Language Acquisition: Collages

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I find it difficult to discuss my current body work without evoking a sense of nostalgia in the viewer. Most people are connected to photography through its use as a commercial medium. As such, the topic of film and darkrooms is often ensconced in the past – a warm fuzzy place where people collected photographs in shoeboxes and one-hour photo labs sat on every street corner. The fact that I work with analog photographic materials in the 21st century has only heightened my awareness of the potential physicality within the realm of photography. Nostalgia is not my goal.

After my first few years of studying photography in the late 1990’s, I began to shy away from the darkroom. Silver gelatin prints were the standard, and quickly becoming unsatisfying to me. I wished to see the physical mark in my work, and to create objects. Photography as I knew it felt mass-produced and devoid of this physicality. When visiting art museums, I was drawn to paintings – to see the actual brushstrokes and reflect on how each one was put in place by the artist’s own hand. I drifted into mixed media and installation, incorporating printmaking into my work. Once digital photography became the standard, the darkroom lured me back, as the tables had turned and a silver gelatin print presented itself to me as an object. Chemigrams became a natural progression for me to explore photographic paper as a physical medium unto itself, more than simply the substrate on which an image taken from the outside world rests.

My chemigrams are made with silver gelatin paper, in normal room lighting, by applying oil-based resists and typical darkroom chemistry. The marks I make directly on the paper are not pre-meditated. The process weaves my concerns of the evolution of photography as a physical and chemical medium with mark-making as an intuitive act. I aim to create a personalized symbolism through my marks, whether the pieces are immediate responses on paper as gestures, or constructed mappings in my collages. Each one is a language I read through line, color, and texture that is indicative of steps involved in the chemigram process, as well as the instinctive gesture itself. They satisfy years of concern over the missing physical mark of the artist, and address my contemporary desire to work with a medium over which I cannot exert full control. Each piece bends at least in part to mystery, given the endless variables involved – a welcome circumstance given our society’s immediate access to constant correct answers. My work responds to analog photography for its inherent chemical properties and future potential, rather than the sentimentality of its past.

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