Juror’s Choice winner, Emma Powell has always been surrounded by photography. The child of two photographers, she has been immersed in it her whole life. Though both of her parents have strong photographic visions, Powell found her own photographic voice with her discovery of alternative processes. Her winning image, Bear, is part of a larger series of cyanotypes. “Cyanotype was the first alternative process I ever used, and I think I was quick to dismiss it for shinier processes like wet plate, although I still make ambrotypes when I can. In the last few years I have returned to cyanotype for its flexibility and have been pleased by how it suits this series.” Made by exposing paper coated in cyanotype chemicals to UV light through a negative, Powell further enriches the tone of the image by staining it with either tea or wine tannins. “I avoid toning them all the way since I particularly like having some of the blue that is the trademark of the cyanotype process show through.”
The series, titled The Shadow Catcher’s Daughter, a nod to her photographer parents, is inspired by Powell’s interest in “the use of art to visualize history.” Moving away from the literal, Powell aimed to create an imagined history, but also a personal narrative.
The first images were based on fantasy and escapism and a little of the Victorian sensibility left over from my studies of nineteenth-century Rochester, NY, and before that nineteenth-century spirit photography. From there the series has expanded. I have found myself acting out narratives, which often correspond with something in my life. I leave them open ended and mysterious.
Along with working on her own photography, Powell has been teaching regularly since earning her bachelor’s, and later her master’s, degree. Just as education has been important to her, Powell has leapt at the chance to shape young photographers.
Teaching provides me the opportunity to view different aspects of photography as a beginner. Each time I introduce the camera or black and white processing I discover or re-discover a new aspect of it. This gives me a fresh perspective that hopefully influences my work. I am always amazed by the creative ideas my students come up with. It helps me see my own work from new points of view.
And as the symbiotic relationship between her teaching and photography helps each evolve, Powell still recognizes that success really does just come down to each individual image.
I make photography for that moment when I see all the elements of the work come together as a final print. The are so many steps where things could and do go wrong: the initial conception, shooting the parts with myself as a model, working up the image and preparing the negative, and the printing toning process. When I am lucky enough to have each of these steps behave that is a moment of success.
The Unreal is on view through December 1, 2012.