Layering Memory

with Emily Margarit Mason

In anticipation for her artist workshop, which functions in dialogue with the Nasher Sculpture Center’s major exhibition Sarah Sze, we sat down with Santa Fe-based artist Emily Margarit Mason to talk about process, perspective, and the evolution of her photographic practice.


Mason is a queer artist whose photography reimagines the perceived natural world from the visual to the embodied, connecting how the nature of experience manifests emotionally. Her artistic process first involves the collecting of images and objects, mainly consisting of fragmented photographic prints and found materials. Mason then builds miniature, ephemeral sculptural sets which appear quite similar to Sze’s large-scale installation constructions. Mason’s sets act as a diorama of sorts; she reassembles the objects into various compositions, playing with point of view and spatial relationship. It is through these dynamic sets that she is able to radicalize her photographic perspective.

Mason’s process is just as integral to her practice as the final work. The video embedded above reveals snippets from her artistic exercises, from nature hikes with viewfinders to large scale layering within her studio.

When was the first time you saw Sze’s work?

It was at least five years ago, I think I discovered her work online. Sze’s work immediately blew me away. I was drawn to her maximalist way of combining images and everyday objects in such a unique way and loved how she seemed to bring her studio sets into the gallery space. Overwhelming the space with different perpectives to view each object.

Where do you see parallels between you and Sze’s work?

I think there’s a lot of overlap in our work; the way that we both use photographic prints as material is one connection. I have been using prints as material in my work for over a decade, but her work made me interested in installation more within my own practice. When I first made the switch to digital photography, I had been doing dark room photography for so long that I needed to find a way to use my hands. So I started building my tabletop sets in my studio. My sets are part of the process, whereas Sze’s sets are the final products. We are also both interested in memory— how it changes and shifts each time we remember it. Oh and layers. I’ve always been interested in layers, both physically and emotionally, as well as layers of memory. I think the same can be said of Sze’s work.

How do you begin a new work?

I go out into nature a lot. I capture images of anything that makes me look for longer. Things like landscapes, flowers, sediment and sunsets then make prints and bring them back into the studio. The idea is to recreate the memory represented in the photo in a more realistic way, regardless if the image is distorted or not. Sometimes memory is distorted as well, blurry, in and out of focus. I have a lot of small practices and warm ups that I do. I go on viewfinder hikes and often use binoculars. I look at things both up close and far away, and try to bring that experience into the final image.

What everyday moments capture you?

Living in New Mexico, there are such incredible landscapes. I was raised in Florida around the ocean, but somehow New Mexico has a similar feel. When I look out over a vast landscape, it feels as never-ending as the ocean. I am also captured by everyday light, reflections and refractions. Seeing the sky relfected in a puddle, the way light is held, watching a cloud shadow pass over a mountain. 

What do you hope to teach people at your workshop here in March?

I want to encourage people to question how much more a photograph can be. A photograph can be a memory, a material, a background, a collage, or a sculpture. I hope people leave with more questions than answers.

Mason’s workshop “Collaging with Time and Space” will take place at the Nasher on Thursday, March 21, 2024. Come and get inspired by the innovative processes of Sze and Mason while exploring your own artistic perspective!

Nasher Sculpture Center
2001 Flora Street
Dallas, Texas 75201
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