Monday, February 6, 2023

Photographer Patty Carroll talks her career, hosts reception in MTSU’s Baldwin Photographic Gallery


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Photo and story by Emily Blalock / Contributing Writer

Photographer Patty Carroll explained her artistic process to students in a lecture on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in the College of Education.

Carroll’s work, entitled “Camouflage and Calamity,” will be on display in the Baldwin Photographic Gallery until April 17.

Jackie Heigle, the curator for the Baldwin Photographic Gallery, began the lecture by introducing Carroll.

“Patty’s work has gotten a lot of acclaim and interest over the last four or five years, this work that we’ve been featuring in our exhibit,” Heigle said. “It’s big, it’s colorful, it’s different. Let’s show students again something new and different.”

Carroll has taught photography at universities such as The Institute of Design at IIT, the Colombia College in Chicago, the Royal College of Art in London and more.

Her lecture included a slide show of a few of her many images, beginning with her earlier work. One of her projects included taking photographs of hot dog stands across America.

“It was really about this kind of also magical place. When I started doing this, I was driving down the road going to work. It was winter, it was Chicago, it was snowing, it was grey, it was nasty and there was this great, colored, bright, saturated, crazy-looking hot dog stand on the way. And it was the only place that had any color anywhere that I could find. It kind of got me photographing these places,” she explained.

Carroll worked with food historian Bruce Kraig, and published a book in 2012, entitled “Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America.”

Her next project focused on photographing some of the houses she grew up seeing in the suburbs of her hometown.

However, it was when Carroll and her husband moved to England for four years that she was inspired to create the elaborate imagery in her most recent project, “Anonymous Women.”

“I was completely, totally taken out of all the things I knew. Before that, I had been photographing basically American culture and the things that I understood,” she said.

Carroll explained the elaborate interior decorating she was exposed to in London, which she described as “elaborate and baroque and extravagant and elegant.”

In addition to being exposed to new styles, she also faced challenges when it came to her identity.

“I almost had kind of an identity crisis, because people kept calling me Mrs. Jones. I am Mrs. Jones. I’m married to a man whose name is Jones. But I had been known for my own career and my own person as Patty Carroll, and so it was a very odd thing to do,” she explained.

She began photographing a model to express her complex feelings toward her own domestic status.

Once she moved back to the United States, she started going to estate sales and antique stores, gathering items for her new house. As she worked to make her new home into the one she had always dreamed of having, she recalled that some of the first American troops were being sent to Iraq.

“I started thinking about how ironic that here I was, obsessing about my home. And I started thinking about the women in Iraq whose homes were going to be destroyed basically by our hand and that they would no longer have a warm, safe place to buy their pink dishes,” she explained. “This contrast of my obsessiveness and doing all of this against what we were doing in the world just really struck me.”

This thinking was also a key part in her inspiration for her project, “Anonymous Women.” This project addresses issues of identity and the relationship between women and domesticity. Many of her images include women covered in drapes and camouflaged within scenes of homes. In many instances, the female subject is completely overwhelmed and consumed by her collections of objects within the scene.

“The work that I’ve always done, whether it was out in the world or in the studio, I’ve always been interested in the collision of fiction and reality. So even when I was photographing out in the world, I was finding places that were not, they didn’t seem, real. They were kind of vacation places or places that were imaginative. And then when I moved into the studio, I kind of abandoned reality altogether.”

Her current project is focused on building scenes within her studio. She included a short video in her presentation about her process of imagining and setting up each photograph.

“I think of the studio as a kind of magic place. It’s kind of like my own full-size dollhouse that I get to play in,” Carroll said with a laugh.

Katherine Garrett, an MTSU senior and photography practicum student who helped set up the show in the gallery, said she enjoyed learning about Carroll’s artistic process.

“I just liked hearing about her process and also her talking about photographing her hometown because that’s a project that I also kind of wanted to work on,” she said.

The lecture was followed by an opportunity for audience members to ask questions, as well as a reception in the Baldwin Photographic Gallery.

“Ideas come from just living every day,” Carroll said of her inspiration. “I think everything you do as an artist is self-portrait. Even though it doesn’t seem obviously of you. Because it’s all coming out of your own psyche. It’s coming out of your own guts and soul.”

The new Baldwin Photographic Collection and Archive in the Miller Education Center will be opening on Wednesday, March 20, at 10 a.m., and students are encouraged to attend.

To contact News Editor Angele Latham, email

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