Language Acquisition: Diptychs and Wall Pieces

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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 in the photographic world, 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 materiality. When visiting art museums, I was drawn to paintings more than anything – to see the actual brushstrokes and reflect on how each one was put in place by the artist’s own hand.

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. Now that darkrooms are freed from commercial obligations, I am interested in how contemporary photographic artists are using analog processes to push the definition of the medium in ways that digital cannot. The experimental format of the chemigram became a natural progression for me to explore photographic paper as a physical medium unto itself, rather than simply the substrate upon which an image taken from the outside world rests. The application of a resist on silver gelatin paper, and subsequent exposure to light and chemicals, satisfies the missing mark of the artist I had found to be lacking in photography as I had learned it.

For much of my life, I made art by calculation, with plan, heavy with objects to photograph that reside in my studio and psyche for months, or years. While the comparative instant gratification of chemigrams is seductive, what calls to me even more is the mystery of this process, as I live in a time when correct answers are so instantly and constantly accessible. I find myself performing a delicate dance between the known and unknown – seeking control over composition, yet enjoying the discovery of what color or value will emerge from the photographic paper and when (and why). The resulting sense of discovery and awe is one of the strengths of analog photography over the precision of its digital counterpart.

Aside from the technical aspect of the process that entices me, my work has long-involved elements of mark-making, repetition, calligraphy, and ritual. I studied multiple languages, geography, and religions, all to gain some sense of identity in my own life, incorporating these influences into my artwork. The chemigram process weaves my concerns of the current evolution of photography as a physical and chemical medium with ancient forms of mark-making as an intuitive act. Many of these diptychs and wall pieces also explore gesture, but introduce a physical interruption that prompts the viewer to connect the action on their own.

In the newer 2018 works, I am working with stencils, creating words that I then deconstruct to discuss the ambiguity of terms that are often viewed as indisputable in meaning. These pieces also incorporate thread as I strategize how to physically navigate them through a sewing machine. I aim to emphasize the stitch as a part of the composition, not just the means to construct the object. I look to parallels between sewing and analog photography, in that sewing machines were once viewed as a technology that helped people make clothing in a quicker more automated way, yet nowadays, using a sewing machine is seen as more of a “handmade” way to create. The same is to be said for silver gelatin paper – once the standard way to create a photograph, silver gelatin is now seen as “handmade” and object-like.

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