Emma Powell: "In Search of Sleep and Svala's Saga"

I first encountered Emma Powell's work when Todd Hido had selected an image from her series, "In Search of Sleep" for an exhibition he juried for RayKo Photo Center. The show was called "Voyeurism and Intimacy" and here was a cyanotype self-portrait of Emma, glancing back as she paused in a wall-papered hallway, looking both radiant and exhausted, and also a little frightened. It could be because the shadow cast upon the wall behind her isn't her own. I remember unwrapping this piece for installation and thinking that it was rare to see such a beautiful cyanotype with so many tones and also that it seemed like a movie still or a moment from a dream. I didn't realize until later when I saw more images from this series that they were about Powell's difficult relationship with sleep that stemmed back to her childhood:
"In Search of Sleep recreates this shadowy realm and allows me to explore my real-life questions, from personal dramas to romantic doubts. The cyanotype process, with its distinctive blue tones, visually traverses the distance between waking and sleeping. These images are also toned with tea and wine to both dull the blues and add warmth. Tea, wine, cyanide (potassium ferricyanide) all three of these substances relate to different levels of consciousness that often mirror the mental states evoked by my photographs. In Search of Sleep creates a visual lullaby that allows me to safely explore what I love, what I fear, what I remember, and what I imagine."

While still working on "In Search of Sleep," Emma Powell began a collaborative project with her mother, Kirsten Hoving. This one incorporating another historical process, perhaps the most beautiful one in my opinion: platinum/palladium, but over digital color prints. The story portrayed in this series is an imaginary one, but its message is an important one. "Svala's Saga" is a photographic fairy tale that addresses the issue of species extinction. Powell and Hoving's character, Svala, is confronted with the sudden loss of the world's birds. As the Earth heats and cools, she journeys through the wilderness searching for the last remaining eggs. By drawing on the archetypal motif of the quest, the artists hope to suggest that a lone individual can make a difference through perseverance and determination. The story begins with these lines and the accompanying images:

"On a cold, gray day, Svala no longer heard the birds. They all had disappeared. She searched throughout the land, but only broken shells and empty nests remained. As winters and summers passed, Svala consulted oracles and interpreted dreams. The message was always the same: it was her destiny to rescue the birds. She bid farewell to home and hearth, then set out across the world on her quest."

In April, The Hand, a beautiful publication, used an image from "Svala's Saga" for their cover. Get a copy so you can see more of this team's work in the featured article inside.

As mother (Kirsten) and daughter (Emma) we have been working on informal art projects for many years. In 2013 we decided to create a truly collaborative photographic series. This project was realized after two trips to Iceland together.

Emma Powell is an assistant professor of art at Colorado College. Powell graduated from the College of Wooster, and received her MFA in photography from Rochester Institute of Technology. Her work often examines photography's history while incorporating historic processes and other devices within the imagery.

Kirsten Hoving is a Charles A. Dana Professory of Art History at Middlebury College. Twelve years ago, she took her first photography workshop to help her be a better scholar and teacher of photographic history and she was hooked. In between writing books and articles and teaching courses about modern art and the history of photography at Middlebury College, she makes photographs. She is co-founder of PhotoPlace Gallery.


  All about Emma Powell
Join our newsletter
Be up-to-date with call for entries, deadlines and other news about exhibitions, galleries, publications, & special events
Discover the third issue of AAP magazine!
All About Photo Magazine showcases the winners of AAP Magazine's call of entries organized by All About Photo every 2 months.
The Jules Maeght Gallery is a contemporary art gallery who seeks to engage the San Francisco community by infusing European artists, young and established alike, into a diverse, multimedia dialogue.
Since 2005, your guide through contemporary art from a French perspective to let you make exciting choices