Making Photos at the Pfister Hotel
Off the Cuff with artist-in-residence Margaret Muza
The Pfister’s ninth and current Artist-in-Residence, Margaret Muza, wants to make art that is going to last. Her medium, tintype photography, promises to do just that. The Civil War-era process creates one-of-a-kind photos printed on pieces of tin or glass. The nature of the process shuns waste and mass-production in the same way Muza tries to. Off the Cuff sat down with Muza to discuss her art and her residency at the Pfister.
What got you interested in Tintype photography?
I like history and I love old things, old pictures included. I was curious about what made these images look so different. I read an article about the tintype process and thought it was so interesting I had to learn it. I went to New York to learn. I took a two-day workshop from a woman in Brooklyn. There aren’t a lot of people who can teach this method. It was a two-day class, and then I’ve just been practicing ever since.
What personal benefit do you get from doing this kind of art?
I’ve always been very comfortable working with my hands, and I get so much satisfaction out of making things. I literally have everything to do with every single step of making a photograph. I think a lot of people find that when we have less and less need to know how things are made and we can just buy things that are mass produced, it’s unsatisfying. I like getting my hands dirty and making something. To make a picture is something special, and to make them in this really different way is really special, too.
What about tintype drew you to it, and why is this work important to you?
I have a problem with the way technology is moving fast and the way things are made so cheaply and thoughtlessly and unattractively. It’s so wasteful and destructive to the planet. I spend a lot of time trying to understand why that’s popular, and it’s devastating. We’re losing a lot of historic buildings in Milwaukee, brand new condos are coming up all the time, I think that’s tragic. I have a problem with waste and a problem with loss of special old things. I think making an image that I know will be an artifact for families in the future is an honor. I like being a part of making something that is going to last longer than me.
How important is this residency, both to you and the Milwaukee art community?
It’s not easy to have the urge to be an artist. That’s not really a realistic thing, and I don’t know many people who are able to make a living out of it. I know amazing artists who can’t say that’s what they do for a living. So, I’m just lucky that what it is that I found speaks to other people in a way that is allowing me to make a living. I feel very lucky about that. I know that any artist would agree that this is like a dream come true, and so for Milwaukee to have this opportunity in place, hopefully it inspires other cities and other places in Milwaukee to value artists and give them opportunities and give them work. Make it so people can make a career out of this, because we need art, now more than ever.