Q&A: Emma Powell discusses traditional photographic technique, new exhibit | Culture



Emma Powell is an Iowa-based photographer and speaker who uses alternative and traditional processes in her series “In Search of Sleep”, which attempts to bridge the gap between dreams and reality.

Through a series of photographs, she visually tells her own surreal bedtime stories from her childhood, inviting viewers into a whole new world reminiscent of storybook illustrations. Powell stays true to traditional darkroom processes, developing and toning his final images by hand and proving that photography can still be considered an art.

Powell will hold an informal artist talk on Friday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. for the opening of his exhibition at Lincoln’s WorkSpace Gallery. Before arriving in Lincoln, she took the time to answer a few questions about her show.

Daily Nebraskan: Can you explain the technique you used to develop these photos and the significance of the substances you chose to use?

Emma Powell: I used a cyanotype process, a process that was developed in the 19th century. I used a toning technique so that it wasn’t such a strong blue color anymore, so the toning I do makes it a warmer tone, and the highlights dull the blue a bit because traditionally a cyanotype is a color. very bright blue.

DN: I read that you use tea and wine as well as the cyanotype process. Is there any symbolism to these?

EP: Yes, the wine has tannins, and I use a powder; it is not literally wine. Tea contains tannic acids which react to the chemistry of the cyanotype by changing colors. You can tone it more with tea to change it more to a sort of sepia brown color, but I like the kind of duo-tone effect that only partially tones it up.

DN: Why do you prefer to use these traditional photo development techniques when there are so many new digital tools that can be used to achieve the same effect?

EP: I really like its practicality, and the connection it has to history and the element of luck. You don’t understand this mystery and this element of luck, and you never know how it’s going to turn out. It’s almost like a collaboration between the photo technique and the photographer. And I really like it. This is very fun.

DN: Can you explain where your inspiration for this series comes from?

EP: I have always had a hard time falling asleep, and recently I realize that this work speaks; it’s basically a loose take on the world of my childhood bedtime stories. It would take me so long to get to bed, and my dad would tell me these made-up stories before bed, so it visually takes place in this environment and this fantastic concept. I am also influenced by 19th century photography and history and try to bridge these worlds.

DN: Would you say that 19th century historical photography is your main influence, or do you have other contemporary photographers or sources of inspiration?

EP: There are many, many other people using alternative processes, and I have found the community to be really encouraging and really exciting at the moment. There are a lot of contemporary photographers that I am influenced by, as well as historical photographers.

DN: At what age did you start to take up photography?

EP: My dad is a photographer and my mom is a photography historian, so I’m somewhere in between, so I’ve been around photography and I’ve been dealing with photography all my life. But when I was in my second year in college, I took my first course which was about alternative processes, and that’s when I started to find my own voice within the medium. That’s when I really had a turning point.

DN: Was that when you decided to make a career in photography?

EP: Yeah, I found a way to make it my own.

DN: Fine art can be a risky and scary field to explore, as opposed to “safer” fields, such as engineering or business. Has it ever been difficult for you and have you ever doubted that you are on the right track?

EP: Yeah, I mean, it’s a tough area. Right now I’m teaching, and it’s working really well for me. It’s difficult because there isn’t necessarily a strict path for you – it kind of forces you to find your own path and make it your own. It just takes time and hard work.

DN: You said you were teaching. Did it affect your artistic abilities?

EP: Of course, yeah. I am influenced by what I have learned to teach and by what my students offer. I try to share my process with them as much as possible, to kind of get their feedback.

DN: In this series of photos, who did you use as a model?

EP: myself; they are all self-portraits.

DN: Why did you choose to use yourself?

EP: I’m cheap. (Laughs) I don’t have to pay a model for just one thing, and I’m always here. I am always available. Sometimes I think of something late at night and just want to do it right away. I like to have a coherent silhouette, and the character to be constant in the face of these different environments. I’m sick of seeing myself all the time, and I’ll do one where there’s a little less silhouette. I have done this more recently.

DN: What has been the most incredible event that you would never have had the chance to participate in if you had had a different career?

EP: It’s difficult. Come on, I particularly like the company for photography education services. Also, I did a jamboree with John Crawford, who is a website photographer, and it’s really great to be able to meet and be a part of that kind of community of people. I find it very inspiring and very encouraging to find a community of like-minded people who support your work. It has been really good for me. In a way, the internet has been useful for connecting with people, and it has been interesting to see the connection between the internet and these 19th century processes.

DN: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Glad to hear you speak and see the photos in person.

EP: Yes, definitely. Make sure you come over and say “hello”.

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