Having now graduated from her MFA at Yale, which she was working towards last time we spoke to her, photographer Chase Middleton’s work has only continued to get more interesting, more compelling, and more bizarre. At large, Chase’s portfolio explores suburbia and “the heightened drama of storytelling in the domestic spaces.” To do so, she works with existing sets, often consisting of hotel rooms, in which she asks strangers to sit for her. More recently, however, this has progressed to creating sets in her studio, casting subjects, as opposed to finding them “at supermarkets or on the sidewalks.”
It’s a unique practice inspired by her unique upbringing. “Growing up in the banality of a small town in a bed and breakfast run by my mother, I became a voyeur much younger than most,” she explains, this was only furthered by her parents involvement in a secretive christian organisation. “The ritual and procession of these events had a great impact on me. Seeing things I wasn't supposed to see made me extremely voyeuristic from a very young age.” The question that plagued her, she explains, is “what happens when you see something you’re not supposed to see and what happens when that becomes your obsession?” In turn, her imagery is imbued with themes such as “irony, absurdism, melancholy and boredom.”
Chase has recently completed a three-year body of work, the beginnings of which we shared on the site back in 2018, titled Nostalgia For The Mud. The project centres on the “domestic uncanny”, a notion Chase describes as “fear generated by the familiar.” Again, she draws on her own childhood when investigating this concept: “Having grown up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, I felt completely suffocated by the lack of anonymity. Something I think about a lot is driving out to those gated communities outside of Philadelphia where every house looks nearly identical to the next. When they are covered in snow and the cars are concealed in the garage, I imagine one would get lost and walk into the wrong house. Each front door is like a portal with minuscule differences of what your life could be. That feeling of hysteric boredom makes its way into my work through the repetition of interiors and familiar domestic signifiers.”
In this context which sees Chase drawing so heavily on her own experiences, the images in Nostalgia For The Mud are a dialogue with her younger self. Through producing the work she is “trying to decode or clarify – sometimes to simply depict the past.” The result is a surreal yet intriguing series, where the oddities of everyday life are expressed through constructed scenes. In one image, two rams enter a doorway and in another, a woman warms herself with two electric heaters. They’re disconcerting images although familiar and domestic at the same time.
As she primarily works with re-staging narratives, whether imagined, found on Tumblr or in encounters with strangers, and because she often shoots in hotel rooms, Chase refers to her work as having parallels between the creation of a soap opera or reality TV show. “I think about hotels as being like a film set of a soap opera,” she elaborates. “The staff of a hotel are essentially paid actors, pretending to care for your every need and the hotel itself is the set, constantly being groomed and refurbished to suit the times. I use these in-between spaces as a pre-made studio.”
On what it’s like to work with strangers as models, Chase tells us it’s “generally a rather awkward experience,” as you might expect. It’s therefore Chase’s job to make sure they feel at ease “so they know I haven't lured them to the location for the sake of fulfilling some evil plot,” she jokes, adding “on the other hand sometimes I feel unsafe.” She recalls a recent experience where the subject arrived and asked, firstly, if they were alone and, secondly, where the closest other person was. “He sat down in the chair and started making all sorts of other worldly noises,” she says. “The energy in the room was electric, I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little scared.”
GalleryChase Middleton: Nostalgia For The Mud
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.