As a teenager I attended the Gregg Secretarial School in Dublin. My sister and I would board the train each morning for the hour-long journey. Little did I envision that one day I would be a photographer. An artist.
While her images may appear simple on the surface they are psychologically and emotionally charged with their intent creating visual illusions which at once tease the mind's interpretive faculties and produce a psychological tension. Murray's broad range of images feature a long history of still-lifes, figurative nudes, and self-portraits.
Born in Ireland into a large catholic family in 1947, I was one of six children. Three girls and three boys. At the age of five we immigrated to Winnipeg, Canada; then two years later we again moved to Rochester, New York. Tom, my father, was a master carpenter by trade, but had also studied art at a technical art school. Late at night and on weekends, he would paint and draw in our basement. My mother, Jane, a homemaker, had little formal education but was an avid reader and enjoyed chatting about life and world events as she furiously knit sweaters for her children. I still hear the clacking of her needles.
I attended a catholic school taught by nuns dressed in traditional black and white. My memories are fraught with unhappiness and fear. On Sundays I attended mass with the family, where I was indoctrinated with too much shame for young, impressionable shoulders. It left its indelible mark causing endless guilt and secrecy that followed me well into adulthood.
Growing up in a family of eight, money was tight and barely enough for essentials. Nevertheless, our simple home showcased my dad’s beautiful paintings and drawings. He was also a marvelous storyteller, spinning magical and supernatural tales. By his side
I learned about imagination and wonder. Those potent memories would later ignite my curiosity helping me to express my feelings and ideas as a photographer.
I met Harold (Jones) in 1969 when he was a young, associate curator at the George Eastman House in Rochester. He was 29 years old and I 22 years. I knew nothing about “photography,” other than family snap-shots. We married a year later, and in another year had exquisite twin baby girls, Rebecca and Star. Three months after that, we were on our way to New York City where Harold was invited to be the founding director of LIGHT Gallery. It was a difficult time for both of us. He was faced with a tremendous responsibility to create a financially viable gallery selling contemporary photography; myself faced with raising our twins alone in an unfamiliar city. I believe the experience made us stronger and more resilient.
Five years later, we were on yet another life journey. Harold was recruited to be the founding director of the renowned Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. I recall walking down the steps, off the plane, in stunned silence. Heat was rising from the tarmac in eerie waves; I was a girl from a grey, damp climate. Nothing had prepared me for the strangeness of the desert.
I recall an acute sense of isolation as I set up house again. From that time forward, I occupied myself with the “idea” of making photographs. Because of Harold’s previous job at LIGHT Gallery, I had the rare opportunity to see amazing photographs that filled
me with inspiration and an unsettling urge to create. I was almost 30 years of age before I took my first photograph. Our twin daughters, Rebecca and Star were 7 years old at the time and became my early inspirations. As I reflect on my first early attempts, I recall how shy and insecure I felt. With no formal training, I was intimidated by the accomplished photographers about me.
My first early images were made with a 2 ¼ Rollie camera borrowed from Harold. I did not tell anyone what I was doing for a long time. It was my little secret. My house and backyard became my studio. I photographed what I knew. And what I didn’t know I made up. By that, I mean, I made up scenes to photograph using whatever came to hand – hats, toys, vases, organic matter, found objects and animals.
Over the years I realized that a mix of eclectic items, often found in thrift shops, or even hardware stores, intrigued me. The challenge was to create a use for them that would transcend their original or intended purpose. Reflected sun light became central to these images to illuminate their essence, rendering surreal qualities.
As I continued on my photographic journey, I photographed myself to explore and reveal my personal landscape, often using odd props collected over the years. Sometimes, emotions are dark and overwhelming. Delving into them provided me with a creative and positive outlet.
In addition to self-portraits, I gained the courage to photograph the female nude. This decision was a major breakthrough for me. Raised in a strict, catholic household, nudity was taboo. At first, I was shy but with time gained confidence and the trust of my models, mostly friends. After that, I asked my female friends to invite their partners to be photographed as couples. Again, another important step forward. I worked on a series exploring the intimacy and isolation inherent in all relationships.
Throughout my photographic career, I also wrote short prose. The prose was an outgrowth of acute anxiety coupled with a vivid imagination. Writing, in addition to photographing, gave relief to my internal fears. Together, the photographs and writing became a “Psychologue,” a diary illuminating complex thoughts and feelings that most of us share in one way or another. The publication of “Psychologue” celebrates my thirty-year journey in photography.
Frances Murray is represented by Etherton Gallery in Tucson, AZ.