June 14 – July 31, 2021
On::View Residency, Sulfur Studios, Savannah, GA

I am fortunate to be spending the next month exploring a new body of work that not only satisfies some new technical directions, but helps me conceptually process the last 15 months of these challenging times. Anyone in the Savannah area who would like to be photographed as part of the project can sign up here — my last day for sitters is July 9. Below is my proposal, written on March 20, 2021, explaining my impetus for the project.

“I plan to use this residency as a way to ease back into interaction with the wider public after a year of strict Covid-induced isolation, and to pose questions about trust and welfare within our society. The actions involved in the creation of this work will be just as crucial as the resulting art pieces. The final outcome will be a series of portraits created through the experimental photographic process of chemigrams. I plan to use the space as a photo studio to photograph willing participants as I hold a discussion with them about the ways in which the pandemic has changed their interactions with others.

With my husband being at high risk for complications from Covid-19, we took our last unnecessary foray into public on March 13, 2020. As a social person who charges her batteries by sitting in coffeeshops with her laptop to do work, I feel like a certain part of my brain has had to shut down in order to get through the lack of physical interaction. Another part of my brain has overpowered these needs – what I refer to as “darkroom variable brain” – where I learned how any and every small step of creating a traditional photographic print in a darkroom all factor into its visual outcome. The virus has pushed me into levels of control which I would have mocked over a year ago, as darkroom variable brain now dictates all my possible risks of being in public, and ways that I might be putting my husband and other vulnerable people at risk. Having recently been vaccinated, I can finally see an end to this daily impediment, but I know that I won’t be able to just hop back into public with the flip of a switch and undo the year of conditioning I have placed upon myself to feel physically safe.

As a photographic artist, portraiture has never been a comfortable subject for me. But as I try to crawl out of isolation and force myself into the uncomfortable position of being back in public, no other subject seems more fitting to tackle as I fully push myself out of my comfort zone. As I deal with high levels of mistrust due to peoples’ behavior during the pandemic and their ability to impact the lives of others, I feel I must force myself to hold in-person conversations with others. This is not only to share in and express the trauma we have all experienced, but to record a visual document of my time spent physically among people. To do this I will manipulate the controls of my camera to lengthen to exposure times. Therefore the portraits will not be strict representations of each person’s likeness, but lengthened exposures of multiple seconds resulting in an abstracted likeness of the person. Like many of my collage  pieces which take words, cut the letterforms, and abstract them into a new form to embed the word’s power, in this project I make photographs to embed the passage of time over which the conversation took place, as proof of my own action towards healing. I intend to ask my sitters a series of questions concerning what has changed in their lives over the course of the pandemic, specifically in the realm of their understanding of and trust in others. I hope the conversations may grow organically into whatever topics are comfortable.

The outcome of these prints will not be traditionally-printed photographs, but will take on another level of transformation by using the chemigram process. Chemigrams are silver gelatin (light-sensitive) prints that are made without negatives or a darkroom, but simply by applying various substances (resists) to the paper in order to create imagery akin to drawings or paintings. The paper is processed in traditional developer and fixer chemicals in normal daylight to create a final stable visual outcome. For many years I have been planning to use screenprinting as a method of applying the resist, so that I might return to photographic imagery in my work. Chemigrams are a way to free myself from predictable outcomes in my artwork, given the many variables that can influence how the images take form in terms of their color, value, texture, and line quality. In this case, chemigrams also serve as a way to separate myself further from expectations of portraiture, and perhaps to even touch on my ambiguous feelings about being physically present with my subjects, as I very slowly accept the “new new normal” of being able to be in close interaction with other people again. As I dance with my comfort levels, portraiture is the push and the chemigram process is the pull.”

 

lumen_header

I had the pleasure of taking a class on Cyanolumens with The School of Light in December. I’ve made lumen prints, I’ve made cyanotypes, but somehow the combination of the two was never something that clicked in my brain. Merging standard silver gelatin with “alt process” seemed enticing. 

We started with some basic lumen prints, where I was able to explore the color palette of a variety of papers. The added blue/green/yellow of cyanotype made for an expanded range of colors depending on which papers I used. The process also allowed me to travel down the rabbit hole of questioning when is photography a document of another object, and when is photography the art itself? As an artist who deals with photographic paper as an object, I had to reconcile the impermanence of the lumen print with its documentation, and allow that to be art itself. I can’t say that I am pleased that the final art object would be an inkjet print, but it is what it is. My eyes saw the finished result — the wild range of colors that rivals a chemigram — and my documentation clings to that reality as best as I could reproduce it, without added drama of contrast or saturation.

These thoughts interestingly coincided with a great conversation I had as part of Cameraless Photography Month with the Experimental Photo Festival in Barcelona, Spain. My breakout room question dealt with what the relationship is between cameraless photography and The Decisive Moment — namely that there seems to be a lack of such moments without the presence of a shutter in the artist’s toolbox. As a chemigam artist, I found myself comparing The Decisive Moment, as Henri Cartier-Bresson might have defined it, to the moment you know a certain resist is about to disappear, and how I can achieve a color or a pattern based on the progression of chemical steps. I have learned to somewhat control the chemigram process to achieve compositional goals. And similarly, the documentation of a lumen print boils down to a particular knowledge of what will happen to a composition given a certain amount of time and exposure to light. I began to understand how a print would change if I didn’t document it immediately, or how the composition might shift in my favor if I waited. 

Subject-matter-wise, I really appreciated the opportunity to be able to scour the grounds of my home and acquire plants as a way to document my immediate environment. This seemed particularly fitting during a pandemic — while we aren’t formally in a lockdown in Georgia, my household basically is, due to pre-existing conditions. The last time I freely left my house without concerns was March 13, 2020. I’ve gone through various waves of acceptance and wanting to jump out of my skin over our isolation. But I felt grateful making these lumens — the fact that I have some land to wander during this isolated time — less than many, but much more than those locked away in apartments in urban centers. I can also be grateful to live somewhere that still has some green in winter, something alive, something growing in the month of December. I was able to harvest a handful of ferns trying to squeeze their way through the cracks of the back deck, my stubborn Mexican Petunias, a yard of clover, various unnamed volunteers, and even one last struggling tomato plant who gave two more fruits before the class concluded. The fact that these objects touched the paper, rather than relying on the intermediary device of a camera, that these plants were dealt the fate of blooming during this incredibly difficult year, make these prints as objects even more precious. Perhaps the fact that the print-objects can only be viewed briefly, under low light, like some of the first photographs ever made, is fitting for the slowing-down of life we’re experiencing at this time. 

 

I had the good fortune of teaching in Cortona, Italy, for the University of Georgia for two months this summer. The experience ran the whole gamut of exhilarating to challenging, with some melancholy thrown in. I was a graduate student in 2001 when I first visited Cortona, a handful of months before September 11th, and this was my first time back in 18 years. I had no recollection of many aspects of the town, but sometimes I would take a turn down a small alley and long-forgotten memories would come rushing back.

With all the students cleared out of the darkroom in the last week, I was able to open up the windows and get in one last chemigram session in the Severini darkroom. I had already done some work in the classroom with more readily-available light, but something told me to get into the darkroom proper, to pull open those heavy Italian window shutters. I had been weighing all the possibilities of everything else I should be seeing in Cortona that I had been putting off all summer, but something told me to get to work that day. I was a few hours into my work session when I realized what that voice was about.

The Severini Darkroom was somewhere I never set a foot into as a student in 2001. At the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, I was at war with Photography when I was there. I attended a Printmaking-intensive Maymester in Cortona, as I had found in my first year of grad school that printmakers understood my drive to experiment with process, whereas the realm of Photography was fraught with landmines of “right” and “wrong” practices. I felt relieved to escape its obligations and judgmental glare. Printmakers had no problem calling themselves artists, but photographers were photographers.

For years I have relayed the story of how on my one-day trip to Rome during that month, I didn’t even bring a camera. I think it was a conscious act of defiance, but the details are fuzzy. The huge unexpected takeaway of that day was that being cameraless freed me to truly see my surroundings. I learned the difference between the pictures I take out of tourist obligation and the pictures I choose to bring into existence because I need to. Everyone around me snapped with their point and shoots all the relics they needed to show their friends back home; I found myself falling behind the crowd, lingering, looking. I saw details that I needed to be in person to really absorb — the textures, the craftsmanship, and the incredulous realization of how much more history was present here than in my shallow American existence and own personal family details. I could have long awkward staring sessions with everything — I didn’t feel the pressure to snap my shutter and move right along, as seems to often be the proper response to such experiences. I got to share this story with students of my own this summer, in the very environment which taught me those valuable lessons. And I made sure that they made photos of Rome this summer, about their own experiences there, rather than took them of things they could have just bought postcards of.

So that last week in Cortona, when maybe I should have experienced a dip in the city pool, or taken a hike to Le Celle, I instead started furiously making chemigrams alone in the darkroom, for the last time on July 24th. And partway through, I could sense that the moments making the work were far bigger than the seconds from which they were composed. I felt calm, I felt lucky to be making art right then, right there. In 2001, the darkroom was basically the only method of making photos that had any validity, it was the default. In 2019, being in the darkroom is a conscious choice, and all of the reasons that made me so angry and wanting to avoid the darkroom all came around full circle — here I was making artwork in a place that relied on analog processes to even be possible, in the very place I refused to walk into for all of that frustration with the Photo world. I’m thankful to have been doing this photo thing long enough to have participated in the whole purpose for a darkroom shifting, transforming, and turning into something far more wondrous and exciting than I was even taught that it could be 18 years ago.

Long story short, I think I made peace with the Severini Darkroom that day. We’re good, and I hope we meet again.

 

severini1      sevchemigrams

 

Pattern-Speak 2

As I’m hovering in that strange place between Christmas and New Years, with life seemingly on hold, I am looking forward to many events coming up, and feeling quite thankful to have a lot of great opportunities on my plate.

I was pleased to be selected for the 2nd annual LA Artcore Photographic Competition and Exhibition. Some of my very new work, which isn’t even on my website yet, will be traveling to Los Angeles at the end of January.

Also in January, I will be part of a group exhibition of educators using alternative photographic methods at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville SC, curated by Armon Means. It will also feature works by Christina Z. Anderson, Julie Mixon, JC Johnson, and Jamie Tracy. I am also happy to be showing a wide collection of older works in my solo show, “All Hexed Up“, at Starland Cafe in Savannah, as well as have some new work published in The Hand Magazine‘s upcoming volume 19.

I will be participating in the Robert I. Strozier lecture series at Armstrong by presenting “Kodachrome Rumors: Why Outdated Technologies Thrive in the Art World” on Friday January 26th at noon. The talk will cover many topics on photography and art that I have raised through my blog over the years, including the importance of understanding process in appreciating art, and how process ties to reasons for using outdated technology other than nostalgia. More information may be found on the lecture series website.

The fabulous crew at Sulfur Studios here in Savannah has asked me to be a guest juror for “Alternative to What?”, an experimental photographic juried exhibition. Entries are due February 23rd, more details can be found on their website. I have also been working with Emily Earl at Sulfur to develop a monthly critique session for photographers, which happens the third Wednesday of each month, 6-8pm. The turnouts have been great so far — more details can be found on Sulfur’s upcoming events page, and on our Facebook event pages.

I am offering a Cyanotype workshop for adults at the Jepson Center at the Telfair Museum in Savannah, on Saturday and Sunday March 10-11th, 1-5pm. Registration is open through their website. We will be learning to make large format negatives from digitally-captured images, and create photographs in the sun with this 19th-century process.

Later this year, I will have a solo exhibition of new chemigram pieces and installations at the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art, and be in a Stillmoreroots group exhibition at the Denison Art Space in Newark, Ohio.

This summer should hopefully allow some time for travel and more artmaking as well. 2017 was a year of much transition, as I learned to balance my new position as Assistant Professor of Art at Armstrong State University along with my goals as an artist. A lot of my creative energy has gone into teaching, which has been incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. As my feet are now thoroughly wet, I want to make the time to explore new directions in my work, as I am starting to incorporate prior mediums and even film-based imagery into my ongoing exploration of the chemigram process. Let’s hope 2018 brings some wisdom in the time-management realm.