Box Breathe (13 Moons)



The pandemic shifted much of my attention to the exploration of breath. Not only was it the vehicle for the spread of the virus, but it became a tool to grapple with anxiety. While learning to control stress through the technique of box breathing in 4-second increments, I embedded my inability to talk about my mental state into chemigrams. I used stencils to spell out the word “breathe” with hand sanitizer, so ever-present in the early days of the disease. I cut each 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 were completely alike – they all reacted with different palettes and different forms due to surface tension. It affirmed my exploration of photography as a material substance.  I continued creating these pieces through 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 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 forms I had been creating from each word, with exactly 13 varieties of photographic paper at my disposal to explore.

The actions of chemigram creation, analyzing composition, and sewing became a constant companion through my highs and lows of our year of isolation, a calendar of a year in which I was dumfounded to be told by a doctor I was not breathing correctly. The production brought a sense of calm, carving moments of wonder out of a year filled with much 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 piece deals with the aesthetics of abstraction, it also contains silent instructions reminding me that my breath is always at the ready to assist.