Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Alternative Space: Maryann Ott

City-Wide Open Studios
50 Orange St., New Haven, (203) 772-2709
Alternative Space: Maryann Ott
Oct. 28-29, 2006.

My first thought when I saw Maryann Ott's photo images was "digital." So you're doing digital work now, I asked her? Ott took umbrage. She gave me a playful swat.

No, said Ott. They are black and white silver gelatin prints that she prints in the darkroom. She hand colors them with inks, dye and paints and then adds ephemera—bits of paper, handwriting, postage stamps, antique photos—to obtain a collage effect. She calls them "altered photographs."

She started doing them three years ago. Necessity was the mother of invention, Ott said. Her father has been sick for many years and Ott has been taking care of him. Darkroom time was scarce and Open Studios was coming up.

"With Open Studios you have to be fresh every year," Ott said. She pulled out old work prints and started experimenting, with paint and other materials. She did one and entered it in the Main Exhibition. To her surprise, she shortly thereafter got a call from Artspace director Helen Kauder telling her the work had sold.

"I just threw paint on a photograph!" Ott recalled with some amazement. With three weeks to go before she had to show in that year's Alternative Space, she "pulled out old photographs and started playing around with them."

The altering of the image, Ott said, seems to bring it to another layer of life.

"It's interesting to me that when people see these they often remark on them and see things I might not see," said Ott.

"With my photographs, people haven't said, 'Oh, that tree reminds me of a tree on my street,'" continued Ott. But add bits of color and collage, she noted, and viewers feel free to project their own vision onto them, to find a story in them.

Ott had taken a photograph shot on a beach in England, colored it with gold leaf pen and ink and added collage elements. She covered the beach with yellowed paper—handwritten notes from a 19th century Lebanon, Connecticut town meeting—and four small antique tintype portraits. In the original image, several birds were scattering in flight. When she showed it to fellow photographer Terry Dagradi, Dagradi saw the birds as representations of spirits, perhaps the spirits of the four individuals in the tintypes. Ott named it "Spirits."

The process is intuitive, Ott said. She makes an alteration, walks away, thinks what it might need, makes another change. And knowing when to stop is important.

Each "altered photograph" is unique. And that is a new experience for Ott. Pointing to one that used postage stamps as collage elements, she said, "I don't have these same stamps.

"They are wholly one of a kind and I can't duplicate them. So to actually let them go—they have more emotional attachment for me," said Ott.

Well, there's always working digitally...

Or not.

"I like to dodge and burn, touch the film, see the image emerge in the darkroom," insisted Ott. "Where art is concerned, I want to stay working with my hands as much as with my brains. I want to touch. I'm going to stay a traditional darkroom photographer."


Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Maryann, I came across this piece when I "googled" you this morning. I would love to see your work when I see you next, CJD

7:04 AM


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