In my most recent series of landscape photographs and woven tapestries, Transmutations, I incorporate native elements and minerals such as gold, silver, copper, nickel, pigments, and salt into my pictures. A vein of nickel coursing through a mountain ravine in my two-dimensional picture becomes a place for reflection and interruption. It asks the the viewer to reconsider the space within the frame and beyond.
With respect for traditional practices, I have a fervent curiosity about new approaches to image making. As I continue to investigate the role of materiality in my work, the centerpiece of Transmutations is a set of jacquard tapestries, three-dimensional objects that shift to the play of shadow and light. The decision to work in tapestry is a natural progression from earlier series, where hundreds of images were digitally stitched together to create the illusion of depth within a unified vista. These immensely complicated weaves utilize hundreds of patterns and colors, custom chosen to best reflect my photographs, which are then transmuted into the language of a jacquard loom. The tapestries depict dramatic vistas shot in the Accursed Mountain region in the north of Albania—the most remote, rugged region of the country—where rich natural minerals cascade down the peaks, and where three religions—Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Catholicism—still peacefully coexist. My family left Albania before the Second World War, after which the country entered a 47-year period of staunch communist isolation, ending in its transition to democracy in 1991.
The use of handwork incorporated into these photographs is a means to explore color, composition, space, and texture through the vitality of substances. Working with film and paper is reminiscent of pictures I made in the darkroom, although here the final objects are both hand and machine made. The explosion of Gold Dome references my family’s shattered relationship to Orthodox Christianity. The image titled Spac, with its prosaic U-shaped river, was made at the most feared and brutal political prison—a copper mine hidden in the center of the country. As I traversed the region with my camera I was seeking both a spiritual connection and physical evidence of its savage past.
Over the last half decade my practice has featured landscape and the temporal investigations that result in the reinterpretation of quotidian vistas through complex processes. Empire Falling (2013) is a series that explored the active and abandoned rock quarries of the American Midwest. Sublime: the LA River (2015) captured the 51 miles of urban waterway that encompass and compress the strata of the Los Angeles river’s history by layering traces of nature, development, and decay. The idea of layering—depicting physical impossibilities, conflicting perspectives, and rearranged geology—comes from my fascination with the perceptual play of the camera and one’s vision as the brain defaults to resolve discrepancies by filling in gaps with images from memories, previously seen depictions, and preconceptions.
My process for Transmutations—hand and machine made photographs and jacquard tapestries—begins by working on 11 x 17 low resolution images with a film overlay, with a variety of materials applied to the surface of the film. I then photograph the film and digitally incorporate the markings back into its corresponding high resolution negative. In some cases (Gold Dome, Blue Eye and Spac) gold and copper leaf is then re-applied to the surface of the final print, not as a decorative element but as a physical interrupter to the aesthetic experience, which also includes a range of sizes and materials from low-fi templates to final photographs. The tapestries, Valbona 1 and 2, were made in collaboration with Magnolia Editions and are unique translations of my digital photographs. The tapestries are woven using a mix of 17,600 (approx.) wool and metallic threads (cotton). Five hundred twelve patterns determine the palate which then utilizes eighteen different colored threads. The use of metallic threads not only enhances the light and dimensionality of the weaves, but also continues my practice of using metallic substances (paper) from earlier series, Sublime: The LA River and Empire Falling. The photographs from Transmutations are digital pigment prints on Hahnemuhle Satin paper. Images and tapestries are an edition of six. Gold Dome, Blue Eye and Spac, are unique in that each re-application of gold and copper leaf will result in slight variations.