An artist with the power of conveying human emotions through photographs which lack the presence of people, comes once in a blue moon. Haley Eichenbaum manages to capture just that; with every evocative image taken during her solo road trips through the states of America, Hayley brings forth a side of America seldom seen - one which resembles the aestheticised landscapes of a cinematic universe. Her background in Art and Design is beautifully manifested in her photography, and though it emphasises symmetry and visual pleasure, she also brings forward aspects of the feminine and the desire to break from society’s expectations.
Today we speak to photographer and creative director Hayley Eichenbaum who, since 2020, has been represented by Homecoming Gallery. Hayley, what works have you been involved in since your debut with Homecoming Gallery?
I’m in the process of tying up my 7 year project The Mother Road Series. With Homecoming I’ve been able tap into the European art market and present a steady representation of the series. The bow on this project will be a book, to be released internationally next year.
Your work is based between Napa and San Francisco, both in the West Coast, but you grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Apart from studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, what made you want to move 32 hours away from your home city?
I think that our hometowns can sometimes trigger a form of sensory deprivation or hypnotic habit. Yet, the act of driving made me pay attention to my surroundings again. The first time I visited San Francisco I told myself: This is where I’m going to live. California seems to offer a nice balance between comfort and absurdity, which lends itself to my creative language.
Though you achieved a BFA in Art and Design, you are a self-taught photographer. Do you feel this independence has encouraged you to experiment and develop your own personal style?
Definitely. The years following my graduation were confusing. The daily critiques aren’t there anymore, but you’re also realising you are no longer confined to a medium. It can be awkward and exciting. I sort of stumbled into photography during this time. My background in illustration came roaring through as well. I was able to get in touch with certain parts of myself that lay dormant over the years.
How did a degree in Art and Design influence you stylistically? Were you always interested in becoming a photographer?
I didn’t picture a future in photography simply because I had spent the better part of a decade studying other mediums. But like many others, I became addicted to the immediate nature of the digital camera. And I found that everything I had learned from my illustration years was directly influencing the way I approached my photographic work. Especially colour theory and composition.
One of your only projects centred around the body is Settle Down which encompasses the feminine psyche through overhead shots of faceless women performing day to day activities. How would you say this series deconstructs the male gaze for an adoption of the female gaze? Could you explain your creative decision of keeping the women faceless?
I believe a faceless woman allows the audience to insert themselves into the scenario. It is about restlessness. A restlessness in the body. An exhaustion from feminine expectations. And ultimately, a small but rebellious spasm or departure from that.
Your collections, whether of landscape, architecture, or the physical body, emphasise great importance on composition and visual aesthetics. What epochs and artistic styles have influenced your photographic eye the most?
I am heavily influenced by the outskirts of 20th century science-fiction. Stylistically I am attracted to campy-fantasy-thrillers like Edward Scissorhands (1990) or Twin Peaks (1999). But I’m interested in the emotional capacity of a scene or set without the presence of characters.
Reflection is one of your more recent image collections, which you shot and edited using only a Samsung Note 20 Ultra 5G. How does it feel to shoot professionally without your usual equipment?
I was nervous about relying solely on a camera phone for the final outcome. But it was really sharp. Shooting came very naturally as the camera was fairly intuitive. It ended up being a great exercise in getting back to the basics.
Your photographs of scenery and landscapes are taken during your road trips throughout North America where you travel with no particular destination, a very unique and cathartic photographic approach. Your projects The Mother Road and The Mother Road II are an amalgamation of pastel shades, shadows, and cinematic insights into the hidden treasures of America. When did you start going on road trips and what sights have touched you the most?
I began The Mother Road series in the summer of 2014. I was feeling uninspired a year after completing my BFA. This prompted a month-long solo road trip along Route 66 (allowing for several detours along the way). I brought my camera to simply document the experience. I have driven all over the States in the years since, but I keep coming back to the wilting romanticism of the American Southwest.
Would you consider travelling outside the States to engage in the same photographic process elsewhere?
Absolutely! I suppose I’m waiting for the right opportunity, considering the times. I have always dreamt of creating in Morocco – that may be the first stop on my list.
Finally, what are your plans for the rest of this year? Are there any future prospects of experimenting with other mediums, for instance, videography?
A dream of mine is to tap into cinematography. But currently I am working to reintroduce installation and sculpture into my practice. I’m also looking forward to translating my design and illustration skills into my first book (to be released next year).