Wet plate photography is alive and well in the USA. The current issue of Vignette features the first UK article on Robyn Hasty’s wet plate road trip – Homeland. A very different photographer using the medium is S. Gayle Stevens, whose Allegory plates are unlike anything we have seen before.
The starting point for the images were items Stevens discovered when out walking. This in its self is not new, however through the aesthetic of silhouette and the distinctive look of wet plate Stevens has created a varied and striking body of work.
Thread is reminiscent of The Solitude of the Ravens, and perhaps equally haunting as Masahisa Fukase’s seminial work. The dishevelled and upturned bird is clearly deceased, yet the outline is so crisp and close to the viewer it seems tangible, not just an image of a once living creature but a direct record of one.
Stevens has also explored the ability to arrange multiple plates, tiling them to produce large diorama style images such as Wideness of the Sea. In this example the plates with no silhouette are of equal importance, allowing distance between objects and creating a environment for the ‘sealife’ to inhabit. The solid black areas contrast with the texture of the surrounding plates creating a false sense of depth.
In images such as Study for Sleep of Reason Stevens arranges the plates in a formation. In this work there is a palpable tension as individual plates vive for our attention. Again a haunting feeling returns as faces peer out as if trapped within.
At the heart of this plate arrangement process there is a contradiction. The plates are one of a kind objects, however through repositioning and re-photographing they become building blocks . They enable Stevens to create new scenes with endless possibilities.
It is reassuring that practitioners are using old processes in such inventive ways, in turn ensuring a future for archaic methods like wet plate.
Stevens has created a short slide show describing her Allegory work this can be viewed on Youtube.
To see more work visit www.sgaylestevens.com
A full interview with Robyn Hasty will be uploaded shortly.
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