Senior Thesis (Early) Spotlight: Chris Austin

What’s going on in that creepy old house across from Hodgins where all the art seniors go to work on their thesis? If you happen to pass by around 3 am you might see a light on from the studio of Chris Austin.

Chris is a psychology major and photography minor at Guilford. He also has experience with metalworking, jewelry making, and woodcarving at Haywood Community College.

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H/E: Where are you from?

Chris Austin: I was born in Morehead city and grew up on my uncle’s tobacco farm in a small coastal community in Carteret County, NC.

H/E: What is the focus of your thesis?

Chris Austin: Childhood nightmares…superstitions and ghost stories I’d hear from the local fishermen growing up.

 H/E: How would you describe your process? What materials and techniques are you using?

Chris Austin: Photography and digital imaging. Transforming personal sketches and photographs into digital paintings, sometimes leaving in photographic elements to pull out sharp details. There’s very little truth left by the time I’m done.

H/E: You mention your work containing childhood nightmares. Would you mind telling me more about where you grew up, and how it affects your work?

Chris Austin: It was the kind of close-knit small town where everybody knows everybody. There were a lot of superstitious people, but I think that people who work around the ocean tend to be more fatalistic. By its nature, it’s a relatively more dangerous kind of work, so you kind of get more familiar with people dying.

H/E: Like shipwrecks and hurricanes?

Chris Austin: Yes, and other accidents too. Like standing on an anchor chain, getting pulled over the side of the boat, and drowning before anyone can get to you; all because you weren’t looking for a second.

H/E: Wow, I can see how that might trigger some nightmares! When did you discover your love for photography?

Chris Austin: When I was a kid I took tons of pictures with the Brownie camera my grandmother gave me. And then I got my first digital SLR in 2001, I think.

H/E: What’s a Brownie camera?

Chris Austin: It’s a square, box-like Kodak camera from…gosh, like the 30s or 40s. I found it in an old storage closet, and she went out and got film for it.

H/E: What are some of your influences?

Chris: Comic books and horror movies. There wasn’t a horror movie I didn’t see as a kid. The campier the better, of course. I’m attracted to all kinds of art with a narrative aspect. A few of my favorite photographers are Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Irving Penn. I am also inspired by filmmaker Clive Barker, and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman.

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