Language Acquisition: Gestures

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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. I aim to create a personalized symbolism through my gestures. Each piece creates both a language I read through line, color, and texture that is indicative of steps involved in the chemigram process, and a language of the gesture itself that originates in an innate, instinctual, mysterious place.

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