Friday, May 21, 2010

Linda Morrell: Blending the Traditional and Digital Processes

A Bit of Background:

When I set off for college in the mid-seventies, I had no idea that photography would be my focus. My skills and potential as an artist were in drawing and painting. However, during my first year at the Rhode Island School of Design, (RISD) which was a foundation year, I chose to take a Photography course as an elective. I loved it. I even loved the smell of the chemicals. In some way, I suppose, the fact that I loved chemistry and science as well as art had something to do with my intrigue with the medium. It was like “controlled magic” when I saw that image emerge from the developer.

While at RISD I had the opportunity to study with photographers such as Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind and was surrounded by a multitude of talent and energy. I continued on to graduate school at George Washington University in Washington DC and began teaching soon after I graduated.

I have practiced the photographic arts for over twenty-five years as an artist and as an educator. My initial infatuation and continued love of the medium stems from its unique ability to represent the qualities of light and form. Photography’s unique characteristics, unlike any medium that came before, serve as an extension of our vision to record human experiences.
In my imagery I seek to enhance the tactile sense of light and to emphasize the importance of the subject’s color or tone in our awareness of its surface. This sense of light, intrinsic to the medium of photography, becomes integral to the concepts within my imagery.

My approach to the image-making process is most often initiated by a spontaneous response to the world around me. Each composition becomes a personal response both emotionally and psychologically. Thematic concepts become evident and the image –making process moves to a more conceptual level.

Ultimately I want the audience to connect in their own way with my photographic imagery. Their response, for all artists, is the completion of the cycle.

The Inside - Out series.

Having come from a fine arts background I have always seen the exciting possibilities in manipulating a photographic image. Much of my recent work is digital or a combination of traditional and digital processe.

A couple of years ago I started a series of images entitled “Inside-Out”. The idea behind this project began with my exploration of scanograms.

After seeing some images of scanned objects I began experimenting with the flatbed scanner at school. The clarity the scanner provided was amazing. So I started scanning mostly flat objects; some leaves, cloth and tissue paper.

I found myself building a digital library of textures, colors, and forms. Soon I constructed a black box to sit on top of the scanner to allow me to scan three-dimensional objects as well. My first scanograms consisted only of the objects themselves without any camera images.

At the same time I was exploring scanograms I was also playing with a 7.5 mm Canon Lens that I collected years ago. It was not in great shape but created perfectly circular imagery along with all the interesting distortion. When I printed the contact sheet, it looked like some type of eye chart from the ophthalmologist. The image surrounded by black gave a feeling of looking through a peep hole…..from the inside out. Because the lens was not in great shape it produced a somewhat soft, low contrast negative. So I scanned the negatives into the computer and enhanced the contrast and sharpness. 
Some of this imagery worked great as is but I decided to play with the three-dimensional quality by having a piece of the image interact with the circle form. This is where my scanograms came in.

I decided to scan actual objects that might be represented in the circular area of the image. I then pieced the composition together. The softness produced by the quality of the lens together with the incredible sharpness of the scan produced an interesting composite.

As a result this series incorporates the effects of circular observation from both sides of a perceived spatial plane. While my initial approach was a spontaneous, playful response to the circular distortion of the everyday world around me, some of the images quickly began to mimic a voyeuristic view of my subject matter. Hopefully the viewer is enticed into moving inside and out of the picture plane.

Photo Encaustic

A few years ago I went to an exhibition at the Samuel Dorsky Museum at the State University of New Paltz in New York. The exhibition was a selective survey of contemporary works using encaustics and consisted of photo-encaustic, collage, drawing, painting and sculpture. I was immediately drawn to the translucent quality of the wax over the image, the use of color and the textures created by embedded objects within the surface of the art work.

It was not until after I traveled to Italy in 2007, however, that I decided to try working with this medium. I was a Visiting Professor for the University of Georgia’s study abroad program where I lived and taught in Cortona, an ancient Etruscan walled city. Having the opportunity to see actual Greco-Roman encaustic techniques fueled my interest in contemporary encaustic imagery. I decided to incorporate the use of this medium with certain of my photographs because I wanted the surface quality to give the images a sense of tactile reality. Similar to my interest in the quality of scanned objects I am drawn to this technique because of the sense of depth and surface it gives to a photographic image.

The word Encaustic, from the ancient Greek enkaustikos, means to heat or burn. Noted references as far back as 800 B.C. talk about the Greeks using this medium to waterproof the hulls of their ships. Egyptians painted portrait panels on the caskets holding their mummies. Encaustic is made up of beeswax melted with a small amount of resin to impart hardness When pigments were added it was used as a painting medium.

Encaustic is distinctive because of the nature of its application and the unique surface quality attained from the build up of wax layers. The medium must be applied to a surface when melted and almost immediately after it touches a surface it begins to harden. Therefore in order to paint or sculpt images, you must work fast and continually fuse one layer to the next. You do this with the use of a heat source such as a heat gun or a small torch.

The medium must be kept hot on top of some type of heating element such as a griddle or an electric frying pan. R&F Handmade Encaustic Paints in Kingston, NY sells a aluminum palette which provides a sturdy, easy to clean work surface. The paints are warmed by using an electric heating element below the palette. Any brushes and tools that are used also must be kept warm to manipulate the surface texture.

The dammar resin does produce toxic fumes above a certain temperature. Set up should include some type of thermometer to keep the temperature regulated not to exceed 200 degrees. The working space should also have a good ventilation system .

Photo-encaustic uses photographic imagery in combination with the medium. Once an image is adhered to a non-porous surface, it is coated with the encaustic medium. This first layer must then be fused with a heat gun to the mounted image. Careful technique with the heat source will create a smooth base coating. Additional layers with color or textures can be added, however each must be fused to the previous for permanence.

Article by Linda Morrell