quality to them, as though the scene ultimately contains enough evidence to allow the viewer to reconstruct, recreate, remember, the fullness of what occurred when people were there leaving their social thumbprints on the space. An attentive viewer, fully open to this evidence, may notice a small detail that reveals an emotion, an automatic response to a moment.

For over six years my work has addressed the fragile nature of living institutions by examining abandoned hospital spaces. My background as a registered nurse is the catalyst for this interest. These images explore the idea that the human presence remains a part of the history and narrative of these now uninhabited places. The jetsam left in the wake of the departing staff recalls a past when the space was integral to the lifeblood of the community. The images are an historic record of a moment, a place, a community and service that no longer exists.

Coming to fine art photography later in life, I have a sense of urgency about my work. I think about my art all the time and am always looking for different ways to showcase it. I have determined 2009 will be a pivotal time for my career. I meet with a well-known photography consultant in a few weeks to prepare for a five-day photo portfolio review at the end of April. I am currently scheduling a three-year traveling exhibition of the Hospital series. I have also started a new body of work that combines text and image, looking at how they inform each other and create larger ideas.

In addition to working on my art, I teach beginning photography classes part time. Just recently, I started some freelance consultant work to local artists who are too busy to market their work. I develop strategies and target potential venues to showcase their art. I am studying web design and marketing communications to enhance this consultant work.

Giving back to the community is also important to me. For the last two years, I have worked with an inner-city high school, where 60% of the students live below the poverty level. I help fundraise monies to support the school’s visual and performing art activities. I am developing a six-week photography program starting this summer and hope to expand it year round.

I believe the artist records current trends and realities to educate people, change perception and influence behavior to make the world a more humane, cooperative place.

Written by Mary Farmilant
Mary Farmilant’s Website:


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