Landing in Los Angeles: An interview with B. Neimeth

Originally from Abington, Pennsylvania, Brittany or B. Neimeth (as she prefers to be called) moved to Los Angeles in 2014 to pursue an MFA at CalArts. When I asked her about what brought her to this side of the country, she described herself as a “wandering spirit with a desire for the kind of freedom and newness that a life change can bring.” A spirit that only stopped once it hit the ocean, as her family jokes about her journey to the West Coast. In Neimeth’s recent work, Beverly Hills, FL, she borrows from narratives and images collected from her heritage and family albums to create a carefully selected story and an intimate body of work. Through the use of photographic and archival conventions, the photographer explores the memories connected to these images, making public what once was supposed to be private. This work was recently included in REMEMBRANCE, a group exhibition centering on photography’s influence upon memory and the notion of family curated by Thomas Kollie and Zoe Lemelson at the ROSEGALLERY in Santa Monica, CA. This is where our first conversation started.

Claudia Pretelin: Do you remember what triggered your interest in creating art? When did you become more concretely interested in photography?

B Neimeth: I had always dabbled in photography. As a child, my grandfather gave me a point-and-shoot film camera. He was an avid photographer and even convinced his landlord in Brooklyn in the ‘50s to let him put a darkroom in the building’s basement. He would process, develop, and hand color his own photos. A couple of years ago, I found a photo album at my parent’s house filled with hundreds of images I shot at the zoo with that camera. Formally, technically, conceptually… they are not great in any way. They’re hilarious. They’re the definition of quantity over quality. They show a child’s desire to document a day. It did, however, show me how quickly I developed a curiosity for photography and a desire to create. That wasn’t the only photo album packed to the gills with my 10-year-old viewpoint.

In 2009, I studied abroad in Florence which was a really formative experience in terms of my desire to pursue art. For the first time, I was surrounded by artists and being taught as an artist. There is a huge difference in treating a student as a student and treating an artist as a learning artist. It was really eye-opening and allowed me to re-frame my relationship with my camera and other media. That was a goddamn revolution. I graduated from my undergrad the semester after returning from Italy and immediately started working on the beginnings of my Viscerality series and considering graduate programs. I completed my MFA in 2016.

CP: How’s living in LA informing your work and aesthetic?

BN: It’s really challenging to draw a straightforward connection between Los Angeles and my aesthetic. What I can say for certain is that I have met incredible, creative individuals that have become cherished colleagues, friends, and mentors. The makers around me constantly challenge me, push my practice, read my proposals and grants and walk uphill with me for hours when I need to move my body and let my mind recede to the background. Had I stayed in any number of cities I’ve lived in, it’s very possible I would have found something similar but I do think there is something special in Los Angeles that feeds my creative and often restless body and mind. There is a Frank Lloyd Wright quote that I read in an illustration by Jack Sjogren titled “In Defense of Los Angeles” in Hyperallergic, “Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” I was a loose bit before landing in Los Angeles.

CP: We talked about your visual influences. I mentioned to you the work of William Eggleston and you mentioned the work of Jo Ann Callis who’s been a sort of mentor to you.

BN: Jo Ann Callis was one of the artists that drew me to apply to CalArts. She has a way with details. The hand dipped in honey with the black around the fingernails or the purple lines stretched across the flesh from where a belt used to be. I enact a lot of control in my own practice. Not building sets to the degree she has in the past, but it wouldn’t be out of line to say I’m particular and we have bonded over a similar aesthetic. She is now a cherished friend and I am very thankful for her guidance and encouragement. I feel really blessed to know her.

CP: So, how you believe particular artists impact your work?

BN: I’m really drawn to artists that are documenting vulnerability explicitly or implicitly – whether it is their family, their bodies, the body, sexuality, humanity… Artists are sort of trained to become human sieves. Taking in loads of external influence and then re-contextualizing it all into some (hopefully) new form. With that said, I could make a mile long list but to name a few: Ana Mendieta, Mona Hatoum, Patricia Fernandez, Toba Khedoori, Carrie Mae Weems, Laura Aguilar, Louise Bourgeois, Zoe Leonard, Sophie Calle, as well as Suné Woods, Jen Hofer and Maggie Nelson (three artists I also studied with at CalArts). Which isn’t to say that my work is like their work or that that is an exhaustive list but I see so much in each of these artists that really inspire me.

CP: Can you tell us about the Beverly Hills, FL series and your recent group exhibition at ROSEGALLERY?

BN: Shot in Beverly Hills, Florida, I’m exploring the immigrant Jewish experience through my family archive, photographs of my grandmother’s home and the small town it resides in, which exists in stark contrast to its ubiquitous namesake in California. These photographs represent not just the narratives of Austrian-Jewish refugees of the Holocaust, but a more universal tale of family life and migration. Further, the images from the archive appear unlinked to geography allowing them to exist beyond their American reality. The landscape is unrevealing and allows an alternative narrative of family life in Austria to permeate and reimagine the history.

My exploration begins with the memory fragments and small reveals the archive of photographs offer. There is something beautiful, banal, and common about family photos. All laid out they represent decades of interwoven American and European histories, the Jewish immigrant experience, the cliche migration of New York Jews in the 80s and 90s to the South and Florida, and, poignantly, the moments left undocumented.

CP: What’s your next project?

BN: Last year I shot the Beverly Hills, FL series and I’m currently expanding it. I’m working with my paternal family archive and images of my grandmother. As I described above, I’m exploring the ideas of alternate histories through the images of my grandmother and haven’t fully realized what the end of this project will be.

CP: Other than photography, what’s your favorite instrument of memory?

BN: Sound recordings. In the last few years, I’ve created a few projects that incorporated a sound element alongside photography and I found that juxtaposition to be incredible. Sound is a sculpture that surrounds your body. For those able to hear, it’s something that cannot fully be ignored. The quality can be changed but there is always a hum of the world around us and I enjoy experimenting with that bodily experience.

B. Neimeth is a Los Angeles-based visual artist and teacher whose research examines familial and intimate relationships. Through archives, photographs, video, writing, and sound, she explores the flexibility of memory and its connection to space. She has shown internationally at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Singapore, Human Resources in Los Angeles, the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco, and ROSEGALLERY in Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal and it has been reviewed in What’s on LA, Fabrik, and Lenscratch. Her work is part of the collections in the California Institute of the Arts and Yale University Libraries.

You can also find more about her work on Instagram.

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