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Visual storytelling encompasses various mediums, from homemade keepsakes to professionally composed photographs, to imagined otherworldly scenes. Peggy Weiss‘ work in digital collage layers these kinds of images to create work that is at once familiar and dreamlike. Weiss uses her own photography as well as the snapshots of friends’ photo albums of yesteryear and new digital collage techniques to create her pieces. Weiss has also begun to add layers of painted details to her collages.

Weiss received her education at the University of Texas and Laguna Gloria Art School in Austin and has remained here, exhibiting her works and expanding her mediums. I  met with Weiss at her studio space in the Canopy building where we discussed her work.

When did you begin photographing and why?
In the days before Photoshop, I hand-colored prints and old photos, using those great Marshall’s Oil Paints. That was when I started collecting vintage photos. I had fun with the paints, but I found it very limiting–I wanted to take the process further. With the advent of computers and Photoshop, I had the tools I needed. I then started photographing images to use in my compositions, along with the old photos.

So, when did you create your first digital collage?
My first collage was in 2004, the year my mom died. I had an old picture of her and my dad that I scanned, and I started playing around with it. I’ve reworked that image over the years, and it’s now one of my pieces in the Harry Ransom Center Photography Collection.

I talked to you a little about how your Friends & Strangers series and know that you used old photos are inspiration. Where did the images that inspired your photos come from?
Old photos have always spoken to me. I started with my family’s old photos, then my friend’s family photographs. When I exhausted those, I scoured junk shops and eBay for more.  The Family, Friends and Strangers series is ongoing, although finding old photos to work with is getting more difficult.

Usually, when I start a piece, I have no preconceived notion of what I’m going to do.

What is the process in making them?
I collect photos, scan them, and put them in a library on the computer. When I find a window of time, I’ll select an image to start working on in Photoshop. I shoot constantly with my Sony Nex 7, and archive these images for backgrounds, skies and other elements to use in a collage. Usually, when I start a piece, I have no preconceived notion of what I’m going to do. The process is very experimental and organic, and just comes out of my crazy head.  I add layer after layer, after layer, sometimes ending with as many as 100 layers in one image.  The beauty of Photoshop is “command z,” the undo command. I can delete anything that doesn’t work and then try something new.

You mentioned that you have started to paint on some of the prints. What does this allow you to do?
Painting on top of the photo is just adding another layer, creating an effect you can’t get on the computer. It enlivens the piece and gives it texture.  I’m getting bolder with this process, and I’m collaborating with a young painter; we’re having fun with it.

What do you think digital collage gives you that just photography cannot?
As a photographer and collage artist, new techniques and technology allow me to fulfill my desire to create stories. I can’t help playing with my pictures. When I look at a photo, I think about how I would alter it, and what other photos would be good to combine with it. One photo might have a person’s expression I like, but the body isn’t working for the scene. So, off with their head, and onto another body. (Growing up with three sisters, we played paper dolls endlessly.)

When you photograph to use your work in your digital collages, do you go out with an idea of what you need for a certain collage or do you use a particular one of your photos to inspire a digital collage?
Some of both. I’m always on the lookout for something appealing to use in a collage…a strange sky, a dog, a long fence. I have a friend with a great collection of mid-century modern furniture and I’ve been to his house several times to photograph his vintage stuff–TV, chairs, lamps, fabric.

As a photographer and collage artist, new techniques and technology allow me to fulfill my desire to create stories

At first glance, I thought My Morning Swim series were photographs because they are less surreal than your other series. Did you take the photos for My Morning Swim? Where did the inspiration for these come from?
My Morning Swim was sort of accidental. I was on my way out the door to swim at Barton Springs, and spotted my son’s GoPro camera on his desk, so I took it. I swam laps with it on my head, not really knowing what images I was getting. The stills from the video were too low res to do anything with, but I loved the underwater images of the other swimmers. I started taking single shots with it, and swam with it 6 or 7 times that summer. I then digitally enhanced the frames selected for the series.

Will you describe your collaboration with your son you have coming up?
We’re starting work on an art video that will be part of an upcoming show at Davis Gallery, Austin.  My son, Aaron, is a film maker, and has agreed to help his mum transfer a vision to video. Characters from my collages will come alive (think Pee Wee’s Playhouse meets David Lynch). It will be about a 5 minute loop.

What do you hope your art will look like in a year? Or five?
I like pursuing new techniques and technologies.

I like taking pictures.

I like transforming an image into something new and unique.

I’m pretty sure I’ll just continue down that road and see where it takes me.

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2 Responses to “Peggy Weiss”

  1. Thanks for sharing; always nice to find out about someone never heard of before. That’s just one of the things I like about this blog. Keep up the good work.

    Reply

  2. Exquisite work with the promise of something beyond.
    Eager to see the video!

    Reply

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