Molly Wood (Photographer + Maker)

Molly Wood photo by Karla  Conrad.jpg

Molly Wood is a local photographer who recently returned to the art world after a long hiatus. We spoke about her work, her inspiration, and why she decided to come back.


photo courtesy of Karla Conrad. edited for length and clarity.

In the Des Moines Register, there was a story about how DSM Girl Gang inspired you to return to the art world after taking a break for the past ten years. Tell me about that experience.

I stopped shooting when I was going through my divorce. It felt too vulnerable to try and dig into my feelings and put them “out there” and I really had a crisis of confidence. I showed up at the second girl gang meeting with about other 30 people. It was so cool to see everyone just unabashedly called themselves “artists!” It was amazing!  

I always thought of the term “artist” as only applying to people after they had made it to a certain level....“when a museum buys your work, you can call yourself an artist.” The girl gang made me realize that mindset was so limiting. I was the only thing standing in my own way.  The whole vibe of the group was so supportive and welcoming. 

The other major kick start for me were my friends who are artists. Ted Kincaid in Dallas (who had been telling me for years to get back in the saddle) and then Des Moines artist, Larassa Kabel. She is such a generous and amazing person with the attitude that artists shouldn't feel like we are in competition with one another but instead that "a rising tide raises all ships." She encouraged me, asked me hard questions, and suggested I apply for a Project Grant from the Iowa Arts Council. That grant funded my first solo show in a decade and the opportunities have flooded in since that exhibit last year at Viaduct.

You were born in Alabama and now reside in Des Moines. What brought you to the Midwest?

I was born in Montgomery literally while the MLK march to the state capitol was going on. My mom’s hospital bed looked out over the scene.  But we weren’t there long. We moved around a lot for my dad’s job – from Montgomery to New Orleans, Grand Rapids, Denver, Atlanta, Dallas/Ft Worth and then as an adult Vienna, Vancouver and now Des Moines.

I had family near here and had always thought it was beautiful when I came to visit. It seemed like a good place to start fresh and raise my daughter who was almost 9 at the time.

Where do you go to be inspired in Des Moines? 

I do love visiting the local flower farmers in the area - Pepper Harrow out in Winterset and Tiny Acre Farms in Des Moines. They are such nice people and share my freaky love of weird plants. 

The Des Moines Art Center is my happy place. It is always amazing to walk into that Zen environment and have some peace when life is busy.  I would also have to say I am motivated by seeing the communities of artists at the Fitch Building, Olson Larsen Gallery, Moberg Gallery and now at Mainframe Studios. The family of artists in Des Moines is exploding right now. It’s incredible.

Molly Wood, Pink Dahlia 9,  2017.jpg

I've become enamored with Ann Hamilton. In one interview, she describes the creative process as "like a sweater being knitted into this larger thing." Does that resoante with you at all?

I think that for sculptors and painters they start with nothing (like a blank canvas or an empty space for example) and build it up – it’s in an additive process (like knitting). 

For me as a photographer, it feels like I am starting with the chaos of everything and zooming in closer and closer. I’m cropping out or editing out all of the other things – taking away distractions until the image is stripped down into the tiny little area I want to show people. Even the background on my images being black is a way to block out all of the other visual noise and strip down to the essential sweet spot of the composition.

Annie Leibovitz describes a photographer's life as one spent living "life through a lens." Have you found that to be true?

In high school, I was that dorky yearbook kid who carried a camera everywhere and now with my cell phone – I am a total menace. Especially behind the wheel. If I see something that moves me, I stop and take the picture.

I walk around seeing beautiful little vignettes everywhere I go. I see those moments in terms of how they would look like in a photograph. Especially when the light is beautiful. It just stops me in my tracks. It does ring true!