~Constance Humphries/May 17, 2016

polaroid_me-259x300Bridget Conn creates chemigrams, which are photographs made with no negatives, no enlargers, pulling color out of black and white gelatin silver paper by applying an oil resist and then alternating the paper between developer and fixer, and back again.

Bridget has participated in over 100 exhibitions, nearly 30 of which have been solo. These include the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah, the Art Museum of the University of Memphis, Northlight Gallery at Arizona State University, as well as venues in Italy, Hungary and South Korea. She has been a resident at Elsewhere Artist Collaborative in Greensboro, NC, and the Hungarian Multicultural Center in Budapest. In 2014, she was the recipient of a Regional Artist Project Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council.

In 2009, Bridget moved to Asheville, NC where she taught at AB Tech Community College, Blue Ridge Community College, and Warren Wilson College, in addition to working as an arts writer, designer, and independent artist.  Her association with the Phil Mechanic Studios Public Darkroom starting in 2009 blossomed into the creation of The Asheville Darkroom, a non-profit art educational facility which she founded in 2012 and served as Executive Director and primary instructor through May 2016. Bridget will join the faculty of Armstrong State University in Savannah, GA as Assistant Professor of Art in August 2016, where she will focus on teaching darkroom photography. The Asheville community will miss her greatly!

More about Bridget: bridgetconnartstudio.net. 

Don’t miss Bridget’s work in the upcoming exhibition:  a thing re | sembling a win • dow, Asheville Area Arts Council, May 20 – June 26, 2016.
Public Exhibition Opening: Friday, June 3rd 5-8 pm. Panel Discussion & Performance: June 9th  6-7:30 pm.

gesture2An interview with Bridget Conn by Constance Humphries

Q: Can you speak about how your new body of work came to be? And would you describe what chemigrams are?

About a year and a half ago, my student at The Asheville Darkroom and good friend Conner decided we should try out chemigrams, a process she had read about online. Chemigrams are made with traditional gelatin silver paper, but do not involve negatives or even safelights – chemistry is applied directly to the paper in normal room light to create abstracted or non-objective imagery. A variety of resists can be used on the paper to direct the flow of chemistry and control which parts become black, white, or even turn a variety of colors under the right conditions.

At the time, I had just put an end to a long-term body of work, Handcrafted Auguries, and had reached a really curious dead-end in terms of both my working process and the concepts I had been exploring. I had been making digital prints onto tea bag paper and dealing with ideas surrounding family and ritual, but it all came to an end with a final show at Converse College in January 2015. I didn’t feel the need to deal with that process or subject matter anymore, but I was nervously uncertain of what would come next. All the art I had been making in the past 15 years all seamlessly flowed from one project to the next, but here I felt like I had reached a definitive end. Chemigrams just clicked with me immediately because they seemed to be everything the Auguries eventually were not – immediate, quick, and full of discovery. They also tie in so strongly with all the issues I discuss when promoting The Asheville Darkroom and trying to justify its existence to people who think darkrooms are all dead. So I have been pushing form, gesture, and materiality with the chemigrams ever since.

Q: How does teaching contribute to your process?

I don’t really think I could separate out teaching from my art-making process, it feels like an integral part of the art-making cycle for me. Teaching means I have to stay on top of new discoveries, new artists, techniques and trends, if not just for myself but for the sake of my students. I have always felt that I get just as much back from my students as they hopefully learn from me – it’s actually an exchange, not a hierarchy. My involvement with teaching also roots me in a tradition as an academic artist, and the aspect of that which I enjoy the most is that I want my artwork to be an open educational experience that I can talk about freely with others, rather than feel the need to “hide secrets” about what I do so that others don’t profit off of it. I always tell my students not to worry about coming up with anything original in some entrepreneurial sense, it’s ALL been done before, but with time, practice, and introspection, eventually no one will make art the way they do. The educational realm allows artists to borrow, share, learn, and grow freely.

It’s my role as a teacher which is also resulting in my departure from Asheville later this summer. I have accepted the position of Assistant Professor of Art at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia, where I will teach all darkroom photography. It pains me in many ways to leave Asheville, however, after years of teaching adjunct at multiple colleges, and directing The Asheville Darkroom as a volunteer, while housing prices skyrocket – it just forced me to have to look at broader options. I am extremely fortunate to have found a full-time position in a great city that isn’t too far from Asheville, to be able to focus my energies on developing just one program and nurturing those students, and to actually be expected to pursue my own artwork and have my efforts respected… it’s pretty much a dream scenario and I am extremely grateful.

Q: What does the convergence of digital and analog mean in  your work (and the work of others) historically and going forward?

Well of course the whole “analog vs. digital” discussion is really pertinent within photography, but mainly because most people can’t get past the use of photography as a technology rather than an art form. A Vandercook letterpress machine has not been viewed as a technology for generations, so no one is arguing that letterpress people should just convert to Photoshop already – it is understood that letterpress people love the process and materiality, not just the outcome. And the same will prove true within popular culture eventually for analog photography. I have always been very in favor of mixing digital and analog methods of photography, but again, eventually, as technology progresses, these titles will fade and people will see that they are just simply tools. One isn’t better than the other, it’s apples vs. oranges. Right now I am dealing with a mainly analog approach to photography with the chemigrams, although the project that will open at the AAAC this month does involve a digital interpretation of a chemigram that was transferred to a silkscreen. I don’t consciously make distinctions between analog and digital within my own work, although I do feel I point it out a lot for students who are still learning the language and context of art.

gesture1Q: You were recently part of a show at Penland called This Is A Photograph. How important was this show in terms of your own work, but also as a showcase of artists working outside the bounds of the general perception of photography?

I was incredibly honored to be included in “This Is a Photograph”, curated by Dan Estabrook. Not only was I among many artists who have been an inspiration to my work and are present in my teaching lectures, the pieces in that show really spanned the gamut of approaches to analog photography and were amazing to all see in one space. I feel like the work I made for many years up until my chemigrams was important for me to do, but my inclusion in this show was even bigger because it made me feel like I was part of a widespread cultural dialog and contemporary movement of just what IS a photograph now that digital processes have taken over for the technological aspects of photography. When photography itself was invented in 1839, everyone lamented that painting was dead, but instead, it actually freed up what a painting can be and paved the way for artists like the Impressionists and Picasso to take chances and redefine art. The same thing is happening now with photographic artists who are still working within the realm of analog, chemical, or physical photography (Dan organized a symposium on this topic at Penland in April of 2015 and we couldn’t quite settle on just one term!).

On a personal level, a gallery in Seattle that specializes in single editions of photographs has reached out to me as a result of the show, and we are organizing an exhibit of my work there later in 2016. So it has definitely helped in terms of visibility, but more than anything, I am excited to be part of this larger dialog surrounding analog photography… it makes me want to research everyone out there who is doing any kind of work in this realm and spend all day educating myself on what is happening out there.

Q: Tell us about the shows you have coming up and the work that you have in them?

The last several months I have been working towards a show curated by Dawn Roe called “a thing re | sembling a window”, which opens at the Asheville Area Art Council on May 20. The reception is June 3, with a panel discussion and performance on June 9. It’s been a great experience having a long-term dialog with Dawn and Ursula Gullow (also in the show) about issues surrounding representation and reproduction (the concept for this show is a response to these same concerns that drive Dawn’s project “Window” at Henco Reprographics in Asheville, which also exists in multiple venues nationally). I have been making a series of screen-printed chemigrams that will result in over 120 feet of a sewn sculptural installation. I’ve been dealing with what the specific chemigram gesture in this piece represents, as well as my interest in pushing my use of physicality concerning photographs.

I will also show some new lumen print/chemigrams in a one-day show at the Longshot Gallery in rural East Georgia over Memorial Day weekend. I am in some group shows this fall at East Georgia College in Swainsboro, at Living Arts in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and will have a two or three-person show at Gallery 1/1 in Seattle in late 2016. I’m also slated to have a solo show at the William King Museum of Art in Abingdon, Virginia in April 2017. I’m excited to see where my work will be by then and what kind of crazy physical installations I may be able to execute in such a space.