Cassandra Klos MFA EDA ’20: By No Other Name
Klos’s photographs make supernatural beliefs, imagined in the southern landscape, visible. Trained as a contemporary, fine art photographer, Klos pushes the boundaries of “documentary” in By No Other Name.
When Cassandra Klos MFA EDA ’20, a lifelong New Englander, moved to the South for graduate school, she was intrigued by a certain southern devotion to storytelling and folklore. The work she ends up making, By No Other Name, draws on her own ties to the natural world and a willingness to explore the beliefs others cherish.
Klos grew up in New Hampshire, “basically in the woods,” and was set on going to art school. In a compromise worked out with her parents, she completed freshman year at the University of New Hampshire, taking courses in biology, writing, and studio art, before deciding to transfer to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at Tufts University to earn her BFA.
“It was a fine art, contemporary art school, setting,” explained Klos. She focused on photography. After graduating, she hustled to stay working in the art world through higher education, as a studio assistant, or taking portraits and event photos. “I tried to always stay in the arts because I knew, as soon as I left to work in a restaurant or do something else, then I would have a hard time keeping myself focused on an art career path. I would feel an obligation to keep doing that instead.”
Klos enrolled in Duke’s Experimental and Documentary Arts program knowing a master’s degree would help land her the arts jobs she wanted, and because she wanted to try living outside of New England.
“The South has always intrigued me. There’s a lot I didn’t know about it, and I still don’t know.”
By No Other Name
While in the MFA EDA program, Klos took artistic risks, making work beyond photography, but also honing her skills at straightforward documentary, a turn away from her fine art training. “I also made work that was way more open-ended and up to interpretation than I had ever thought I would make,” Klos explained.
For her thesis project, By No Other Name, Klos leaned into the stuff of southern legends and beliefs she had begun to take note of. “I started to make friendships with people who wanted to show me something that they couldn’t put their finger on,” she shared. She met people through online forums and when she went to explore reported sites on her own. Klos began to share experiences with people “searching for something within the natural world that gives them power, that gives them hope, that gives them something back.”
“By No Other Name explores the visualization of belief as a pillar of spirituality, tradition, and folklore. By examining the Southern landscape as a mythological place ripe with evidence and markings of stories past, this project documents the experiences of the people who search for meaning that the natural world can provide them.”—Artist’s Statement
There was Gregory, who goes almost to a healing spring every weekend, and showed her how to find freshwater mussels in its sandy banks. There’s Dwight, who took her squatching, the term for looking for Bigfoot. And Rex Harris, a Saponi artist and flintknapper, who she met at a North Carolina Arts Council event. “The best relationships came from the people who are eager to be involved in the project,” said Klos.
“I wanted to make their unseeing available to seeing,” explained Klos. “I wanted to try and see what is deemed unseen— whether that’s through shadow, light, a representation of a belief, or a sign of some sort.”
Klos’s photos changed depending on how much she suspended disbelief and embodied the stories her friends told her. “The more I was involved, the more I felt like the photograph was an authentic representation of their experience. Therefore those photographs felt more connected to the project.” If she kept one foot in “reality” as she made her images, the resulting photographs felt different.
“I am making inferences about how to visualize people’s beliefs, and then the audience is also making inferences about what is going on.” You—the viewer—complete the image interpreting the photographs according to your own beliefs and superstitions. As a result, By No Other Name keeps pulling you back in as you consider other explanations.
Klos was able to install the work at Cassilhaus before the coronavirus closed campus, but mourned the missed chance to bring her collaborators and friends in this project together at the opening reception. Klos has returned to the Boston area this summer, but is returning Duke this fall as a fellow in the Rubenstein Library’s Archive of Documentary Arts.
Documentary Art at Home & Away
A new collection documenting our coronavirus spring by the MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts community.