Holding a Story - Elisa H. Hamilton on "Slideshow"

Over the next few days, City Hall Plaza will be teeming with some of the brightest minds in technology, science, innovation, urban planning, and civic engagement. We’re thrilled that Elisa H. Hamilton and the ten bold Boston-area women who worked with her to create Slideshow will be among them!

Bringing Slideshow to HUBweek offers us an exciting opportunity (in the form of an empty shipping container) to showcase the power public art has to connect people from many different backgrounds and contexts. We’re proud of the work Elisa has done to create a welcoming, interactive, and open space where the community can come together to see, listen, touch, and talk together about what it means to be a woman working and living in our city. And we can’t wait for you to meet Camila, Nina, Charla, Abigail, Lolita, Rissa, Sabrina, Laura, Tiffany, and Audrey.

Below is an interview we did with Elisa about the project — what inspired her, what’s new, and what this piece of “analog” art has to do with a technology and innovation festival (hint: Instagram wasn’t the original photo sharing platform). Read on to get an inside look at Slideshow and join us for the slide talks, starting Thursday October 12.

N+T: What was your first experience with analog slides and a slide projector? How did it make you feel?

Slide projectors

EH: I can't place my very first experience with slides, but I do connect analog film very strongly with my youth. Growing up, my mom worked in a photo lab, first as a photo retoucher and eventually as the customer service manager. In the early days, I remember her sitting at our dining room table with the overhead light on, carefully going through negatives one at a time, dabbing gently from a little dish she'd prepared with selected liquid tones. She would spend hours correcting imperfections with the tiniest, finest brush you could imagine. As children, my sister and I would sometimes go to work with my mother at the lab after school or on working holidays. I remember the smell of that place so vividly, and I remember how mysterious and futuristic all of the machines seemed! It wasn't until I went to college and took a photo class myself that I understood what a darkroom was, or what processing film actually entailed. Because of these experiences, I've always valued the photo as the object. I've always felt that when you hold a photo in your hand, you're holding more than just an image, even more than just a memory – you're holding a story.

N+T: What's exciting to you about presenting this project as part of N+T's Year of the Woman?

EH: In my life I have been blessed with the friendship and love of so many women who I admire, but I had never considered creating a work that celebrated the female spirit until making this project with N+T. Back in January, my husband and I traveled down to D.C. for the Women's March; that was the first time I'd ever been part of a such a powerful female-focused movement. I loved that the March had women at the helm, but was inclusive of all. My husband and I go back to that moment a lot as a source of strength as we move through the current political crises. It's my hope that Slideshow can be an opportunity for us to recognize that we don't need to wait for another Women's March to create positive change: we can start right here, right now.

N+T: What is exciting about showcasing this project at HUBWeek?

Slideshow shipping container at HUBWeek

EH: It's so exciting to see these women's voices being featured at HUBweek. At first, being a community-based artist, I was intimidated by a festival with “science and technology” in the tagline. I wasn't sure how I would create an approachable work that was true both to HUBweek and to my own practice, but Slideshow grew out of that challenge.

N+T: How did you choose these ten women? What were you looking for when choosing creator/collaborators?

EH: When I first proposed this project, I had a few women in mind, but I really tried to step beyond my first circle of connections. My criteria for each presenter were that she should live and/or work in Boston, and that she should be a strong woman who is in some way leading a generous life. You'll have to come see my slide talk for me to expand on my idea of generosity, but all of these women embody the reality of what it is to be a woman in our city. They are hard-working, authentic, strong, and vulnerable at the same time.

N+T: What about this project is new and different for you as an artist? What feels familiar?

#Slide sorting in the studio. #SlideshowBOS #analogbeauty

A post shared by Elisa H. Hamilton (@elisahhamilton) on

EH: There are many things in Slideshow that feel different for me, but the main thing is that I don't get to make anything with my hands in this project. This is my first public art creation where my primary role is as a space-maker. As artists, we often create platforms to show who we ourselves are; with this project I wanted to use my platform to amplify the voices of folks who don't often get to be in the spotlight. The familiarity of this project lies in the process. With every new project I do, there's always an element of problem-solving that's essential to the development process. There are always going to be unexpected things that come up, but as an artist you learn to be solution-oriented and flexible: there isn't just one way to be successful.

N+T: What hopes do you have for this project as a community building experience?

EH: My hope for Slideshow is that it creates a place of possibility. I have this project that I've been doing for five years now called “Dance Spot.” I create these pop-up dance floors around the city and invite the public to dance with me. The materials are simple – chalk, a sidewalk, and some music – but just drawing those lines, just offering the invitation to a stranger to dance with me makes something possible that wasn't just a moment before. I view Slideshow in the same light. The project components are technologically simple, but I see the project itself as an invitation for discovery and connection. It's up to the public to say yes.

N+T: What is your top tip for "photographing your life"?

EH: Photograph everything, you can always edit later; it's those ordinary moments that are often the most beautiful. My mind goes to “Our Town” (I'm a former theater person) when in Act III, Emily chooses to go back to one day in her life. She's warned not to pick a pinnacle event like her wedding day, so she ends up picking her twelfth birthday. It's both ordinary and special in a way that she never realizes until that moment. Each one of our lives deserves a closer look; we shouldn't just wait for the “important moments,” we should start savoring each one right now.

Elisa H. Hamilton