Language Acquisition: Small Hiccup

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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.

Small Hiccup has been shown in two formats/venues, both emphasizing the physicality of the photographic paper. It consists of 120 feet of roll paper chemigrams sewn together with a sewing machine, which are specifically sculpted with adhesives to curve and lay in intentional ways. While the chemigrams themselves embody my experiments with various types of mark-making, the emphasis in this piece has always been more about the forms I create with it, and their symbolism. I think of the piece as representing a timeline: the highs and lows we experience in life, the periods of ease that are marred by states of chaos and confusion, which eventually plane out again. I am interested in how the “secret language” of the gestures may attempt to contribute to the conversation of the symbolic scenario as the piece is laid out, although that is an element I prefer to let go control of.

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