On September 23rd, RayKo Photo Center kicked off their fall exhibition season with a stunning array of unique prints by seven women artists. The show, Femme Papel, sounding similar to Femme Fatale, features incredible works by innovative women who push the boundaries of the definition of photography. And also the creation of it. Some of these photographers are local, using RayKo's darkroom facilities to pull their one-of-a-kind mural-sized chromogenic prints out of our color processor (yes, we still have color darkrooms where artists can make optical c-prints!). Some of them who aren't local, have flown into San Francisco to use our B&W mural darkroom to make huge gelatin silver prints. Another, who previously used our darkrooms, is now unfurling large sheets of paper coated with cyanotype chemistry into the sea and pulling them back before the waves can take them and before they can totally develop into a deep intense blue.
And that's where we got the idea for this exhibition. As the gallery director at RayKo, I am constantly on the look out for new images. I have an advantage here that I can see artists creating work right in our photography center. I noted that there were a number of artists, and all of them women, who were making images that were like nothing I've ever seen before. They changed my notion of what a photograph could be. Originally, the owner of RayKo and I discussed the idea for this show and we had the working title of Chicks on Paper, which while offending some and amusing others, didn't stick. But what did persist was the high level of quality work that these women artists generated.
Exhibition dates: September 23rd - October 30th, 2015
Here's our line up:
Johnna Arnold's new images from her series, Abundance incorporate the color darkroom and the cliché verre process. In these new images, she investigates details from her life by putting everyday objects into a photographic enlarger and shining light through them. These unique prints are full of details she could only imagine; a collaboration between herself and organic complexities that began with time. Arnold began her experiments in the darkroom, curious how objects would reveal themselves when treated as a photographic negative, with details enlarged and colors reversed through this process. By working this way the enlarger shows its similarity to a microscope, and as the slightly-mad scientist she considers herself to be, she works to gain information and show appreciation for the unexpected within objects that were in some way left behind. By magnifying objects and showing them in a new light, things usually considered for their utility can be appreciated for their complexity and nuance. As an example, her image of a pair of greasy onion rings from Sparky's diner becomes a gorgeous celestial body. Arnold has four large (60" long) pieces in the show that are exquisite in beauty as well as for the mystery they evoke.
New Mexico artist Jenna Kuiper unveiled her project, Drawing in the Dark, which began in the darkrooms of RayKo and Kala. Her large-scale photograms bring the intentions of drawing to the materials of photography. Trained as a painter, Kuiper came across this process by accident while teaching middle-schoolers at a summer arts camp. The different grays achieved through timed light in the darkroom reminded her of the value scale in drawing. With this in mind, she set about creating prints with controlled light and cut-up shapes. She often refers to her process as drawing in the dark.
Stones, daggers, ceremonial vessels, and geometric drawing forms come together in unusual and private altars spaces. Bringing these still-life forms to the darkroom subverts the nature of drawing: image-making is based on conjecture rather than sight and once developed the results cannot be changed. The unseen and unknown is given precedence. Kuiper find ceremony in this process. The darkroom acts as a space between light and dark, form and dissolution, the seen and unseen, known and unknown. It is a special processing space. Alone on her knees for hours in the dark, she is moving shapes, orchestrating light, and working with unforeseen results. Using cut up shapes, complex burning and dodging techniques, and a fiber-based, matte, silver-gelatin paper, these unique prints are made with materials that harken back to the beginnings of photographic history. Through this process, Kuiper aims to challenge the ubiquitous nature of photography and to appreciate the medium beyond its depiction of the seen world.
Vanessa Marsh has also been hunkering down in the RayKo darkrooms, for more than a year since her artist residency her ended. She is on to something, for sure, exploring the intersections of man-made, natural and cosmological power through a mixed media process based in photography. Marsh remembers as a child the first time she looked intently out into a starry sky. She was away at summer camp up in the San Juan Islands and they were sleeping outside in a field by their cabin. It was dark enough to see the Milky Way; so dense it looked like a large smudge of light across the sky. Her counselor explained that the light we were seeing took so much time and crossed so much space that the stars it was coming from may not even exist anymore. Marsh doesn't remember when she fell asleep that night, but she knows it was awhile that she lay there staring up, her heart pounding, realizing the vastness.
Looking back, Marsh has identified those moments as her first, and so far her most intense, experience of the sublime. That intimate time with the night sky led to a life long interest in the workings of the cosmos, the physics of light and photographic process. Within her work, she brings to form imagined landscapes and intensely starlit skies, highlighting both a personal as well as a collective experience of the world. Her goal is to create a relatable false reality, one that highlights the moments in our lives when we felt the most connected to the cosmos while underscoring the disconnect of our daily lives.
Marsh's photographs are made through a personally developed process involving drawing, painting, cut paper, and darkroom techniques. The work is intended to be a space for the viewer to contemplate their place in the universe and to consider how we understand the real and truth in contemporary experience.
Another former artist-in-residence at RayKo, Klea McKenna makes an imprint of a place - both visual and emotional - rather than a picture of it. With this in mind, she rarely "takes" photographs. Instead, she devises ways that light sensitive materials, analog photographic paper and film, can interact directly with the landscape to reveal something unexpected; something that decodes the way we experience place. McKenna uses a variety of crude strategies; hand-made cameras, outdoor photograms, and methods of folding film and paper to create sculptural photographs. This experimental approach transforms the familiar, yielding unlikely images that refer to location and subject only through light and form. The flawed material of the film or paper often becomes as visible as the image it has captured.
Rain Studies is one of the projects she'll be showing here at RayKo (some of these works are also on display currently at the Contemporary Jewish Museum). This series began while visiting a piece of land that McKenna had lived on as a child - a rural one-room house on the volcanic slopes of the Big Island of Hawaii. She was making work in reaction to the emotional and physical volatility of that volcanic landscape. Heavy, tropical rain was such a big part of that place and so was darkness because during the early 1980's they had lived deep in the forest without electricity. She began experimenting with capturing rain patterns in photograms on gelatin silver paper - made outdoors, at night - and it evolved into this series of rain studies. Lately she has been working with lighter California spring rain with has had much smaller drops and has found that every storm looks different. McKenna is also showing selections from her color photogram series, How Forest Think.
Maggie Preston, has been experimenting in the darkroom for years. The works in her series, Black Velvet are created by simply dropping a piece of black velvet onto photographic paper, exposing and then developing it, the result being a very bare bones photogram. The use of black velvet is significant; in photography it usually functions as a backdrop, whose whole purpose is to disappear and offer an empty shadowless field for a chosen subject. It is an eraser in a way, that erases itself. Preston flips the equation and uses this cloak of invisibility as the central subject, where it can instead imprint itself, its materiality finally given a shape. She repeats the process many times and displays multiple "takes" together, to give more weight to the seemingly inconsequential subject.
Meghann Riepenhoff's work stems from her fascination with the nature of our relationships to the landscape, the sublime, time, and impermanence. Titled Littoral Drift, a geologic term describing the action of wind-driven waves transporting sand and gravel, the series consists of camera-less cyanotypes made in collaboration with the landscape and the ocean, at the edges of both. The elements that she employs in the process-waves, rain, wind, and sediment-leave physical inscriptions through direct contact with photographic materials. Photochemically, the pieces are never wholly processed; they will continue to change over time in response to environments that they encounter, blurring the line between creation and destruction. As part of the larger project, Riepenhoff selectively re-photographs moments in the evolution of the images, to generate a series of static records of a transitory process. Titled Continua, the progressive images are shown as polyptychs. Perhaps where the fugitive cyanotypes are analogies for a terrifyingly fleeting and beautiful existence, the process of re-photographing them is a metaphor for the incorporation and mediation of photography in the contemporary human experience. Riepenhoff, like Marsh, McKenna, and Preston, has been an artist-in-residence at RayKo Photo Center, where her love of traditional materials earned her a residency.
And last but not least in this group of fearless women is Sonja Thomsen, a Milwaukee-based artist whose multifaceted practice combines photography, sculpture, interactive installation and site-specific public art to create spaces reflective of our own perceptions and potential. Since earning an MFA in photography at the San Francisco Art Institute (2004), her work has evolved in myriad ways. In her practice she has become more and more concerned with space and our perceptions of ones own scale in a space. An attempt to make "the space between" perceptible. Thomsen has been working with the specifics of materiality in her practice and continues to be fascinated with the dichotomy of the emulsion and paper, one holding the illusion of depth in its glossy shadows and the other the matte fibers of form. The Effaced Polaroid series is one of many projects that Thomsen is currently developing. These pieces are made in the "in between" moments of her larger studio practice. A quick peel that feels gestural and unpredictable. The defacing of the Polaroid, a one-of-a-kind photograph feels right- one offs- serendipity is at play. Thomsen is also interested in how the peeled figure disrupts the scene - a push/pull happens as the underlayer of the photograph is revealed on the surface. The origin of the Polaroids are from her own archive - snapshots of friends and family- used as raw material for experimentation.
Femme Papel will be on view at RayKo Photo Center through October 30th. Come see what these intrepid female artists have created and be inspired by their unique prints as well as their uncommon vision and imagination.