Worth the Trip: An Artful Alternative to SXSW

Photographer Patty Carroll turns her own identity crisis into curious works of art.

By Alessandra Rey
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“Do you have your coffee ready?” Patty Carroll asks as she settles in for her interview.

It’s 10 a.m., and Carroll is excited and anxious to explain not only the inspiration behind her photographs, but also why her work is so relevant in today’s political and social climate. 

Carroll, a Chicago native, recently set up her Anonymous Women exhibit at The Wright Gallery in College Station, Texas. Each work features the figure of a woman covered by an array of household items, such as drapery, luggage and lamps. 

“The drapes became this symbol for me of closing off the world, of containment and how we shroud ourselves in our homes and how our homes become our identity,” Carroll says. “It became this whole issue for me of this really complicated relationship.”  

The complicated relationship Carroll describes is that between a woman and domesticity. She found inspiration for the photo series after moving to England for her husband’s job. 

“Before moving to England, I had really been known for my own work and as an artist or teacher,” Carroll says. “I was never in that wife world, so to speak. When we got to London, everybody started calling me by my husband’s name, ‘Mrs. Jones.’ It was a bit of an identity crisis.” 

For Carroll, the work represents some of her own experience in a male-driven industry. While pursuing a graduate degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Carroll says she was the only woman in her class. 

“I was really in a guys’ world,” she says, reflecting. “My teachers were all men. At the time, in order to compete, you had to be technically ‘as good as the guys.’ And so, I turned into a bit of a photo geek.” 

Her work in Anonymous Women not only reflects a certain personal experience, but also the social issue of gender inequality she wishes to highlight. 

“I think it’s a tendency of women when you’re competing in a world of men on various levels,” she says. “You tend to overcompensate because you don’t want to be called out on something you don’t know.”

Carroll says she finds it hard for art not to be political. 

“I think all artists make work about who they are. Who you are exists on a personal level, but also on a socioeconomic and political level,” she says. “Whatever you do in your work is going to be a reflection, if you get in touch with that essence.” 

Her colorful and striking photos mirror a powerful personal statement. But more than anything, Carroll wants visitors to have their own emotional response. 

“I don’t like hitting people over the head with things,” Carroll says. “If I can get them to visually engage with the work and then have an emotional or intellectual response, that is the best I can hope for. I want them to be pulled into the work.” 

Anonymous Women is open at The Wright Gallery in the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, through March 16. 


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