Since the early 1980's, Seattle's Photographic Center Northwest has provided opportunities for emerging and established photographers ranging from photography classes to community darkrooms, exhibition and studio space. Originally named The Exposure School of Photography, and later called the Northwest Center For Photography, the non-profit evolved from a small educational program into a vibrant, accredited institution, now led by Minor Matters Books founder, and former Aperture co-publisher Michelle Dunn Marsh, photographer Eirik Johnson, Terry Novak and Jennifer Brendicke. As the program has grown, they've been consistently generating some promising photographers, with this year's crop of thesis students rivaling many recent MFA graduates. Below are some highlights from the exhibition, which is up through August 10, 2017, alongside each artists's statement about their work.
A triskel is a triple spiral pattern common in pre-Celtic and Celtic art. They can be found in jewelry, illustration, and on megalithic tombs dating back 5,000 years. Three arms emerge from a common center, each one growing in its own direction, spreading out and taking up space. The arms bend, gently at first, before curving back in on themselves, then winding tighter, spinning further, until they reach the limit of the medium or the artist. Each arm is distinct and often asymmetric - for thousands of years they were carved with the crudest tools imaginable - but they always wind in the same direction so that, in addition to its constituent spirals, the shape itself has a spiraling quality. When I think about a triskel I think about the person who carved it. Did they carve it there, where it now sits? Was this open hillside covered in trees? Did it take them long and did they have to fit it in after hunting or farming? I think about the millennia since it was carved, how it would have been exposed to the elements, worn by pounding rain and inquisitive fingers, restored by a later mason. The layers of etching, intentional and organic, that accumulated over the years. The unique expression of one carver’s hand and eye holding out against the passage of time. Contemplating this simple shape, its form and its history, is a contemplation of time and complexity. Through chemistry my gestures have been etched on film, and from that film I have crafted prints that honor the spirit of a triskel; they are finite in their bounds but strive for infinite depth; they are the product of my hand and eye.
Compositions explores the layered, changing, unique nature of people. Each person is a complicated, messy, ever-changing mix of numerous attributes. Over time, the composition and proportion of the traits that make up a person change in response to life events and circumstances within and outside their control. The images and the process I use to create them are informed by my personal experience as an immigrant seeking to reconcile differences between the culture I was raised in and the one I am assimilating into. The result is a changing blend of personality that’s neither here nor there but is unquestionably unique. I work in a traditional darkroom to create camera-less images by projecting light through fabric and personal clothing onto silver gelatin paper. With the cloth evoking the physical body, I combine ideas from painting and sculpture with analog photographic processes to create objects that are unique, much like people themselves.
Dank and rotting cabin, tangle of blackberries, and canopy of ancient oaks were my childhood playground. Mid-century moderns replaced “my” cabin and woods in a fast growing 1950s suburbia, a transformation and domestication of landscape that taught me about changing environments and nostalgia for “wild” places. As we face expanding electric power and transportation needs, climate change and migration, pollution, and early snowpack melt, Layers of Water examines our complex relationship with Pacific Northwest water and the immense impact of our desire to harness its power. Black and white photographs, along with a menu of narratives about specific bodies of water, draw on layers of meaning and place. In daylight, we rely heavily on visual clues for our safety and our sense of “normalcy”.
At night colors are muted and shadows conceal…the usual becomes the unusual. A question of what is and what might be pervades. The mind wanders and the senses are on high alert. In both residential and industrial neighborhoods there are objects and symbols that are left to be interpreted and decoded.
I moved to Seattle 15 years ago. For most of my adult life I’ve been torn between two continents. Pulled in opposite directions for so long my body aches. As the years go by my longing for my native home grows stronger and I begin to see deteriorated exteriors as a symbol of my life as an immigrant. Many surfaces I’ve captured have a symbolic divide that can resonate in those of us who have left something behind. There is a constant longing for the other side, for that warm embrace, always out of reach. Maybe for some the divide can instead become a barrier caused by conflict and fear making it impossible to return.
The neglected exteriors become the people I left behind, representing the tremendous guilt that can burden those who decide to abandon the ones they love. The divide will undoubtedly create distance, but it also has the extraordinary power to grow love even stronger. I have come to see beauty in the rejected and take comfort in the decay because I know that much like a weathered structure that was once a city treasure, the foundation of its existence will remain the same.
Displacement can cause great loneliness and isolation. Once you feel supported and cherished, much like a forgotten building desired again after years of neglect, new life will emerge. The process can transform you in ways no one thought possible. In my images I have come to see a rebirth of materials and a renewal in perspective: The forsaken becoming anew.
The American Street is a built thing just as I am a construct of where I grew up, and all the schools, playgrounds, backyards, woods, and shops that shaped me. By wandering the main street and alleys of my neighborhood, these photographs of the various fragments and details create a fictional and more universal town. They reflect what captures my attention, puzzles, amuses, or spooks me, ultimately forming a self-portrait. Thank you for visiting.
PhotoGraphic Center Northwest's thesis exhibition is open through August 10th, 2017. Visit their website for more info.