Elizabeth Hibbard was born in San Jose, CA in 1989. Her work deals with themes related to family, psychoanalysis, the body, and how the act of photography can conceptually mirror the structures of relationship dynamics. She graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz in 2012, and is currently pursuing her MFA at Yale School of Art. Her most recent body of work, Swallow the Tail, explores mother-daughter relationships and the power structures of family through the dynamics of photographer and subject. She currently lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.
I make work in order to communicate that which is eternally present, painful, and contradictory about being female-bodied, and self-reflexively, how this particular mode of embodiment and subjectivity is intrinsic to the photographic process itself. My most recently completed project is titled Swallow the Tail, culling from a Scottish proverb I heard often growing up from my mother, who heard it from her mother, and so on: “If you swallowed the cow, don’t choke on the tail”; The project describes liminal space between self and (m)other, physical and psychological, intimacy and isolation, consumption and expulsion, desire and revulsion. I am concerned with how the construct of femininity is unreflectively inscribed, not just socially, but from within the space of the family structure— especially as it is mediated within the dynamics of the mother/daughter relationship. In my more recent work as I am matriculating as a graduate student at Yale School of Art, I am in the beginning stages of attempting to integrate these concepts with concerns and themes around environmental and reproductive anxiety, medicalization of the body, group psychology, and the ideological distinctions between the body and the flesh.
Q&A: Yale University
I am a first year graduate student of Photography at the Yale School of Art. My initial process in terms of choosing programs to apply to was definitely motivated by a desire to leave the west coast for a while. I attended undergrad an hour from my hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area, and had been living in my medium-ish sized college town of Santa Cruz, CA for almost a decade. New Haven being a similarly sized place made sense in terms of difference but familiarity, the idea of moving to a large city like New York or Chicago felt less conducive to how I was working. Of course reputation is a major factor in anyone applying to Yale for their MFA, although once I was accepted a significant fear of that clouding my judgement set in pretty quickly. Ultimately, I was convinced otherwise by someone coming out of the program who pointed out that said reputation meant that my colleagues would be many of the most ambitious and driven of my application season that year. The program has a reputation for being very production oriented, which I've found to be true to a degree, but hasn't felt unachievable at all. The thought that one needs to be constantly producing is one to be regarded with certain suspicion and can be overly emphasized for many artist, but I do tend to respond well to time pressure and not having the time to talk myself out of ideas instead of working through them, and felt that I'd ultimately benefit more from being pushed there than in a program where the emphasis be more on additional support for my tendencies to get mired in research and preparation. I was also significantly torn about being in a photography-specific program vs. an interdisciplinary one, but in the end worried more that, similar to my tendencies in the past to use research as an excuse to make less work, would get lost in jumping into learning to skills and mediums rather than digging deeply into something more lens based. That said, I'm feeling free and supported to explore my interests in video, sculpture, and performance plenty here, although it often circles back to photography right now.
How has your experience at your school informed or shaped your work?
I wanted to move far away from my home and everything familiar for graduate school to see what I'm made of without that well of memory and emotion to draw upon, which has lead to me feeling somewhat distanced from the project I applied to programs with in my current practice. That said, where that ends and current work ends is pretty blurry still, there isn't a clear demarcation line in terms of themes and concepts; more elaborations, explorations of related themes. Being surrounded by my peers, both in photography and other mediums, has been deeply inspiring and eye-opening, and the influence of talking to sculptors, performance and video artists has made me realize how arbitrary those distinctions often are. I've only been here a semester, but certainly feel that the work has evolved significantly in terms of formal approach and the range of conceptual and emotional goals I hold for it. Learning to let go more is probably the most important one though. Coming to terms with the fact that many of my most successful images are often not the ones I exerted the least control over, but the ones where I allow play, chance, and the unknown in, has been on my mind for some time, but I'm gaining more confidence in allowing that to happen, and to have a less shaped idea of the final results going into making something actually benefits the work sometimes. Finding ways to work in a landscape that I don't have a strong personal history to has been a beneficial challenge that is facilitating a greater sense of myself as an artist and as a person; I'm exploring many more strategies than I think I would have in a place I had a closer connection to right now. Ultimately, over the course of my first semester, I really just learned how little I know about myself as an artist still, and how many as-yet untested approaches are available to me to try; it continues to be a thrilling set of prospects.
What kind of exhibition or arts-related job opportunities exist in the area for current students and recent graduates?
There is more attention and outreach to us due to the program's reputation and proximity to New York City than I imagine maybe in other MFA programs, it appears. I think still I'm trying to get my bearings on my practice and not focus too heavily on having to 'market' myself as I'm figuring out even what I am doing in the work itself, but seeing how recent grads have segued into some great teaching opportunities fairly quickly is heartening; teaching is a major goal for me of getting my MFA. I haven't felt much of a distinct art presence in New Haven outside of Yale yet, but I'm still learning as I adjust to being in a totally new place. We are certainly made aware by the university of many opportunities for fellowships, internships, and residency opportunities for the summer and down the road, all over the world, which is exciting. There are also some very competitive spots for teaching fellowships in the department upon graduation. I think the most benefit I've gotten here so far in that arena is feeling more optimistic about reaching for bigger opportunities as they come along, it's somewhat more in the air that everything is worth applying to and we all should hold ourselves to our most ambitious standards.
What’s the most memorable piece of advice you've received from a mentor?
All of my colleagues and were incredibly fortunate to have the presence of A.L Steiner last semester on our critique panel, and we've all gained so much from her presence thus far. I don't know that I can consolidate any particular easy truisms or nuggets of wisdom from her, or anyone else really, but I find that her attitude of being actively engaged and curious about what's really in front of you, unabashedly emotional and straightforward, does not have to exist at all in contradiction to intellectual or academic rigor, but should in fact be at the heart of it; that they live best together. I feel that in wanting to emulate that I am hopefully becoming a braver person in how I navigate everything, my life and practice, and perhaps am necessarily questioning some previously held beliefs about how I thought I had to present myself to be considered "serious" or worthy of being heard. This might all sound a bit obvious or trite, but I guess I'm starting to see that it isn't inherently.
Where can we keep up with your photo department online?