Artist: Phyllis Schwartz
Pigment ink on cotton paper
Image size: 16 x 20 inches
A photograph can record what eludes the human eye, and I choreograph a process that allows an image to take on a life of its own. I use the photographic process as an investigative tool to seek detail, texture and universals. My artist practice fuses the organic and technological elements of the natural environment. My hybrid prints are photograms made by a contact printing process that leaves traces and shadows on photosensitive surfaces. Plant enzymes and atmospheric conditions also interact with the surface to produce unexpected results on the surface of the paper or sheet film, leaving X-rays like marks of both their shapes and interiors. These impressions of the plant life hover on the cusp of abstract imagery and poetry.
A photogram is an alternative photography process as well as a form of hybrid printmaking. In a time when many conversations about photography incline toward questions about how much manipulation takes place to make the image, the photogram process produces a unique photographic object that has been hand composed by the photographer. My own camera-less process is informed by early makers of photograms like Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Christian Schad, and Man Ray, as well as more contemporary practitioners like Jerry Burchfield and Adam Fuss. Burchfield, an early pioneer in Lumen Printing, bypassed the mechanical process of photography to record imagery directly to photographic paper. Fuss choreographs his photograms of smoke, snakes under christening gowns and babies who appear to be floating in water. These techniques have inspired me to create images that condense a composition into a more intense experience, a kind of poetry.
My current series of hybrid prints are made by using a contact printmaking process that leaves traces and shadows on sheet film. Using a Lumen Print process I make images that are digitized for further processing as a digital print. I am fascinated by the abstract compositions that emerge as the print comes to life. In this transition from ambiguity to composition, my eye-brain searches for a recognizable form, usually a pair of eyes. Scientists explain this as pareidolia, the phenomenon of seeing a man in the moon, dragons in clouds and faces in tree bark. My Lumen Prints work in this space to render smaller ambiguous pareidoric artifacts that engage my viewers on a primal level to look again, to make their own meaning from ambiguity.
This new direction goes beyond the photogram pioneers to forge a hybrid form of photo-printmaking. Whereas Fuss choreographs an illusory moment fixed on film and Burchfield seeks the ephemeral quality of light, my work was about the direct transmission of data from the subject to the photosensitive paper without the use of a camera or enlarger. It is about the intensity of the marks made on photosensitive paper, an investigation of chemistry activated by light. In a larger sense, my work is a poet’s inquiry into the nature of permanence and impermanence. It asks, “What remains?”
Phyllis Schwartz is a multi-disciplinary artist who works in photography, ceramics and publishing. She is an Emily Carr University graduate with a concentration in photography and the recipient of the Canon Photography Award. As a visual artist, she seeks detail, texture, and poetic elements. Schwartz uses photography to investigate and record what eludes the eye. Her photography has been installed, exhibited and published locally, across Canada and internationally; her works are in public, corporate and private collections. These collections include the Farmboy Collection at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia and St. Paul’s Hospital Art Collection. Recent exhibitions include LightSensitive: celebrating images from the darkroom (Gilbert, Arizona) Illuminations and Impressions (die Bedürfnisanstalt, Hamburg, Germany), Unique (A Smith Gallery, Johnson City, Texas), Telling Stories: a visual art exhibition (On-Tak Cheung Gallery/Chinese Cultural Centre, Vancouver, Canada) and Intervals: photography in flux (South Main Gallery, Vancouver).
Born in Brooklyn, raised in Texas, educated in the Mid-West, Phyllis Schwartz migrated to Western Canada during the 70s, where she put down roots and grew her artist practice. Coming from a family of artists, she was surrounded by clicking cameras, maquettes and conversations about art exhibitions. She remembers a summer camp conversation with the art teacher in the pottery shed and sometimes wonders if this is where her pursuit of an artist practice began. Biology class was her first opportunity to learn observational drawing, an early lesson in blind contour drawing and trusting eye-hand coordination. Schwartz began making photographs with a box camera at the age of seven and always had a camera with her, especially when she travelled, early evidence of her interest in detail and situational portraits. Throughout her teaching career, she infused art assignment into the academic subjects she taught and found creative ways to engage students in art experiences as part of the course content. During those years, Schwartz spent long nights making her own art until she found a way to move from a teaching practice into an artist practice that included guest teaching and residencies, which in turn allowed more time for artmaking and curatorial work.
Photography by Phyllis Schwartz is experimental and versatile. Drawing inspiration from the work of Jerry Burchfield, Andy Goldsworthy, Adam Fuss and Anna Atkins, she is one of the few contemporary artists making experimental artwork using the lumen print process. She is also interested in the traces and shadows made by motion and uses various cameras to achieve a cinematic effect. She has photographed dancers, aerialists and unscripted street performances. Her impressions of plant and human life hover on the cusp of abstract imagery and poetry.
Phyllis Schwartz works collaboratively with Edward Peck on photography, curatorial and publishing projects. Often their work investigates art making situated in the community, which in turn builds community. Together, they curated Intervals: photography in flux an exhibition for Vancouver’s Capture Photography Festival in 2016. Schwartz and Peck recently completed the publication of Artists in Residence: Mary Filer and Harold Spence, a photo-documentation of artist studio residences belonging to two cultural pioneers in the Vancouver art scene. Recently, Phyllis Schwartz and Edward Peck launched the second edition of Seeking the Nuance, a book about nuances of glaze making in the ceramics community in Vancouver that is inextricably tied to the work of Bernard Leach, founder of the Leach Pottery, St.Ives in Cornwall, UK.