Images on Paper and Silk by Gail Erwin
War, pestilence, abandonment, and neglect. These are the agents that turn buildings and other man made structures into ruins. Nature, in the form of trees and vegetation, begins to take back the land and eventually engulfs the ruins. In today’s COVID world, cities and towns feel abandoned—almost like a post-apocalyptic landscape. The pandemic has a created a world on the verge of ruin (or perhaps rebirth), of being brought closer to nature.
What happens when the trees overlay and in some instances obliterate the man-made structures, already ancient or in ruins? The indicia of human habitation intertwines with nature, and creates richly layered and tactile images. The method of layering draws attention to the complexity and enigma of nature. Time, age and memory are reflected in image and process.
The evolution of this exhibit follows several year’s work starting with a series of images of trees printed in the alternative photo process of Van Dyke Brown. The trees are sentinels, standing stalwart and true, but a closer look invites us to look at their mystery and allure; their patterns, rhythms and harmony. There is a sense of longing, a sense of being hidden amongst the trees. Of finding an aerie or sanctuary in the foliage.
A series printed in Cyanotype invites us to explore the sublime in ruins and ancient sites. There is mystery in the empty niche, the partially opened door, the layered view—inside and out—from a window. Light plays over images in unexpected ways, it glows from beneath a closed door, or through a crack that lets in a sliver of light. Stairs, windows, tunnels and pathways through arches lead to the unknown. These artifacts brood in silence, monoliths softened by time. Then, rediscovered or re-appreciated, the ruins are preserved and cared for—their memory brought to life.
Notes on the processes.
The images are layered with a print on translucent silk layered over a print paper. The process on silk uses light sensitive dyes or cyanotype, those on paper are cyanotype or Van Dyke Brown prints.
Cyanotype and Van Dyke Brown are nineteenth century alternative, non-darkroom photo process in which an emulsion is hand painted on a paper or fabric surface, exposed to light and then developed in water, turning either blue or brown. Since it is a contact printing process, the negative is the same size as the print. Digital photos are used to create a digital negative in the computer which is then printed on transparency film. Light sensitive dyes are used in much the same way as Cyanotypes to capture photo images on silk.