© Mariana Bartolomeo
© Mariana Bartolomeo

Rfotofolio is pleased to share the work of Mariana Bartolomeo.  In our last call for submissions we ask for photographers to send us their  work that they hope inspires others. Mariana inspires us.

Would you please tell us a little about yourself?

Yes, thank you. I am sixty years old and  have been a professional artist for forty years working in photography, printmaking, book arts, and writing.  Although, I have also done commission work in mosaic and sculpture.  I am of Welsh, Irish, and Hungarian heritage.  I think that I was born with charcoal on my hands, so I don’t remember any age in which I was not involved in the arts.

I was a very inquisitive child constantly questioning my parents and teachers about the meaning of life and events that seemed to be related to my identity.  When I was five years old and on Mother’s Day I asked my mother this question, “Moma, if you are my mother, then who am I?”  My mother told me about how I came to be myself.  I will never forget her explanation.  She said. “You were born in 1954, The Year of Mary, at St. Joseph’s Hospital.  We named you according to Pope Pius XII’s declaration, “Anne matris Mariae” (Ann, mother of Mary).  There was over 260,000 people assembled in Chicago’s Soldier Field  for the ceremony”.  Well, she gave me alot to think about!  She took me to the bookstore and let me pick out a book.  I chose a 4″ x 4″ accordion book written in Italian depicting the Michaelangelo’s murals on the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.  After that, I took to hiding in my closet with my big box of Crayolas drawing on the walls.  Some weeks later she came looking to see why I was so unusually quiet.  I had just finished covering the walls, top to bottom, copying from my new book.  From then on she took me to private art classes.

My father died when I was eleven, 1965.  There were still three of us children in the home; my mother sent me and my younger sister to a the De Sales convent school in Parkersburg, West Virginia.  My mother’s immigrant uncles moved me to St. Louis for high school.  At that time, I made an income for myself by hand-sewing and embellishing hippy garments. I was an activist during the Vietnam catastrophe and left the U.S. for Italy and art school 1971.  When I returned, I got it in my mind that I should follow the Renaissance education ideas, so I changed my undergraduate major to science at Rockhurst Jesuit University in Kansas City.  I worked nights bar-tending and doing illustrations for scientific journals.  I went on to medical-graduate school at the University of Kansas due to a misplaced fascination with anatomy that I relate to having studied the drawings Michaelangelo and Da Vinci in Florence and Rome. I put myself through graduate school by adjunct teaching night school and doing sports photography.  After that career diversion, I returned to graduate school to follow my true calling in art and graduated MFA with honors in printmaking.

How did you get started photography?

My father gave me my first camera in 1962 (I was 8 years old), an Agfa Ansco Shur-Flash.  I decidedly took my first portraits – my father standing on the front stairs of my brother’s house and my niece pitching baseball.  Soon after, I was upgraded to a Brownie Reflex, taking photographs of people on the street who amused me.  I relate this to my father who would often walk us down to the Dairy Queen. We’d sit on a sidewalk bench eating our Dilly Bars and people-watch.  He was not a talker, but typically after a few minutes he’d point to someone across the street and declare, “Look at that guy!”  I’d take a photograph to record whatever it was he was perceiving.  My father was an accountant and in local politics, but had a fascination with architecture.  He would drive around Kansas City to view new buildings in progress and I would take pictures.

Mother also was a great influence in quite a different manner.  She was very involved in the arts, literature, music and theatre community. She often took us to the art museum to see what she referred to as “important exhibits” and indeed, for my sensibility they were very important experiences.  In 1965,  after saving my allowance for what seemed like forever, and after pestering my mother, she took me to purchase a Polaroid Swinger that used instant roll film.  I liked the hands-on part of having to coat the images. During childhood, my mother supported creativity by exposing us to so many cultural opportunities.

 Hydrangeas © Mariana Bartolomeo
Hydrangeas © Mariana Bartolomeo
Hydrangeas © Mariana Bartolomeo
Hydrangeas © Mariana Bartolomeo

Which photographers and other artists’ work do you admire?

Oh, So many!  But, I’d like to give you some specific examples of artist’s works that I find so inspiring:  Alfred Stieglitz’ portraits of his wife, Georgia O’Keeffe are deeply moving and so honest; the Hungarian photojournalist/filmaker, Brassai (Gyula Halasz, 1899 -1984) captured strange and immediate portraits of lovers on the streets of Paris, Miro Looking at Graffiti, of Dali in a suit and tie, Mattise drawing from a nude model, Picasso holding a piece of sculpture by the neck, and Giacometti in his studio full of long-fingered sculptures. He was so inquisitive and gutsy, and actively engaged in such personalities. His subjects are all in their own private or public element, which quite naturally lends itself to revealing marvelous personal idiosyncrasy.  I am amazed at the paradox that Diane  presents in her two portraits of The Tattoo Man and Mae West; the former of glaring and graphic intensity and the later a remarkable genteel intensity.  Irving Penn’s “Corner Series” – full body portraits of Truman Capote, Marlena Dietrich, Marcel Duchamp and Igor Stravinsky where each one is individually confined to an excessively narrow corner space.  Somehow each one of them all seem to meld into the confinement and Penn captures these elegant and isolated, private moments.  And no coincidence, all of these artist’s subjects have also been of major influence in my work as well.

Besides portrait and social documentary photography, I am influenced by the experimental works of Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy. Their use of moving lights and refractive surfaces to produce photograms seems impossible without a study of their technical choreography.

I am a hands-on artist and many printmakers remain important influences to me such as: Käthe Kollwitz, Leonard Baskin, Antonio Frasconi, Jean Dubuffet, Rauschenburg, Odilon Redon, as well as my own mentors master printer John Talleur and master book artist Linda Sampson-Talleur,

Would you share with us an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.

Yes, actually there are two images that my mother introduced into my life.  First, is Henri Cartier Bresson’s 1938 photograph at the “Gare Saint Lazare, Paris” of the dark, ghostly man running across the view and his reflection in a large puddle.  I was fortunate to have seen his masterpiece in 1964 when my father drove us to New York to see the World’s Fair and my mother took us to visit The Phillips Collection.

The second is a portrait of actress Jeanne Moreau taken by Dan Budnik in Paris 1962 and published in Vogue Magazine.  Well, my mother showed this to me right in our own home!

Both of these images have such a mysterious quality to them. I’ll never forget the first time that I saw them. It still gives me goosebumps to think about it.

As an aside, Dan Budnik had taken a photograph of Bresson in Paris 1961, while the master himself was standing on a ladder up against a building and photographing something else.  Many years later, I was introduced to Dan and he remains a very close friend.

Do you have a story about one of your images that you would like to share.

Yes, of course. My photogram of Saint Lucy has a long developmental history and my interest in historical origins.  The name Lucy comes from the same root as “lucid” and light.  One of my greatest fears growing up was losing my sight.  I kind of ruminated on the idea that art-making would not be possible without sight.  I latched on to Saint Lucy as the patron saint of vision and light – she was brutally blinded in Sicily 304 A.D..  Also, I have long been interested in faces and facial expressions as a theme and tried to capture a person’s eyes in my youthful attempts at portraiture.  Later, in graduate school I began to make woodcuts and intaglio prints of eyes in a study if light and shadow and I loved the graphic nature of printmaking.  In 2007, I made a linoleum print of a pair of eyes as two leaves on a plant and this was influenced by a paintings of Lucy by Francesco del Cossa, 15th century.  In December of 2007, I actually had an aneurysm in my left eye that burst and so for while I lost clear vision in that eye.  Recently, I re-printed the linocut on Unruyu paper and backed it with gold metal leaf as if to overcome my fear.

A blinded person can often look as if their eyes are closed, but I knew of no portraits of Lucy with her eyes closed.  So, it occurred to me that she certainly ought to have felt that way.  That idea was the impetus for my photogram, in which I incorporate a scanner negative of a person with closed eyes unable to see the flowers.  Also, as an allegory for confined perspectives or close-mindedness would be like death in a way; death of lucid understanding.

Funeral of Saint Lucy © Mariana Bartolomeo
Funeral of Saint Lucy © Mariana Bartolomeo

Please tell us about your process and what the perfect day is for you.

What I am trying to accomplish with these photograms is entirely experimental and very much like an intaglio process in the making of them.  The hydrangeas are a challenge in and of themselves due to their huge size and density.  For a good chance that things will go just right, I need to have very hot and dry weather.  Of course, here in Tucson that’s not hard to come by in the summer.  But in the winter I have to use a heat-plate and intense heat lamps to mimic the summer weather.  I also have to maintain the humidity locally within the flowers themselves.  Sometimes I refrigerate them or spritz them just before I am ready to use them.  It takes me a lot of time to position the hydrangea head or other dense flower head on the photographic paper.  The parts move around and resist staying in one position and so I have to tack parts of it down as I go along.  Sometimes I require and hour or more to get it just the way I want it.  I clamp them between layers of plate-glass and out into the hot sun it goes.  That is just the beginning though.

Sometimes, I pre-treat the paper with a sprinkling of salt or sugar, vinegar or alcohol.  I also treat the photogram with toners by injection under sections of glass while it is in the sun.  The difficulty is trying to intentionally bake the chemistry without the flowers burning up.  I also want the objects to emboss the paper, so the pressure has to be maintained long and hard until completely dry after the exposure is finished.  I often have to keep the clamped glass together indoors in the dark for a few days. And, It is not unusual for the exposures to take several days, depending on the weather.  Under-exposure is a risk.

I also incorporate larger film negatives into the image-making, so I have to mask off an area, then expose the negative and re-mask it.  It is difficult to know when it is the best time in the process to expose the negative.  Too soon or too late and it won’t work out at all. Sometimes, I expose and develop the negative section in the darkroom before going outside and then masking and re-exposing it again in the sun.

I think I am just now getting the hang of the whole process and I continue to experiment.

Is there one thing that you wish people would stop doing when it comes to the creative process or in the art world?

I don’t understand repetition just for the sake of process.  Mastering a technique takes a long time.  But, technically competency is not the end all.  Rather, my preference is to push the process towards an individualized expression and to experiment with a new creative means of using that process.  Another thing that bothers me is to see so many digital reproductions of an original analogue print in exhibits these days.  Not to say that digital processes are not artwork in and of themselves.  I certainly work the spectrum myself.  But, no matter the source, I think that only original printed images, whether analogue, digital, or mixed media should be on exhibited.

What challenges do you face as an artist?

I have never had much of a problem with creative block, but I do have some cognitive and pain challenges to work around.  I had a brain injury (TBI) in 1999 which left me nearly totally disabled.  I spent five years in physical-medical rehab to regain the use of my limbs and cognitive functions.  I was fortunate to have located an intuitive skilled art and music therapist in central Mexico where we lived for five years and the cost was affordable.  I recovered control of my body, but still have significant problems with memory, attention and staying on task.  Thinking itself is sometimes exhausting.  I can spend myself in normal, routine interactions before I am aware of it.  Also, the TBI left me with a seizure disorder and chronic migraine.  So, my work schedule (sic) is consistently inconsistent.  It is day-by-day.  But, all in all, I am very fortunate to have survived the incident.

If you spend a day with another photographer living or passed who would it be?

Man Ray, most definitely.  I would love to just follow him around for a few months and watch him work.

How do you view this time in the history of photography?

For me, it is a very exciting time because there are so many creative photographers working to preserve historical processes and to pass  on their knowledge.  I look forward to new discoveries through experimentation as more artists learn these remarkable methods.  Mixing and combining processes is what I am really enthused about for myself.  I think that there is a universal energy and movement in analogue creativity that is unmatched in other artistic fields, except perhaps in Book Arts.

How do you over come a creative block?

To be honest I have rarely experienced that problem.  Mental and physical organization is an impediment for me.  I have so many ideas and images going on in my mind, that I have to prioritize and not go in too many directions.  The main block to creative work is frequent episodes of cognitive disturbance due to my brain injury.  It is really frustrating because it is something that I just have to wait out.  Like an extended migraine or seizure disrupting my ability to think and organize.  It’s purely a matter of waiting, medication, and a recovery period of several days.  I have to keep a positive perspective and avoid feeling like time is a wasting.  Getting outside to remain physically involved with nature is a huge help.  While I am not invested in landscape photography, nature and landscape itself is so therapeutic.

What do you hope the viewer takes from your images?

My effort is to give form to the unseen inner workings of the mind and heart and so that it might be understood by others.  My focus is on depicting emotive and psychological moments or events.  Everyone has an inner reality of experiences and knowledge that is built on sensory memories, the language of which is symbolic.  For me, inner life is accessible through visual metaphor – imagery.   In depth understanding of life experiences requires contemplation of the images.  As is true with almost all of my work, my botanical photograms are inspired by an inner life.  If flowers or plants did not carry an innate meaning we would never give them as gifts.  In real (non-virtual) life, my photograms are embossed and textural from being pressed for so long.  The toners add additional depth to the viewers perception.  If I can create a means of attraction, then perhaps the viewer will recall something familiar within themselves and reflect on a deeper meaning.

How does your art affect the way you see the world?

Oh, I think that I peak my own curiosity.  That is an introvert’s way of saying, “I want to know more, to see more”.  I need to find answers to questions such as, “What is it like to . . . “, “How can (that) be?”, “What is the meaning of . . .?”.  So, one image leads to another as an existential explanation, so to speak, of how I perceive the world and our lives in it.

Where can we see your work, and would you like to share any upcoming projects?

Oh, yes, I have been working on two personal documentaries.  The first is called “The Swan and the Arrow” which is dedicated to my late husband, John Mueller.  He was diagnosed with terminal Stage IV non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2006 and he asked me to document these last eighteen months of our life together until his death 20 Dec. 2007.  The project includes graphic photo-documentation of visual details and personal moments, as well as, excerpts from our journals, notes and haiku poetry that we worked on together.  The second project is “Widow’s Work”.  It is a collection of alternative methods images and stream of consciousness text that reflects my own mystical experiences after and during my four year pilgrimage after John died.

Freesia © Mariana Bartolomeo
Freesia © Mariana Bartolomeo

Thank you Mariana for sharing your work and words.

To learn more about Mariana Bartolomeo please visit her site at, Mariana Bartolomeo.

To learn more about Dan Budnik please visit his site at, Dan Budnik.

Thank you to the photographers that share their work with us.



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