Baring Section © Laurie Beck Petersion
Laurie Beck Peterson’s work was a Work of Merit recipient in the 2021 Rfotofolio Call.
“I appreciate the concept of documenting what remains— the spaces we leave behind. This compelling series looks to the landscape, documenting the literal spaces left behind from felled ash trees, destroyed by the emerald ash borer infestation. The images themselves point to the devastation of a forest, but they also serve to reveal the dynamic nature and impermanence of the landscape. Printing in the 19th century process of cyanotype, the artist elevates these forgotten tree stumps to both canvas and sacred object- a kind of “totem” that serves as a historical document, and as an omen. I very much appreciate this unique work, especially how the ravaged tree stumps become an integral part of the landscape images printed on them.” Diana Bloomfield
Would you please tell us about yourself?
I was born into a family of professional musicians and was raised, along with my older brother (also a musician), in Rochester NY. My life dream was to become a professional ballet dancer, however after a short but informative time studying ballet in NYC, I stopped dancing and turned to the visual arts. My parents gave me a camera as a high school graduation present. Shortly following graduation from college, I had the good fortune of landing a job at Eastman Kodak Co., as one of their in house photographers. My time there launched me into a 33 year commercial photography career, which eventually took a back seat to my commitment to alternative process work. I now work as an artist and teacher in Philadelphia, which has been my home for the past 37 years.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I received my BFA from Syracuse University, studying in both the fine arts program and S.I. Newhouse School of Communications. 20 years later I studied non-silver photography at The University of The Arts. I continue to seek out opportunities to attend workshops and learn new techniques.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
Many people have influenced my creative process – photographers, painters and family, but my greatest influence has been Sarah VanKeuren, my mentor at UARTS, who taught me how to explore process work freely and without expectation. When I am making art or teaching I often find myself channeling Sarah and following her guidance.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
Moonrise, Mamaroneck, by Edward Steichen has had a lasting effect on me. I first studied this image when I was learning process work in the early 2000’s. The multiple layers of gum bichromate build up to create a depth and tone that alter the landscape. I admire the complexity of this image which was produced in 1904, using a single negative and without the technology and tools we employ today.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson.
The image of mine that taught me an important lesson is “Nude #1”, a gum bichromate image of my daughter’s legs in water. I made CMYK separations to work from, but for some reason I did not produce the image in process color. Instead I used various shades of black pigment for each color separation, ignoring the assigned color channels. The incredible depth in the work opened my eyes to respond to each layer and not to pre-visualize my work. The results set me on a path of monochromatic gum bichromate figurative and landscape pieces.
Please tell us about the work you submitted to the Rfotofolio Call.
The work I submitted to the Rfotofolio Call is from the series, “We All Fall Down”. The work begins as a documentation of the leafless landscape at The Schuylkill Environmental Center in Philadelphia. The pieces record the time when affected ash trees were intentionally removed due to the Emerald Ash Borer infestation. The cyanotype prints on paper were initially intended to be studies that I would eventually print onto the remnant wood stumps, however as I began working I realized the importance these prints held as markers in time for this changing forest. A variety of the images from my survey are printed in cyanotype on various sized wood pieces, along with photograms of the dying leaves from the felled trees. I consider these wood stumps to be totems marking a significant point in environmental history, and while they are no longer integral to the forest, their “remand” stumps are now colluding with the cyanotype for the remainder of their existance. This body of work was my first attempt at working in 3D, and has been an entrance to considering future work in both 2D and 3D.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding.
The unexpected surprises.
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
When nothing seems to work, I go back to the basics and make photograms with plant life, small works from my Instagram feed or scanned images of things I find here and there, such as bird eggs, nest pieces and other discarded objects of nature. This work never starts out having any meaning or expectation but it frees me up to create and I eventually find my way into new work. The process of coating paper in any process I please, and making exposures for no particular body of work, seems to unlock a new path. I just need to do the work and the rest will follow.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
The quality of light and the seasons. I am always keenly aware of my surroundings and how the light and time of day is effecting the images I choose to photograph. Since most of my photography takes place in the bare landscape of the fall, winter and early spring, I can make use of how the late afternoon light shapes the trees and forests they inhabit. When these images are eventually printed in various processes or on different surfaces such as tree stumps or on leaves, I have found that starting with an image that has a good, rich quality of light, usually results in a better final piece.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
I often think about working in collodion but never seem to jump in and give it a try. I have been the sitter for others working in the process but maybe it’s time to get behind the camera.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
My art continues to remind me to slow down and see. To embrace the cycles of life.
How has the pandemic influenced your work methods ? Or has it?
The pandemic was a huge stumbling block for me at the beginning. I found myself becoming more and more frustrated with artists being asked to show seminal pieces from the pandemic. Truth was, I was paralyzed and couldn’t even make work. I didn’t even enter my studio for several months. Slowly, I began making cyanotype exposures at home in my driveway and then things started opening up.
At the same time, I was struggling to teach my photo process students through Zoom in a way that was meaningful and enriching. I had prepared boxes of supplies for them to pick up so we could print together using the sun. We mailed postcard size prints to each other for the midterm project so we could physically see and touch pieces of art, not just look at them on the screen. The students exceeded my expectations and made outstanding work in their small apartments, dorm rooms and childhood bedrooms.
I decided to join them in on-line learning, to experience it for myself as a student instead of the instructor. I enrolled in an online plant based printing course. This decision has been the biggest pandemic influence by far. Using materials found in nature, relying on the sun and weather and embracing the ephemeral nature of the work was comforting. My work has always addressed the natural and man made decay of nature, but working in this way, outside of my studio, with limited tools, has had a profound effect on how I think about my work going forward.
What’s on the Horizon?
I have become quite interested in sustainable plant based printing. I’ve just started to investigate combining my chlorophyll prints with sound using biosensors or Arduino to convert their biological and visual data into sound which I will then incorporate into the works. So I believe this will be what’s next.
To learn more about the work of Laurie Beck Peterson please visit her site by clicking on her name.