Debra Achen’s portfolio Folding and Mending was chosen as a 2021 Rfotofolio Selection by all jurors. We are pleased to share her work and words here today.
Would you please tell us about yourself?
The exploration of nature on all levels is at the heart of my photography. I am intrigued by the fundamental structures of nature and the way the elements – Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Light, Space, and Time – imprint our world with their magic. I am grateful and blessed to live on the beautiful central coast of California where I find inspiration for my work all around me.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I first studied film and darkroom photography as a Visual Arts major at the University of California, San Diego. I continue to attend workshops and lectures to keep up with the technological and creative innovations in photography as an art form. In 2015, I joined FotoSága, a women’s photography group in Carmel, CA facilitated by Carol Henry. The exploratory nature of the group activities really led me down the engaging path of fine art photography.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
I think of my creative process as an evolving practice. As I become aware of the thoughts, feelings, and ideas that I want to express, I look for the best processes to bring them to fruition. For example, nature is my biggest muse. A few years ago as I learned more about climate change, I was feeling dismayed and nostalgic about the environment and wondered if the landscapes I was capturing would be there for future generations. This feeling inspired my “Mindful Reminiscence” series, where the vintage appearance of the images portrays them as faded memories of the past. Since then, our climate crisis has accelerated. The hand-folded, stitched, and patched prints in my ongoing “Folding and Mending” series show a more dramatic impact of our relationship to the environment.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
I can’t name just one – just like I can’t name my favorite song or movie. I might be able to list a top ten at any given point in time, but even that changes as I discover new artists and photographers or re-discover some of the earlier masters. I will say I have always admired the work of David Hockney – particularly how he explores the concepts of time and space. I have several books of his work that I refer to often. Recently I have been revisiting the work of Wynn Bullock – his light abstracts as well as his nature and landscape – based work.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
Probably the physical collages in my series “Frequency Shift: The Stonehenge Continuum.” As an art student, I studied a variety of studio arts – drawing, painting, mixed media, printmaking, sculpture and more. But when I focused on photography as my medium of choice, I put those practices aside. With the Stonehenge images, the layered collages offered me a way to visualize the concept of shifting energy frequencies. This opened my creative process to a more hands-on approach to the print – which led to the folding and stitching I am currently using… and to future possibilities for mixed media.
Please click on images to see a different view.
Please tell us about the work you submitted to the Rfotofolio Call.
The hand-crumpled, folded, and stitched prints in my “Folding and Mending” series are a way of expressing “the world folding in on itself.” We are so focused on the tasks at hand in our daily lives that we are neglecting to care for our environment. We have created an imbalance in which our planet is collapsing. Coastlines erode and submerge as sea levels rise. Trees, stressed from years of drought, succumb to disease and fire as golden hills crack and crumble. While big, complex solutions are needed to fix the damage we are doing, there are small things each of us can do every day to help slow the erosion, clear the air, mend the cracks, and hold our planet together. Mending is a simple, basic domestic chore we do to care for, maintain, fix, and extend the life of the things we use in our everyday lives. At a higher level, we can also take actions to mend our environment and maintain the basic elements we use and depend on to survive each day – earth, air, fire, and water.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?
Generally I would say the beginning and the end – capturing the image and making the print. But with my latest series, I really enjoy the hands on folding and mending aspect of the creative process.
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
I set aside whatever I am working on, grab my camera and go out in nature by myself. I don’t start shooting right away, but allow myself to simply BE in the space with no expectations. Just breathe, walk, sit, close my eyes, listen, feel the breeze, smell the roses kind of thing – completely in the moment. Then I look for nature’s inspiration. Sometimes I capture a unique and beautiful image, sometimes I get a new idea, sometimes I just come back refreshed and appreciative. This generally breaks the creative block for me.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
The Mind’s Eye.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
More hand-manipulation of prints and mixed media.
I don’t like working with chemicals, but I might try a cyanotype workshop.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
It has put me more in touch with what I am thinking and feeling as I capture and work with images… going beyond the beauty in nature. Do I have something to say or contribute?
I also found a way to give back to the environment through my “Print & Plant” project to combat climate change. Through sales of featured prints, I contribute to the National Forest Foundation’s tree planting program. Every tree planted removes a half ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over its lifetime.
How has the pandemic influenced your work methods? Or has it?
During lockdown, I decided to complete the series of Stonehenge images I had been holding on to for a number of years. Once I established that I would focus on the vibrant energy I experienced on my visits there, it was a matter of working through the creative process to visualize that. I chose to adapt a solarization process influenced by the images of Man Ray and Edmund Teske, where tones of an image are reversed. Then, to further convey shifts in frequency, I created diptychs, triptychs, and layered collages. All of these methods were experimental for me and led me to further explore the print as a physical object. I also self-published my first book with this series of photos – a process I enjoyed and hope to do more of.
What is on the horizon ?
Right now I am immersed in the “Folding and Mending” project. Ideas keep coming for future pieces, so I imagine this body of work will engage me for at least the coming year. On the side, I always find inspiration for new images when I am out photographing. The “Folding” pieces take a lot of thought and planning – sometimes multiple prototypes before the finished editions. While that work is distilling, I find it helpful to have other nature-based work to stimulate my creativity.
Thank you Debra, to learn more about the work of Debra Achen please visit her site by clicking on her name.