Molly Peters: Deeply Personal Issues and Experiences Resonate with Viewers
Written by Genie Davis
Molly Peters describes her work as “nearly always rooted in issues and experiences that are deeply personal to me, or at the very least reflective of my specific sensibility and sense of humor in life.” That said, her subjects are universally resonant, and her work is visually rich, as it frequently presents images related to spirituality, memory, conservation, and the connection between human and natural environments.
Peters’ father is a land conservation lawyer on Martha’s Vineyard, where she grew up, which led to a prescient interest in land preservation. Her latest body of work continues this interest as well as establishing a new direction for the artist.
“In a way, it’s an entirely new way of working for me, but in other ways, it’s a natural, organic next step forward. I’m focusing on similar issues such as land conservation, collective cultural memory, and it’s emerging from personal experience. But it’s an experience I selected and put myself into intentionally, in a community I was not a part of by birth. I’m not yet sharing the work publicly, as it’s still very much in-progress, but I’m invested and excited by how it’s developing. I look forward to sharing it with the world soon.”
The works, which she has only shared a fraction of on Instagram, also evoke a sense of wonder and the inspiration of nature.
The lush black and white images of another recent series, Rancho, also has its roots on Instagram. The small “equestrian oasis” in Burbank that Peters discovered and photographed was “shot entirely on my old iPhone 6, which was essential in keeping the fluidity, spontaneity, and intimacy in the images. Rancho was initially just a thread through my Instagram account, a piece of my visual diary, before… they began to develop into a body of work created intentionally.”
Another of the artist’s Instagram-begun series, “Instruction Manual for Life” is both witty and ironic, as well as being infused with a sense of both wistfulness and longing. “These are all signs and pieces of text that I’ve found throughout daily life and travels in the last few years, all over the U.S. and in Europe. Each struck a different chord with me, and after I realized the trend over time, they began to come together as a series. It’s not just about the message of the text – the image has to be interesting to me as well.”
Although the images were not initially photographed consciously for the series, now she bears the series in mind, looking for an image that fits. “As in the rest of my work, they are not set up or staged – all are found in the world. Some messages are more ephemeral, particularly the advertisements, while others are more lasting and could still be found today.” She says she can add to the series whenever she finds a new image that fits; she discards texts that don’t make an interesting visual image. Peters often includes tongue-in-cheek advertising references to “what to buy, what to do, and what life should look like. What if the directives in ads were really part of a larger instruction manual for life as a whole?”
She calls the humor in this series “essential,” though some images are more serious or inspirational, such as “’Live a Great Life,’ which was, somewhat ironically, an advertisement for alcohol; and the graffitied ‘Be Humble.’” Others simply amused her such as “Don’t Get a Divorce, Get a Donut,” “Get Her Pizza, Not Pregnant,” and “Turn Me On/Get Off the Couch.”
The series Solitary Stranger is yet another series born from the artist’s Instagram account. Based entirely on aesthetics, while the images features the environment, “For me, the unifying feature is that all contain a single person, who I encountered but never spoke to, and photographed without them being aware of it happening. All were made in public spaces, and their identity is not important.” As a solo traveler herself, this was the factor that drew Peters to the image, not the lush scenery. Her use of black and white versus rich color in these images was an “intuitive” decision. “I’ve often mixed black & white and color photographs in the same body of work in the past, so it’s not something unusual for me to have them next to each other in a series,” she asserts.
Other rich series created by Peters include the dream-like Anima, her MFA thesis work, and a mix of “enjoyable dream, something surreal/unsettling, or a nightmare,” with that shift variable throughout.
Fully based in the waking world is The Town that Time Forgot, a series that focuses on a California town stumbled upon during a road trip. “I was struck by the architecture and colors of the buildings, but more importantly, by the fact that it seemed almost entirely empty. I think this is because it’s in an agricultural area, so many people work all day in the fields, but the mood while driving or walking around always felt like I’d stepped into another universe, where the town remained but the people were gone. I visited it a few times over a couple of years to photograph.” The series’ title came from the late Karen Sinsheimer, curator of photography at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. “She happened to know and also love the town,” Peters relates. “She was so excited that I’d been photographing there, and she exclaimed, ‘It’s the town that time forgot!’ It felt so fitting that I kept it as the title. Though the images were all made in the same town, the emotions elicited by the photographs are more interesting to me than having it be a document of a specific place.”
In each of Peters’ works, it is the strong emotions and experiences she creates that draw viewers into her world, one which can amuse, document, or take those seeing the images into a fresh and rewarding dimension.