The urge to love and the urge to either avoid or commit violence are two of the most powerful pulls in the human psyche. I am interested in how people depict symbols of love and violence in the cultural landscape. The way we use these symbols in our homes, in commerce and in the public space says much about what is valued in America – power, strength, destiny, and the importance of the frontier.
Hearts, lips, rockets, tanks, and missiles are used to represent adventure, romance, exploration, and even a higher power. However, like a rocket, everything that leaves the atmosphere must eventually return to earth, either to find a home or to be lost on impact.
Love and Rockets is also about this search for a metaphorical home and all the detours on the way there.
Laura Noel’s portraits show us the attitudes - defiance, enjoyment, resignation and contentment - of those who continue to smoke cigarettes in the face of intense public disapproval. A residue of glamour can also be seen in these photographs – the theatrical inhaling and exhaling, the sensual pleasure of watching smoke float and dissipate in the air and the primal lure of fire. More importantly, these images reveal that for some, smoking is a gateway to a state of contemplation. A former smoker describes this phenomenon; "Unique amongst the addictive drugs, smoking has the special power to bring the user to a medium. It doesn’t make you high and it doesn’t calm you down. It does both. If you’re feeling anxious, it has a leveling effect. If you’re feeling down, it has a leveling effect."
This introspective break in a busy world is more valuable to smokers than non-smokers would imagine. Since the anti-smoking movement began gaining momentum in the early 1970’s, culminating in the current ban on public consumption, smokers have become social refugees banished to windy corners, cars and private rooms. Noel is interested in the idea that society has become so disenchanted with smokers, it has tried to legislate them out of existence. She is fascinated by the small rebellions and compulsions that propel people to continue smoking in such a socio-political climate. Of course, smoking is addictive, unhealthy and potentially fatal. Noel’s images are not a defense of this dangerous practice, but instead a portrait of a diverse group of people united by a habit.
The pull of addiction and self-image is strong as evidenced by these images.
The librarian’s “Withdrawn” or “Discarded” stamp is like a silent slap across the face. A once loved volume is ostracized from the family home. Fortunately, books have many lives and move from one home to another, carrying the baggage of their former lives - inscriptions, stains, notes and other marks.
Photographing withdrawn library books is one way to depict time’s relentless push forward and consider the institutions that change or fade as technology evolves. Some of these discarded books were rejected as no longer relevant to current culture, others were battered, and some contain inaccurate information. Libraries are often “weeded” to make room for new materials.
As society completes its move to a digital world, these small acts of personalization and artifacts of aging are harder to find. A handwritten dedication can convey sentiment to those who stumble across the volume long after the book’s original recipient has passed on. Illustrations, charts, even graphics and fonts speak to the values of specific time periods.
Though technology is often wonderful, it can also fundamentally change an important and everyday activity like reading. Books bear the marks of time passing in a way that electronic devices cannot.
The books in this series were removed from a variety of county public library systems, schools, churches and universities.
While working with these books, my head filled with narratives, not the tales put forth by their authors, but the stories of the book owners. I was struck by a child’s angry “impossible!” scribbled in response to the gift of a ponderous religious tome. What librarian so disliked a Dominick Dunne novel that she pummeled the book with numerous stamps? And how does a family give away grandmother’s golden anniversary gift?
Though I will never know these answers, I can imagine my own stories from the clues left behind.
These photographs are like the first sentence of a short story, only the ending can never be certain.
I pair images together to enhance the stories I sense in the emotional landscape around me. I fracture the story into diptychs so the line where the two images meet becomes the seam between fact and fiction, reality and longing, the universal and the personal.
The major theme running through Fiction is the struggle to be an individual in an increasingly homogeneous society. I am fascinated by the strong emotions that emanate from people isolated on the streets and in social settings.
However, I am equally interested in man’s creations and what the objects we make to either keep or leave behind as trash feed into a narrative.
My life is intertwined with the people, things and places I photograph. By focusing my camera on certain people, I am making them a part of my life. These people catch my attention, because their appearances and actions touch something in my past or confront some of my concerns. It seems natural that these images be diptychs joining my real life with the imagined lives of others.
Free Fall 04.Noel.04, Laura Noel, Fall Line Press, Atlanta, 2012 Withdrawn, Laura Noel, Aglu Books and Prints, Aryshire, Scotland, 2012 Free Fall 01.Noel.01 -, Laura Noel, Fall Line Press, Atlanta, 2011 Free Fall 02.Noel.02, Laura Noel, Fall Line Press, Atlanta, 2011 Free Fall 03.Noel.03, Laura Noel, Fall Line Press, Atlanta, 2
Photography is about trying to catch the world with a flimsy net. I don’t know the answers. I venture out with a camera and try to cull meaning – some odd bit of humor or rough beauty or sideways emotion – and print it out on paper. I want to lend some permanence to the ephemera. Time overwhelms me. I take pictures.
Laura Noel is an Atlanta-based photographer and installation artist. Her work often addresses American cultural issues with an emphasis on how individuals navigate an increasingly homogeneous world. Recent projects include an extended portrait series called Smoke Break, about Americans who continue to smoke in the face of public bans and a shift in public tolerance for the act, and Withdrawn, a study of discarded library books and how technology has altered basic activities such as reading.
Noel received a BA in Public Policy Studies from Duke University in 1988 and a MFA in Photography with Distinction from the University of Georgia in 2009. Her prints been featured in exhibitions at the Pingyao International Photography Festival in China, the Contemporary American Photography exhibition at the Internationale Fototage Festival in Mannheim, Germany, Gallery 24 in Berlin, United Photo Industries in New York City, The Rhode Island School of Design Museum, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia, Jackson Fine Art, Lumiere, Davis Orton Gallery in upstate New York, Gallery 1401 in Philadelphia, The Gregg Museum of Art and Design and many others. The George Eastman House, The Ogden Museum, MOCA GA and many other institutions and individuals have collected her photographs.
Her photographs have appeared on-line and in print in Photography Now, Photography Quarterly, PHOTONEWS (Germany), Slate Magazine’s Behold Photo Blog, CNN Photo Blog, Lens Culture, Planet, Art News Daily, The Humble Arts Foundation, F-Stop Magazine, One One Thousand, SouthXSoutheast, La Lettre de la Photographie, Consciencious, aCurator, Fraction Magazine and many others. In 2012, her work inaugurated Fall Line Press’ Free Fall series of quarterly magazines featuring the work of one photographer. Recently, Scotland’s Aglu Books published Withdrawn, her study on discarded library books.
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