“Box Breathe (13 Moons)” (2020-2021)
The pandemic shifted many of my artistic endeavors to the exploration of breath. Not only is it the vehicle for the spread of the virus, but it became a tool for me to combat anxiety. While learning to control stress through the technique of box breathing in 4-second increments, I began to represent my struggle to express my declining mental state with chemigrams on silver gelatin paper. “Box Breathe (13 Moons)” employs stencils to spell out the word “breathe” with hand sanitizer, so ever-present in the early days of the disease. I cut each print with its singular letterform into 4, 4-inch square pieces, rearranged the prints to abstractly embed the word as my mantra, and created a new photographic piece with my sewing machine.
Using this formula, I began to examine the variety of colors, values, shapes, and textures that I could achieve from a range of paper manufacturers and surface types. No two papers are completely alike – they all react with different palettes due to chemical makeup and different forms due to surface tension. The process affirms my exploration of photography as a material substance. I continued creating these pieces into 2021, unsure of any larger goal, but feeling a comfort in the structure of the activity. After a year of extreme social isolation due to my family’s health conditions, vaccination in the spring of 2021 was a massive relief, and came nearly a year to the day of the beginning of our personal lockdown. Only at that point did I see a relationship to the 28-square compositions I had been creating from the word “breathe”, with exactly 13 varieties of photographic paper at my disposal to explore. I unknowingly created a visual calendar of our lockdown year.
The actions of chemigram creation, analyzing composition, and sewing became a constant companion through my highs and lows of our reclusive year. The production of this series provided a sense of calm, carving moments of wonder out of a year filled with near-constant panic. To make a chemigram feels like a magical collaboration with basic elements of light, water, and chemistry. Working in my outdoor darkroom through various weather conditions helped ground me to a present moment in those uneasy times, where I momentarily could escape the headlines and those unwilling to listen to science or hold compassion for others. While the series deals with the aesthetics of abstraction and the potential of photography to exist as an object, it also contains silent instructions reminding me that my breath is always at the ready to assist when anxiety arises.