Digital photographer Anne Cruikshank is passionate about hybrids: taking a mundane image or idea and marrying it to a contrast. Even if the contrast is a tiny one, it changes the entire feel and meaning of the piece, tripping up an emotional reaction in the viewer. Whether that reaction is laughter or horror, well, Cruikshank doesn’t mind either way.
“I was at the MADE Fair, and people would start looking through my prints and laugh and laugh,” she says. “I don’t see why other people think they’re hilarious — I find them a little creepy — but I like when they get any big reaction. Whether it’s positive or negative, expected or unexpected, I just want to avoid a void.”
Cruikshank grew up in Great Falls and has a background in media arts that dates back to her time as an undergraduate at the University of Montana. While she used to spend much of her creative time taking pictures, she started straying from traditional photography simply because her interests in that area — castles and gothic architecture — aren’t readily available here in Missoula. What is available, though, is Photoshop, and Cruikshank found she loved playing with images using the software.
“The process of [digital photography] is meticulous and time-consuming,” she says, “but I find it very relaxing. They are my version of adult coloring books.”
Her biggest current interest is altering Victorian cabinet cards by replacing the image’s human heads with animal heads. Cruikshank gets the worn portraits from second-hand stores and eBay, though more recently, friends and loved ones have been sending them to her to alter. Then she matches human with animal — either by getting inspiration from the person on the cabinet card or by finding a specific cabinet card that looks like an animal she’s interested in working on. Then the tedious work begins: finding an image that matches in tilt and light source, and then tinkering with the scale, density, contrast and grain to get it just right.
“I like the juxtaposition of stock animal photos and actual human beings who are gone now — someone cared about these pictures and these people a lot, but now they’ve been discarded,” Cruikshank says. “I used to pair them with endangered or extinct animals, because both are vanishing or have vanished, but now I use other animals, like goats, because they translate so perfectly to humans.”
Besides her wild cabinet cards, Cruikshank also gets playful with the idea of mass-produced art in Mindscape/Landscape, a new show she shares with landscape painter Deborah Traer at E3 Convergence Gallery. Baffled by the art you can buy at places like Lowes, Pier 1 and Target, she wanted to recreate the feel of the pieces, but add a contrast that evokes a feeling. One piece looks like it could be for sale at Home Depot as far as style and presentation, except that it features an octopus tentacle wearing a bowtie. Another depicts a sparse bouquet of flowers, wilting and tied with string.
“I started looking at these pictures that are devoid of meaning — like the ones you can find at Target or a dentist’s office — of innocuous flowers or a single feather or an oar and a canoe,” she says. “I thought, what would make this interesting? What would make it offensive or upsetting? What small change would suddenly stop someone from hanging it in their living room?”
As with her hybrid animal-humans, she doesn’t know what people might feel when they see her strange mix of mass-produced art and H.P Lovecraft-inspired twists.
“The most important thing about art is that there’s an emotional reaction and interpretation,” she says. “Art isn’t necessarily something you can process with your head, you have to process it emotionally. I want to give you an emotional response.”
Mindscape/Landscape opens at E3 Convergence First Friday, Feb. 2, with a reception from 5 to 9 PM.