"When I'm taking photographs of something, most of the time I'm not aware of why I'm doing it. There's faith in that. Faith is taking action even when you don't know what the result is going to be."
Alexandra Hedison is a fine art photographer based in Los Angeles. She is interested in the intersection of tradition and novelty, and her images often explore this through conceptual representations of natural and architectural landscapes. Hedison’s work has been exhibited in galleries internationally and published in four books: The In Between, Into The Woods, Two Table Tops Touching, and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Prior to dedicating herself to photography full-time, Hedison also had a career as an actor. She is most recognized for her role in The L Word as Dylan Moreland.
In this interview, Alexandra Hedison shares why she transitioned from the world of acting to photography, how she views architecture, and what projects she is currently working on.
TGL: How was your childhood?
AH: I did a series of work called Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, and over the course of four years took pictures in Malibu where I grew up. Part of my motivation behind it was returning to the place where I had my first conscious memories. I told a story about my experience through these images. I kept going back at different times of the year as the seasons impacted the landscape. I shot with every camera I had. I realized that there was no one way for me to tell the story. It was great. It was terrible. It was happy. It was sad. I remember so much. I remember nothing. I took 50, sometimes 100 images, and I digitally layered them, creating a composite of multiple frames. They became one image that moves in and out of seasons. In and out of darkness and light.
TGL: Did you take photographs as a child?
AH: I started taking photographs a little bit later in my life, but I was extremely visual as a child. I remember minor aesthetic details which have no significance, like the linoleum pattern of my second grade classroom floor. I remember the exact pattern, the exact color, but can’t recall anything else about the class itself. My father was an actor, but his hobby was photography. He had a 1960's manual Nikon, which he used all the time. My mother was well read and interested in every subject. In a different time, she would have been an academic. I don't know that she would have gotten married, had kids, and been a housewife. I was exposed to both the right brain and left brain in their approach to life. It was a good collaboration. As I got older, I saw how in many ways it was my father who was more in his head and my mother who was more artistic. There are two sides to every coin.
TGL: How did you enter to the world of acting?
AH: By the time I was a teenager, I started being interested in plays and performance art - one woman shows. I remember seeing Lily Tomlin's one woman play at the Dolittle Theatre in Los Angeles called In Search of Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Her presence on stage - telling one story from various point of view, different ways of seeing reality - was magnificent. I knew I was interested in communicating something with others, and performance is a communion between you, the other performers, and the audience. It's a triangle.
In my early 20s, I was doing performance art, and at some point I thought, "Well, I should probably be making money here." I started auditioning for television, and I would get cast in things, but it was almost never a satisfying experience for me. I wish that I had been able to say, "Okay, if I need to make money I'll just make money waiting tables, but I'll keep my art my art and I'll keep money, money.”
TGL: When did you turn to photography as your artistic medium?
AH: When I started making money as an actor, a friend of mine gave me a little point and shoot film camera as a gift. I started taking pictures and bringing them to a lab that gave me a choice in how I processed the film. When the pictures were developed, I was motivated by the color and composition. I was making money now as an actor, so I could support this hobby. I didn't know how to take a picture. I was self-taught. I started doing it more and more until finally I started showing my work.
TGL: When did you decide to dedicate yourself fully to photography?
AH: I remember scheduling a photo shoot, then being upset that I had to cancel my photography work to go to an audition. I officially made the transition in 1997 or 1998. I said, "That's it, I'm not acting anymore,” and I gave it up. It was scary, because at that point I was making money as an actor, but I stopped completely. I was entirely dedicated to my work as an artist and did nothing else for a long time.
Years later in 2006, the producer of The L Word, who I knew, asked if I’d be in it. A friend of mine was on the show, and it seemed like a fun thing to do, even though I wasn't acting anymore. I didn't think it was actually going to happen. I hadn't auditioned in so long. But I decided to do it and went to Vancouver to shoot it. I had so much fun, and it paid for the next few years of my artistic life.
TGL: What did those next few years of your artistic life look like?
AH: I was able to show in London. I was able to travel. I funded my next shoot, which was in the temperate rainforest of North America. It was a series called Ithaka, based on a poem by C. P. Cavafy about journeys. Ithaka was maybe the first time I really had fun shooting. I still felt like I didn't know what I was doing, but I did it anyway.
TGL: Your photos often relate to spaces, interiors, and architecture. What is your relationship with architecture and these spaces?
AH: It wasn't a conscious decision that my work would have a linear or architectural aspect to it. Most of the time, I don't realize what I'm doing until I’ve done it enough times where it finally occurs to me that I'm working on something. In 2004 or 2005, in a series I titled Rebuilding, I photographed construction sites - they were houses that were once perfect and finished, and then eventually partially demolished and rebuilt. I liked the idea of construction and reconstruction, this idea of a space being reconceived. It felt like I was relating it to my own inner work, and my own need to rebuild, which was a process that started from the ground up. When you rebuild, there are things that you keep like certain parts of the foundation, certain aspects of a room, but the space itself shifts and changes, sometimes beyond recognition. That was the first time I realized there was geometry in my work. There's a specific attention paid to lines and the division of the frame that I'm interested in.
TGL: Are interiors and architecture still important to you as a photographer?
AH: They are. I don't photograph architecture. I'm not an interiors photographer. I don't do that, but I seem to be drawn to a kind of dividing line. Even a curtain that's parted in the middle or a window frame that's split in the center. What is this division, this bifurcation that interests me? I still don't know, but I'm compelled to photograph it.
TGL: What are you currently working on?
AH: The work I'm doing right now, for the most part is camera-less. Both of my parents have passed away in the past four years, and I have a depth awareness that I didn't have before. It's healthy to have a consciousness around death. It will certainly make you live in a more robust way. I had to go through my parents’ house and found all of these objects that were important to my mother, the things that she used every day, from a kitchen whisk to her sewing kit, these traditional feminine objects. They have no use now, because the person who was using them is not there. I'm bringing these objects into the dark room, infusing light into them while putting photographic paper down and making photograms. The work is still somewhat abstract. Sometimes you know what you're looking at, other times the objects morph into a thing that's entirely abstract. I'm doing a lot of experimentation. It's very different from the work I've done before. I don't know what's going to become of it.
TGL: What is your dream project?
AH: The projects that I do are my dream projects, because I dream them, and then I do them. Sometimes it's an unconscious dream. Sometimes it's a waking dream, where I'm drawn to a dividing line or to a forest or to a construction site. That's following a dream. When I'm taking photographs of something, most of the time I'm not aware of why I'm doing it. There's faith in that. Faith is taking action even when you don't know what the result is going to be. I guess that's what I'm doing.
I would say that my idea of a dream life is to live it in my everyday life, rather than a projected idea of, "I'll just do the quotidian. I'll do the thing I should do and then eventually, one day I'll do this dream thing." I don't think it works that way. And when it does, it doesn't work at all.
TGL: How has Covid-19 affected you?
AH: Before the Covid-19 outbreak, I was in the middle of a new body of work. I spent most of my time in a friend’s darkroom who has since gone into quarantine like the rest of us. The project is now on hold and the exhibitions I had scheduled for the year have been cancelled. I'm experiencing a kind of stillness that's even quieter than the darkroom. Sheltering in place is a call for the protection of our communities and yet it's interrupting everyone's life. Some days I'm enduring it and other days I feel like I'm headed toward some of the most important work of my life. I'm seeing this time as an invitation to be still in order to create a deeper connection to myself, my practice, and hopefully, to those around me.
TGL: Who would you like to have dinner with that you don’t already know?
AH: I just finished reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I’d like to unpack that book with her over as many meals as possible. Also, I wish I could have had dinner in the south of France with James Baldwin.
TGL: What advice would you like to give to The Genius List’s readers?
AH: Your inner language will reflect your outside life. Pay attention, be willing to make changes when necessary, be kind to yourself and others, do the work you love and be as courageous as possible every step of the way. Also, when traveling only bring carry on luggage. Unless it's camera equipment, if you’re checking anything in, you’ve brought too much.