The landscape along the Front Range changes daily, depending on the light, the atmosphere and the season. The Great Plains roll into the Rockies in shades of green and blue during the summer months and pink and lavender after a snowfall. The clouds hang low as part of the landscape or obscure the scenery altogether. This morning the cloud cover reached the ground, hiding the mountains behind the rolling mist until Long’s Peak revealed itself as completely white after last night’s snowfall – only for a second, though, as the next cloud took shape.
Why are we so drawn to the monochrome image? Color is dynamic; it stimulates the senses. There’s a reason the term “eye candy” is so popular when describing color photography. But there are scenes that demand the absence of color. The challenge is in knowing when to shoot black and white.
What are those things that draw us into a good color photograph? Tastes vary. The current trend is toward lighter, more pastel colors with even skin tones and clean backgrounds. The photographers at the other end of the spectrum favor a heavily saturated color palate dominated by reds and oranges: “hot” colors that sometimes butt up against each other to cause a dynamism akin to a lively political debate. My aesthetic falls in this area, though I do like to represent the colors as I perceive them, and hold back on pushing them too much.
When I’m shooting black and white I am leaning toward a similar visual language. I prefer deep shadows, and whites that maintain detail but pop against a background. Pale yellow will translate to a creamy white, and red will lend a rich late-to-midtone accent or anchor point to the composition. In the digital darkroom, I try to follow the same rules as in the chemical darkroom. Start with a good exposure, pay attention to the light and every image will have a conversation between a solid black tone and rich white highlights, and all the midtone grays fall into place.
I have spent a lot of time with the beautiful images of my students in the darkroom class, and I’ve been fortunate to accompany them through their creative process. It’s been several years since I have set out to shoot a personal project in black and white, and I welcome your feedback.
A parent of one of my students once said, “Whatever camera you have with you right now is the best camera you have.” I took that to mean that if you see a picture, capture it any way you can.
For the past several months I have been shooting primarily with my iPhone. It’s portable. It’s simple. I like the distortion. I like shooting square format, and I can do that with the iPhone. I like the color. There are times when the final outcome is somewhat disappointing, but, honestly, that happens with my “real” camera too. I don’t like the pixelation that occurs when I zoom in. So I rarely zoom in.
I also like the convenience of the cloud. Every photo I shoot winds up there and is readily accessible. Since we all “converse” visually via Instagram, a lot of steps are eliminated using iPhone and the cloud. Both of my fancy cameras have wifi capability, but when I’m on a *serious* shoot, using that feature is distracting and drains the battery power.
One other thing: shooting with the iPhone takes away the pressure of “the shoot”. It’s a kind of daily record of my travels, my walks and explorations. It’s like how a writer takes notes of her observations and later culls them into a story. My iPhone pics (and I feel fine calling them that) sometimes lead to an idea that becomes a “series”. And then I turn to my big camera as the writer sits at her laptop to begin to put together her story.
I loved shooting in this site. It’s a 3 story factory that did one thing: spun raw silk onto spools of thread. If it reminds you of a Lewis Hine photograph, that’s because this place harkens back to that era. And, according to our workshop leader, this company did use child labor.
The calendar is dated 1949. It’s remarkable that the machinery has lasted these years. And being in this place is a reminder of how much “stuff” goes to waste all over the globe. I can’t imagine clearing out this building but I hope if that happens some of this can be recycled.
When I started photographing these abandoned places I was most interested in the dark side: the ugly underbelly of society turned beautiful by the camera’s eye. I photographed Pennhurst – an abandoned children’s asylum – with great excitement. The idea of exploring a place where so much life had gone wrong filled me with a strange power, perhaps akin to that idea of wrestling with our own demons. But afterwards I was reluctant to share the photographs. The empty, sheeted bed with the peeling walls behind it was so incredibly sad – and the bed itself a kind of relief map of those who had used it. I was almost embarrassed by bearing witness to the stark devastation of this place; not just the walls but the human spirits that seemed to haunt Pennhurst.
Photographing this theater is at the opposite side of that experience spectrum. The paint is faded, yes – the artifacts sit in silent storage. But they remind us of an era of opulence. The portrait of the projectionist hangs on the wall above his private sink in the projector room, celebrating and honoring his life. The machinery of the then state-of-the-art projectors is cheery with its red and yellow lettering, the bakelite knobs. And the theater is owned by a non profit organization that is actively restoring it as a music venue – hope abounds.
I don’t know if the experiences of photographing these two places and my responses to them are a map of my own psyche or not, but I’ve learned a lot about what moves me as an artist, and I’m looking forward to exploring that more.
Artist Statement • Broken Threads
A sewing station in a textile mill sits abandoned but intact, as if the worker walked out mid-shift and never returned. You can picture her sitting there; you can see the color choices she made in gathering her work materials. Christmas decorations sit idly on a desk as though waiting to be hung for the season. A calendar lies on the floor open to the last day. At an abandoned resort in the Catskills lounge chairs sit poolside next to the encroaching fern forest, a nova ecology that patiently reclaims the site, the broken threads of thousands of stories clanging against the walls.
We continue to build, celebrate, then to abandon our commercial icons. Nothing is permanent, though when we built these factories and trains and swimming pools they were constructed of stone and steel – evidence of our hope and commitment. But we turn our backs on these places when they no longer serve our desires, and they are left behind to decompose slowly back into the earth. We want to preserve our past, but broken threads tell only part of the story. These places sit in waiting and keep our secrets.
The photographs are means of preservation. Finding small moments, splashed color within these spaces, like sparks of memory just outside our reach, remind us that they once harbored dreams and lives and the objects of our desires – some forgotten. The Map Weaves reflect the changing landscape, boundaries broken by political change and environmental dissolution. The Music Weaves touch on the broken threads of communication; a breakdown of the universal language. The pieces are deconstructed and reformed, then the weaves are sealed in wax, obfuscating meaning while preserving history.
I returned to the SLC one sunny, hot Saturday because it was so huge I was convinced I hadn’t seen the whole thing the first time I visited. I was right. I crunched through vast rooms of interior landscapes, fascinated by reflecting pools, greenery, tiny waterfalls and a strange moss that covered some of the damper regions of the factory. There had been changes since my visit last fall. The bowling alley was in greater disrepair. The groovy yellow couch had been moved, so had the jaunty chair near the kitchen. I concentrated on the cavernous wide-open rooms, recording the various characters of each one. I found the “crate room” – missed on the previous visit, and the office with its wall of glass block and red mantle. I found the clock tower, previously missed. But I couldn’t bring myself to climb the final flight up inside to get the shot I wanted. The stairs were too steep and I am to afraid of heights. I never made it to the giant loom room, and I missed some interesting spaces in that wing.
But I’m going back. The complex is scheduled to be torn down in October. September 5th may be the last date that the factory will be opened up to urban exploration. So I’m taking it, and I’m determined to climb those steep steps up into the tower next time.
I’ve been working on this book, a reflection of my other blog NYC Outside the Lines. Go to the site, take a look, and feel free to purchase!
Picking up on my series of visits to abandoned places, this is a theater in New England. The venue presented some unique problems; unlike the factories, resorts and schools I’ve visited, the theater had no windows. I learned a bit about painting with light and filled in some of the dark corners. It was a pleasure to crunch around on uneven floors, work in silence and smell those familiar odors of abandonment once more. Looking forward to tripping up to the Catskills to explore another resort in a couple of weeks.
I was fortunate to be a member of a team of weavers invited to Catslair, an artist residency at the foot of the Catskills in Upstate New York earlier this month. I spent three weeks creating site-specific works of my own design, continuing my series, Mapweaves, and assisting with a group installation on the beautiful grounds of the estate where we stayed. It is such a gift to be able to spend three solid weeks doing nothing but creating art. The wifi was weak, there was no TV, and even the cell phone signal was sporadic. So it really was a focused period with few distractions but for the daily walk to the river.
These are a few of the pieces I created for the Mapweaves series while at the residency. I’m interested in the play of deconstructing place and then re-assembling the pieces to create merged worlds and lands. The music pieces follow a similar process but take on a different meaning: re-inventing language and information in the highly structured form of the grid, which simultaneously blurs the original meaning of the chosen script.
Some of the things I think about while engaged in the process: places I’ve visited, places in history and how the engage in new geographies when woven together; the sounds of the notes, music past and present, yet to be imagined; the discovery of how small the world is: how closely culturally diverse cities reside; how large the world is, that the earth holds so many places that no one person will hope to visit all of them, ever.
All of these works are woven paper with beeswax. They all live in my studio, which is open by appointment or chance.