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Sigri Strand's In The Shade of Night explores the film still as a medium

"Taking The Stairs," Sigri Strand
"Taking The Stairs," Sigri Strand

It has been a long and winding road for photographer Sigri Strand. Beginning her bachelor's degree program in 2001, she found herself living in New York City for a while before finishing her studies in photography at the University of Colorado Denver a decade later in 2011. That same year, Strand was accepted into the Pirate Contemporary Art cooperative. In advance of her first solo exhibition tomorrow evening at Pirate, Westword spoke with the photographer about the intimate relationship her work has to feature-length films, and the role women (and herself) play as subject matter.

"Right Before My Eyes," Sigri Strand
"Right Before My Eyes," Sigri Strand

Westword: Can you talk a little about the creation of this exhibition, In The Shade of Night?

Sigri Strand: I've been working on the series for a little over a year now. I was inspired by "the final girl" in horror films and the "femme fatale" character in film noir. With the femme fatale character, I found her to be most interesting because she has so many layers; the "final girl" is just "the good girl" who then turns into a bad ass and makes it to the end of the film.

I liked the femme fatale because I could peel through her layers; I could also bring more of my own ideas to that character because she's been treated differently in different films. I felt like I could make her more current and let her be more sinister than she could have been in films back in the day. I think she's an interesting character to pursue.

I also play with color and light as a way to build anticipation with a still image, versus moving pictures. I'm exploring how to manipulate the audience with one image, while working on bringing the audience just a couple of images to tell a whole story.

What is your relationship to film as a photographer?

I think it's just another facet of my interest as an artist. I started working for the Denver Film Society when I moved back to Denver, which was a happy accident, but it has since opened me up to this exciting storytelling. With my photography, I was always searching for ways to tell stories; usually conceptual stories I had come up with. But in working for the film society, I realized there are already these stories in existence that I can explore.

Now I'm working from the angle of film history, and trying to find what I can explore in that history. Keith Garcia (Denver FilmCenter's programming director) got me excited about film, in general. He has opened up the history to me. Working with him on a weekly basis, I mean, he is full of knowledge. There is always something new he's bringing my attention to.

Is In the Shade of the Night an exhibition with just one story line, or many?

There are a few story lines; sometimes I do a one-off image, working off an idea that only needs one image to tell a story of a whole film I may have had in mind. Sometimes, I need three or four images. Because I've been working on this series as a whole over so much time, I'll come up with an idea for a mini-series within the series, execute it, and come up with another idea.

"Answer The Phone," Sigri Strand
"Answer The Phone," Sigri Strand

Do you use models in your photographs?

I actually use myself -- a lot. (Laughs.) Mostly, I use myself because I'm always available. It's harder to get models and sometimes it's difficult for me to get exactly what I want with them, especially when I'm asking a friend to model for me. They're not trained models or anything. If I use myself, I can keep shooting until I get exactly what I want. With a friend, I feel bad putting them through that same experience.

I use myself quite a bit, but I don't consider the photographs self-portraits. I have been compared to Cindy Sherman -- which is awesome. She is the self-portrait queen. But I don't think of my work as self-portraits at all. I am beyond flattered by the comparison, and I love her work so much. So I guess it's not a problem for me if that's what people think of in the beginning.

She's incredible -- (Sherman) has always used herself, and to see that change and transform over time while dealing with so many different subjects over the years is interesting. She's pretty fierce.

What brought you to this point -- your first solo exhibition -- as a photographer? What has your timeline as artist looked like?

Well, I'm thirty years old. I've been working with photography since I was 15 and I think I've always been an artist in some form. Whether through music or theater or photography, it's evolved. But I've stuck with photography. I started off working on my BFA in 2001; I took a break and moved to New York and moved around a little bit. Then I came back to Denver and finished my degree in 2011. It's been a crazy roller coaster ride, but I've always kept photography as my main form of expression. I'm excited to see it come together, and I look forward to showing on a regular basis.

I feel like the experience of time broadened my horizons. I have high expectations for myself, and I am hoping to fulfill those goals. (Laughs.) This show is kind of a big deal for me. I've been showing in mostly group shows until now. I had a BFA exhibition a while ago, but this the first time I'm going to be showing "In The Shade of Night" as a series, on it's own. It's also my first show at Pirate -- I was accepted into Pirate last year, and I was part of a group exhibition there, and have done a few more exhibitions around town and in Chicago. This is the first time that I get to curate my own space and show this work I've been working on for a while.

How does being accepted in a gallery work? What does that mean for you as an artist in terms of a relationship with the gallery?

Pirate is a coop gallery; when you submit your work, you're being voted in by other members of the cooperative. I've always felt Pirate had some of the best art in Denver; was always keeping current and pushing art forward. For me it was really exciting to get accepted into the gallery, and for me, a good launching point within Denver. I'm hoping to take it beyond, as well.

In The Shade of Night opens Friday, June 1, at Pirate Contemporary Art, 3655 Navajo St. in Denver. To see more of Sigri Stand's work, visit the photographer's website. For more information on the gallery, visit Pirate's website.