When it comes to local photographers, it’s hard to think of many who have had the impact on the Salt Lake City art scene that Teresa Flowers has had. Yet her photographic work hasn’t had the presence that others have had in exhibits on local walls, although she hasn’t even lived in Salt Lake City for much of the past two years. But when you look at her images, the impression—both historical and psychological—is indelible.
It’s not just her work that has made a significant mark on the artistic landscape here. In 2004, Flowers founded the Women’s Art Center on Pierpont Avenue as an organization to support women artistically as well as emotionally, and it quickly became one of the most popular new art spaces in town. Before that, her Red Gallery—housed in her Artspace apartment—premiered her photography during the 2002 Olympics.
But in 2006, she began experiencing health problems and resigned as executive director of the Women’s Art Center.
With fatigue, severe pain and occasional mental haziness, she took a year off. When she was able to do so she started putting more work into Sleepictures, an apparel and accessories line she had started in 2001. “Everything I do is artwork,” she explains, including the “altered books” she has created. She recently had a show of her dreamlike Sleepictures paintings in San Francisco.
After high school, Flowers studied photography at the University of Utah and, in her 20s, was featured in the group show Found and Forsaken at the Salt Lake Art Center in 1998. Even then, her work stood out with a vision that was gritty and raw, yet artsy and stylish. “It’s the history of my life,” she explains of her pictures’ pull on the mind’s eye. “Not in a direct way, but about emotional experience.”
In 2007, she moved to Los Angeles, where she had always wanted to live. A friend told her to go on auditions; she’d never acted but was told “no one else here knows how to act, either.” She has appeared on CSI, the Web series Vampire Killers and some ads. “I was trying to fill the emptiness, trying to create,” she explains.
She moved back to Salt Lake City a year ago when she started experiencing heart problems. Her heart was operating at 40 percent of its capacity, and was filling up with fluid. Her previous condition was finally diagnosed as Lyme disease in 2008.
She was given an IV antibiotic, a regimen she will need to continue. “I honestly thought I was going to die,” the 32-year old recalls. She made a series of paintings about it—I’m A Mess But It’s All Right—and at that time started talking to Phillips Gallery about the possibility of a retrospective show of her photographs.
A walk around the Dibble Gallery traces the path her lens has taken through her own life, as well as meditative depictions of local sites. “From the Polaroid Series” introduces her individualistic use of the medium, employing a now-discontinued Polaroid film that included negative as well as positive images. She printed from that series, creating sepia-toned gelatin prints that were also washed-out with bleach. The resulting images not only were archaic-looking in their style, but featured the apparel of another age, models in Cottonwood Park and near the old Murray laundry tower seeming to appear from some late 1800s album. Many sites where she has photographed no longer exist.
Flowers’ work has received more recognition from outside our area, as Flowers was awarded the prestigious Fine Art Photographer of the Year at the International Photo Awards in 2004 and her work was published in Shots Fine Art Photography magazine, Photo District News, Black and White magazine and Jane magazine.
The “From Hawaii” series (2002) is perhaps the most personal, as her mother recently had passed away from AIDS, and Flowers took her ashes to Hawaii.
The first photo from the series—picturing Flowers nude and running through an abandoned building—is just one of many using herself as subject matter. The first from the Polaroid series also expresses personal history in a different way: one of Flowers’ students, head in hands as if lost in thought, wearing a dress that had belonged to Flowers’ mother.
The “Dancing Girl” series in 2004 marked Flowers’ switch to color from black and white, and the tungsten film creates a bluish shade that Flowers likes a lot. “Women Floating,” taken at the Homestead Resort near Midway, perhaps her bestknown image—women floating face-up in flowing dresses—is representational of her work, with its subjects in repose in a watery element. Here, the human subjects and the landscape merge and cease to be separate.
“I like to take photos at places I feel are magical,” she explains. “I’m trying to create a world like a place before you were born.”