Artist Profile

For my last Phoenix column this semester, I decided to highlight another talented Swattie whose work I’ve seen splashed across my Facebook feed for over a year.  Molly Lichten ‘15 (whose blog can be found here) is a top-notch photographer (majoring in neuroscience) whose images are heart-stoppingly ethereal and magical.  She photographs people, often young women, enveloping them in an environment of sometimes-gauzy wonderment and enchantment that still allows her subjects’ personalities to come through.  I am always particularly fascinated by photographers, since photography is a medium I’ve never studied, so I was glad to hear from a successful, burgeoning photographer just what makes her tick. In an email interview I conducted over Thanksgiving break (the wonders of modern technology never cease!), Molly wrote at length about her passion for her art, and her own artistic, creative soul emerged in full force.  

Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Artist Interview

I On the Arts: When did you start making art?  What's your art background?

Molly Lichten:  For as long as I can remember, I have always loved to create. When I was little, it was finger-painting and stick figures, purple people, three-headed frogs, and all the crayons I could get my hands on. Then I moved on to watercolors and charcoal, I began drawing the world in sketchbooks and letting the clumsy contents of my mind smear across canvases. I don’t know, it’s funny. I never really took a “real” art class until high school, but I used to spend a lot of time drawing with my grandma, a lot of time looking at the world, and a lot of time bent over a sketchbook. It wasn’t until I was fifteen that I first began dabbling in photography, but I knew almost immediately after getting my first DSLR that I was hopelessly and irrevocably hooked. Someone once asked me what makes someone an artist, and I told them the innate compulsion to create. That was what photography was to me, is to me. It is my perfect medium -- it satisfies my innate compulsion to create in ways only the photographic process can. I can capture moments, I can take pictures that represent the things I can never find the words to express. Often times, I would wonder if the message was ever lost in translation. I don’t think it is. I think that is why I keep doing it.

IOtA:  What drew you to photography?  What other media do you use?  What kind of camera do you use?

ML: As I mentioned a little before, I have been lucky enough to dabble in a myriad of creative mediums -- painting, drawing, writing, even dance. But nothing has captivated me quite like photography. Over the years, pictures have become a part of who I am, and photography, to me, has become so much more than just expression. It is the way in which I can collect fragments of time. It is how I capture moments. It is how I remember, how I see, how I never forget.

I currently use a Canon 5D Mark II -- which I absolutely adore and would recommend a thousand times over! -- but I started out with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi, and I also have three film cameras that I like to save only to pull out on certain days when I’m feeling particularly nostalgic. As for other media, I still have sketchbooks piled up in my room, and I always carry a journal around with me wherever I go.

IOtA: What artists inspire your work? Why?

ML: Oh man, there are so many! Tamara Lichtenstein, Baohien Ngo, Greg Ponthus, Miqui Brightside, and, of course, the insanely lovely Julia Trotti. They all make me nostalgic for places I’ve never been and worlds I wish I knew.

Photograph courtesy of the artist.

IOtA: What are your favorite subjects to photograph? Why?

ML: People. Always people. Annie Leibowitz said it best: “When I say I want to photograph someone, what it really means is that I’d like to know them. Anyone I know I photograph.”

IOtA: What kind of artistic community have you have found here at Swarthmore?  What are the positives and negatives?

ML: I think I’ve definitely found my niche here in the Swarthmore art community. I tend to be quiet and clumsy and just a little bit awkward, but I dream and create and I’m not afraid of that, I’ve never been afraid of that. And everyone here has been so sweet and supportive! It’s exciting to get to share my photographs and have people actually like and respond to them. It inspires me to keep going, y’know?

IOtA:  How did you get yourself set up professionally?

ML: Professionally? I don’t know if I would call myself a professional -- not yet at least! I think the hardest part about transitioning from hobbyist to professional, though, is getting in the right mind-set. I’m still horribly awkward (like, embarrassingly so) at accepting compliments, and it certainly has taken me a good year or so to feel okay with charging small fees. But I am currently working on getting a website up and hopefully once that’s done, I’ll be able to hit the ground running!

IOtA: What is your major here at Swarthmore?

ML: Neuroscience.

IOtA: What do you hope to do after Swarthmore?

ML: Ideally, after graduation, I would love to spend a year or two doing photography -- fashion, editorial, working with creative teams, professional models, etc. After that, though, everything is still pretty much up in the air. I might go to medical school, I might become a surgeon. I might not. Who knows!

Photograph courtesy of the artist.

IOtA: What are your other interests, academic or otherwise?

ML: I love to dance, to read, to write. I always carry a notebook with me wherever I go with bits of tattered paper and ink-smeared napkins stuffed between its pages. I am an avid tea drinker. I’ve been premed for about as long as I can remember. When I first came to Swarthmore, neuroscience was barely on my radar. Now I can’t imagine majoring in anything else! I’ve been working in Professor Schneider’s lab now for about a year, and I’ve loved every second of it. I run a few online blogs that have surprisingly become pretty successful. And I like collecting buttons -- they all go in this cute little bunny bank I keep tucked beneath my bed.

IOtA: What is your proudest/favorite moment as an artist?

ML: A few years ago, I was selected as the People’s Choice Award winner for the One Life Photography Project international photography competition. It was the first time I had been brave enough to show my work in such a formal setting, and it was the first time my pictures actually received public recognition!

IOtA: What has been your most frustrating or challenging moment as an artist?

ML: Not having enough time to take pictures!

Photograph courtesy of the artist.

IOtA: What do you hope people who see your work take away from it?

ML: What makes a photograph good is how much of yourself you have put into it. Whether or not you love it, or maybe whether or not you hate it. If the photo makes you feel, if you can press your soul into the edges of the image, into the crease of the contrast, if it achieves your intention, if you look at something you have created and it strikes something in you -- pride, anger, ache -- then it is wonderful. All I want is to make people feel something when they look at my work. I don’t just want to show people what the camera captures and spits out when I click the shutter. I want to show people what I see when I look through the viewfinder, what I see when I compose my shot. My photographs are all a little piece of myself, a little piece of how I view the world. If people can see that, if they can close their eyes and feel that, then I know I’ve done something right.


  1. Awesome interview! I love that this artist's "fallback career" is to be a surgeon! And she summed up what it means to be an artist beautifully..."having the innate compulsion to create". She seems like a great person and her photography is amazing!


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