Monday, June 3, 2013

Open Water winners: Alexandra Opie

Thanks to a serendipitous printing error in the darkroom that created a flat antique-looking silver gelatin print, Director’s Choice winner Alexandra Opie became fascinated with antiquarian photography. She has honed this error into a unique photographic process ever since. “I spent years developing a chemical process that utilizes gases to age photographs, creating a silver sheen on the surface – a natural phenomenon called silver mirroring.” Opie decided to expand on the silver mirroring process she had developed and began learning the tintype process. “My intention was to also learn Daguerreotype, but I found working in tintype so satisfying I have stuck with that for now.”

Director's Choice Aquarium Landscape (moonrise)

Her winning image, Aquarium Landscape (moonrise) is “part of a larger series of underwater landscapes that focuses on ambiguous scale and heightened sense of atmosphere.” Utilizing this series to explore landscape photography with a 4x5 camera to photograph water and plant life in a glass enclosure, Opie is discovering the “rich strangeness” created in a tintype.

Underwater Landscape No. 6

Opie finds ideas for her series through her curiosities about certain visual phenomena or even a simple thought. The series grow from her exploration.

With tintype I find this process to have a quicker feedback loop, an immediacy that is very satisfying. Shooting traditional film, I will work through a number of attempts to get the negatives that I need and then work out the printing approach that works for the idea. Then it is a matter of executing the series.  With tintype, since each plate is unique, my usual process of planning, exploration and execution is compressed. Tintype is so complex and finicky that working with it can mean working for a month to make a successful image, but each attempt yields concrete and immediate results and I find that very satisfying.
Underwater Landscape No. 22
In addition to being an artist, Opie teaches photography at Willamette University. For the last thirteen years she has found inspiration in working with her students. “My work often pairs traditional art-making approaches – landscape, still life, portraiture – with new technology or uses old technologies to re-frame contemporary settings. This has certainly been influenced by teaching.” Conversely, her art also invigorates her teaching. “Being an active artist keeps me excited about the form and connected to the struggle and excitement my students experience. So, in a larger sense, the studio practice enlivens my teaching and helps me learn new ways to present material and teach students to solve problems.”

Underwater Landscape No. 1

To Opie, the definition of success is centered more on life than on career. “To me success is achieved by living an interesting life, which involves pursuing the things I love to do with intensity and curiosity. I am privileged to work as an artist and an educator, both of which are constantly challenging and exciting.”  

Underwater Landscape No. 12

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