Maria Isabel LeBlanc’s portfolio was an Outstanding Work selection in the 2020 Denis Roussel Award.
De la Luz
Silver gelatin and palladium prints w 4×5 – farm fields – Monterey, CA
“You have created a solid and exquisitely crafted portfolio and I think the essence of your inspiration and resulting work has been perfectly realized. This is a very strong portfolio.”
Please tell us about yourself.
I work primarily with the large and medium analog process, working as sole craftsman from the moment the negative is exposed to the creation of the final silver gelatin print. I find all the steps in making the hand-crafted print rewarding and value the resulting physical object.
My practice investigates my relationship with the landscape, both as a documentarian and as a humanist. My projects concentrate on a specific geographical region of the central coast of California.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I studied at the Atlanta College of Art.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
Beyond my preliminary studies at ACA, I have been fortunate to have had several teachers and mentors that further informed my practice and fueled my desire to keep pursuing this medium. Among them, Mark Citret, John Sexton, and Aline Smithson have been an integral part of my photographic journey.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1957 by Garry Winogrand has always intrigued me.
Gary Winogrand described this photograph, as “the illusion of a literal description of how a camera saw a piece of time and space.” Yet, each time I revisit this photograph, I get lost in my own various narratives of opposite possibilities. Has something happened or is something about to happen? Are the dark, looming clouds in the distance coming or going? Is the vast landscape one of hope or one of endless desperation? I am also drawn visually to the expansive landscape of this photograph and connect with this aspect within my own work.
This photograph reminds me to bring my camera and explore because possibility awaits when least expected.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
I first photographed and printed this image years ago as a student. It taught me challenging artistic and technical lessons. The young woman was a fellow student and our class assignment was to photograph each other. We were working with 4×5 large format cameras. My placement of her was unconventional but purposeful.
This print was one of the first prints I made at the 20×24” size (which is a large size for a darkroom print). I made several prints and wasted a lot of paper (areas of her white dress gave me grief) but ended up with a print that I was proud of. It was chosen to be shown at the Woodruff’s Art Center, next to the High Museum of Art. At the time, I was relatively new to large format photography and printing. It was the first time that these things came together for me. She has the wall of honor in our living room and inspires me on a daily basis.
Please tell us about the work you submitted to The Denis Roussel Award.
The work I submitted to The Denis Roussel Award is from my project, De la Luz, which was photographed primarily with my 4×5 view camera and printed in my home darkroom. It is a project that I started in 2017. De la Luz is about the land and the people who work this land in northern Monterey County, California. De la Luz, “of the light,” refers to the special light I experienced when photographing out in the fields. The crops, and more, unfold under the sun in full view. A search for the American dream is played out under this light as well.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding.
When I am out in the field fully focused and immersed in my surroundings, I am grounded. The slow, deliberate process of the view camera stills my mind.
I am equally rewarded when I hang up my negatives to dry. My heart starts racing every time.
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
I tell myself to just start. I pick up my camera or I mix some chemicals and get the darkroom ready to print. Before I know it, I am immersed in the creative process again. I never regret “just starting” and inevitably I end up working through stagnation. As long as I learn something or practice my craft, even when I fumble, I feel accomplished.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
My view camera has been an integral component. Without it, I don’t think I would have been hooked by photography. I am active and can be restless but the large format camera plays its calming magic on me. Hours go by unnoticed. When I take portraits of people, the view camera allows for a connection to form, even if minimal words are spoken.
The darkroom is also essential. It is an extension of that quiet space I feel when out photographing with my view camera. When I get home, I am motivated to develop my negatives and see what I captured. The whole experience is gratifying and keeps me making work.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
I have two 14×17” film holders and plan to make a large pinhole camera to use with these. I would like to experiment with Ortho Litho film for contact printing or use direct positive paper and make one of a kind prints.
I aim to explore more historical photographic processes. I have made platinum palladium prints and am curious to try cyanotype over palladium.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
Profoundly. I am in the habit of engaging consciously and actively observing the world around me, mentally placing composition and seeking out rhythm in what I see. I analyze, process, and wonder. I admit it can be exhausting and sometimes my mind gets tired. Recently, when I asked someone how a fellow artist was doing, she replied, “Fine, just doing that thing that artists do…constantly thinking about what they are seeing, or doing, or planning what’s next.” I understood completely and connected.
How has the pandemic influenced your work methods?
At first, I was overwhelmed and hindered creatively speaking. I heard of so many people making work about COVID-19 and yet I felt completely unmotivated to do so. I had to use my “just start” tactic, mentioned previously, and now the creative wheels have begun turning again.
What’s on the horizon?
I aim to finish printing a solid portfolio of De la Luz.
I have begun investigating my immediate surroundings in Santa Cruz. I want and need the process to be lighter and more carefree. De la Luz has been several years of what I would call a “labor of love.” It is time to play without an agenda for a bit.
Thank you Maria .
To learn more about the work of Maria Isabel LeBlanc please visit her site.