Portals (Hank)

2021. Silver gelatin prints. 8 x 10 inches.

I never met my grandfather, Hank. He died before I was born, but I’ve felt his presence in innumerable ways throughout my life. The poem written by a friend after his passing that hung in the hallway of my childhood home. His name carved into the wooden door to the hayloft. The house, the barn, the stories.

It wasn’t until I was in college, however, discovering my love of working in the darkroom, that I learned Hank was a photographer himself. My father unearthed a notebook from Hank’s initial photography classes and I pored over its pages, absorbed by his sketches of film emulsion, the starry silver halide particles. I often wondered where his negatives ever ended up. Had they been lost or destroyed?

Midway through an artist residency, my father found a stack of Hank’s negatives. Looking through the exposures, some brittle with age, felt like a portal into Hank’s world. Here was the house I remembered, my grandmother’s face. Paradoxically, despite the kinship I felt with the images, I knew that I’d never be able to fully understand the stories behind them. As David Campany writes in On Photographs, “[photographs] confuse as much as fascinate, conceal as much as reveal, distract as much as compel. They are unpredictable communicators. They cannot carry meanings in any straightforward way.”

In this series, I explore the time capsule of Hank’s negatives and exacerbate the tension inherent in my lack of context. I scan the original negatives and digitally omit sections of the compositions. Then, the altered negatives are printed onto transparency film and I employ the cliché-verre technique, a hybrid painting/photography process that originated in the 19th century, to transform the negatives. I abstractly apply ink and water to the voided areas of the compositions and then use these negatives to make silver gelatin prints in the darkroom. By including both positive and negative prints, I pay homage to the original source material and pursue an imagined artistic dialogue with my grandfather.