Q & A — Questions & Annie France
With Mother’s Day just around the corner on May 10th, we corresponded with Annie France Noël, artist and new mom, to talk to her about her motherhood journey, art practice, and current outlook, during this period of sheltering in place. Annie France is Acadian, lives in Moncton, New Brunswick, with her partner, Blake Michel Morin, and daughter, Margot. She is the Artistic and Administrative Director of Galerie Sans Nom. Her latest body of work, Les Baby Blues, explores intimate and challenging moments she experienced early on in motherhood. Portrait photography is a creative approach used by Annie France in her work to explore vulnerability and issues surrounding intimacy. In Les Baby Blues, Annie France turned the camera towards herself and looked inward.
Annie France & Margot — photo: Blake Michel Morin
Q: Our world looks very different right now, compared to just a few months ago, and on top of that, having a baby is a life-changing event in itself. Being an artist, becoming a mom, and now sheltering in place—how are you doing?
A: I am in a privileged situation and so I am able to enjoy some great family time with our little unit of 3. As it has been since becoming a mother, I have been taking things a day at a time. Some are easier than others - it’s easy to get caught in the anxiety and dread of the situation.
Q: What’s changed for you since becoming a mom?
A: So much has changed but in subtle ways. I’m feeling everything more intensely. My sense of time has shifted. I crave a simpler life. I’m feeling love like never before. It has also shifted my art practice and it has never been so important for me to nurture it.
Q: You’ve been on maternity leave from your position as Director at Galerie Sans Nom, and just recently the gallery has closed its doors due to coronavirus, we’re curious what your day-to-day looks like now?
A: Every morning starts with coffee and playing with my daughter: that’s the one constant every day. I keep up with emails and the odd videoconference as I am still involved with the GSN and my volunteer work with CARFAC. When the weather is nice, we spend time hanging on the porch while my partner works in the yard and we’ll end the day with a walk around the neighbourhood—real wholesome stuff! I’ll find little nuggets of time to do research and work on my practice, and I’m also working on taking a solid handful of hours a week at the studio. In the evenings I’ll spend quality couch time with my partner, have virtual hangouts with friends, or play too much Animal Crossing on my Switch!
Annie France’s studio — Aberdeen Cultural Centre
Q: What is your studio set-up like these days?
A: I have an amazing studio at the Aberdeen Cultural Centre that I share with Marjolaine Bourgeois and my partner Blake Michel Morin. It’s a big, open space with tons of natural light. Since the confinement started, I’ve brought home a selection of cameras and film for odd projects, but the bulk of my materials—and better creative headspace—remains at the studio for when I get to go. Marjolaine and I communicate to ensure we are alone and safer in the space for the time being.
Annie France’s whiteboard is where she records her ideas.
Q: It seems like many people are experiencing the pressure to be productive right now. Is this something you’re feeling?
A: The value I put in productivity and how I see my worth in relation to it is something I have actually been battling with for many years now. There is a lot of pressure - externally and internally - to be productive. Especially as a parent and as an artist. Compounded, it can be a lot and it’s been a great mental exercise to redefine what I expect of myself in healthier ways. I wouldn’t consider myself a prolific artist per se. My process is slow. The physical iterations of my work take a while to come to fruition. I need to be ok with that. What is the rush anyway?
Q: We’re finding that having an art practice is like a muscle needing regular exercise. For parents and future parents who may be reading, we’re curious if you’d like to share some of your strategies for art practice maintenance?
I knew [to have] a baby would be taking a lot of the limited time and energy I possessed. I was worried about my ability to pursue my practice, but as it turns out, my practice has never been more important and it has become a lifeline to deal with my new reality. Keeping guilt at bay as a parent-artist is easier said than done, but it’s been key in my ability to keep pursuing my art: I will not feel guilty for not hitting the studio that week and I will not feel guilty for taking time for myself when I do. Pre-confinement I had gotten into the habit of going to the studio after we put Margot to bed no matter how tired I might’ve felt. It always energized me and made me a happier mother. There is less time, but the time I do have I try and make the most of it.
Annie France works with a range of cameras—digital, analog and instant—and applies experimental film techniques to achieve her images.
Q: We carry a small collection of your work at Visitors. Tell us what draws you to using instant photography and manual photo manipulation in your art practice?
I love the imperfect nature of instant film and analog processes. I have to stand still, take my time and hold my breath before taking a photo because I only have so many Polaroids or shots on my roll of film. Creating an imprint of my subjects through light and chemicals is the closest thing to magic I’ve experienced. Somehow, it’s still not enough. I’m more interested in what is unseen and untold in photographs. Manual photo manipulations let me get closer to my images. I seek more depth and so I dig in and deconstruct to finally rebuild into a whole other interpretation than the original composition of the photographs.
Q: Portraiture is constant in your work. We’re wondering whether your views on portraiture have changed since contact with people outside your home is now restricted?
For the past year or so I have been taking a pause in taking portraits of others for my own art practice. I’ve had really enlightening conversations and reads about the appropriative nature of photography and it has resulted in a struggle with projecting my thoughts via the use of other faces. I have decided to take a break while I figured out how to truly dismantle the power dynamics in that kind of exchange, between photographer and subject. I’ve been exploring vulnerability in my practice and I felt like I needed to explore self-portraiture to tell the only stories that belong to me, my own.
From Les Baby Blues — work in progress
Q: Your upcoming exhibition at Galerie Murmur in Moncton, Les Baby Blues, will be opening post-COVID-19. Tell us how Les Baby Blues started out?
The idea for Les Baby Blues came to me one night while I was pumping breast milk. I had been exclusively pumping for six weeks as breastfeeding had not worked for us and I was determined to feed Margot my milk. Pumping was tedious and I felt like I was spending more time with my machine, washing parts, sanitizing bottles and counting ounces than bonding with my gorgeous babe. It started to feel unhealthy. I was not happy and I was only delaying the mourning of my failure to breastfeed. That day I had made the difficult decision to start weaning and making the switch to formula. I was completely, and am still, heartbroken over the whole experience. It was the right decision, but it has left me with a profound emotional wound. As my mind wandered that night, I thought about all the data I had gathered and all the objects and symbols that surrounded my experience. I envisioned many images and I decided to create something to process my sorrow and soothe myself.
From Les Baby Blues — work in progress
Q: And how did the series develop over time?
I realized I was holding on to a lot of shame and that I needed to be gentle with myself as I was healing and processing through this project. I wanted the tone to also reflect pride, softness and grace. It has been a very cathartic body of work to create and I hope it can tell a story about struggles that are too often kept in the dark for fear of judgment. Motherhood can be messy and chaotic and beautiful. It’s ambivalence at its best and I think we should be embracing that instead of fighting it.
Q: What types of photographic approaches were you using to produce this series?
While I usually work with analog techniques, I’ve been using digital images as the base of the work. Enlarged Polaroids and film photos are also used to complement the compositions. Once printed, I’ll be intervening with rips and reconstitutions, as well as with pencil markings.
Q: Parenting isn’t always easy, and these pandemic times can feel uncertain, tell us what’s bringing you joy and optimism?
The little things. Warmer days. Watching my baby discover the world in its smallest details. The promise of a new day and another cup of coffee. ☁
From Annie France Noël
Ascend I — Annie France Noël
Discovery I — Annie France Noël
Discovery II — Annie France Noël