Robyn Moore’s portfolio Being in the Land was chosen as outstanding work in the 2021 Denis Roussel Award.
Pretty exciting work for me to look at and think about. My first reaction was totally around the idea of cinema, specifically, Ingmar Bergman. The photopolymer gravures are really well done, so much so that the content became immediately more important than the technique… an attribute we need a lot more of in alternative process photography. I really like the concept of memory embodied in the landscape and latent embedded impressions made visible. Excellent work! Christopher James
Would you please tell us about yourself?
Currently I am an Associate Professor of Photography at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky. I work primarily with photo-based media including experimental film and photopolymer gravure printmaking. I am particularly interested in the material qualities of experimental and alternative photo-based processes and love to explore photographic materiality as a way to give shape and tactile form to the many invisible forces and entities that surround us.
Where did you get your photographic training?
My experience in photography and film is a subtle mix of self-guided experimentation and discovery with lots of formal, academic education. For example, I have an MA in Photography from Western Carolina University; an MFA in Experimental Film and Photography from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University; and a practice-based PhD in Visual Arts (Photomedia) from Sydney College of the Arts at the University of Sydney in Australia. However, all my printmaking knowledge has been arrived at through my own experimentation and desire to learn photo-based printmaking processes—mainly because I have fallen in love with the unique material nature of print!
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
First and foremost I have to thank all my art and art history teachers ever for their time, energy, guidance and empathy. I cannot imagine being a practicing artist without the help, care and concern I have experienced through my teachers. Even now I still think about them all and look to them in my imagination for inspiration and help during the dark times especially. Cathryn Griffin at WCU and Anne Ferran at SCA are two of the most amazing artists and mentors I have ever had.
My undergraduate degree was actually in Art History and I am so thankful for that. Having extensive knowledge of the history of images is vital to being able to know and assess my own work. I’m always thinking of Rembrandt as I make etchings!
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
I find fossils and photographs of fossils to be incredibly powerful. I see fossils themselves as the first photographs, really. It’s so moving that natural materials—sediment, minerals, water, etc.—have the ability to capture the last moments of a living being’s struggle to live, transform those moments and that being into rock through time, and then deliver them to our eyes and hands millions of years later. I love art images as much as anyone but for me it’s really the images of nature that are the most influential.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
I’d say anything I make has a lesson to share—I feel there is always something that an image shares with you especially if you are looking to move a project forward or to be more experimental with a project. You definitely have to be attentive and open to those messages, though.
Recently, one of the most interesting lessons was from my image Being in the Land (Skybridge). This was the very first photopolymer gravure I made for this project. After I washed out the plate I noticed these curved lines on either side of the image which were not in the image itself—what had I done to create these marks that may have ruined the plate??? I was pretty upset…until I printed the plate and realized those marks really added something to the image. This was a major turning point in the making of photopolymer gravures—I went from trying for the “perfect” print with “perfect” tonal ranges and photographic verisimilitude to wanting to create something much more evocative, atmospheric and uncontrollable. I now experiment wildly with different kinds of mark-making techniques! It turns out those marks were made by the foam brush I was using for washout—I was pressing it too aggressively onto the plate and the plastic paddle inside the brush was rubbing against it through the entire washout process. I still use that brush for wash out.
Please tell us about the work you submitted to the Denis Roussel Awards.
Being in the Land is a series of photographic works inspired by my desire to make contact with the memory and intelligence embodied by landscapes. By making aspects of the land’s more latent phenomena visible and material I hope to understand more about its biological capabilities, significance and meaning. I am always chasing ways to give shape to these potencies that haunt me—what seems to me to be the affective power of the land. I rely on my art practice to cultivate empathy and the imagining of others’ worlds, lives, histories and experiences and, in so doing, hope for a kind of access to forces and entities otherwise lost or unknown.
The works submitted to the Denis Roussel Awards are photopolymer gravure prints. I work with this process because it is unpredictable, giving and revelatory. Indeed, I feel the open, experimental nature of this process allows me to access what cannot be seen with a more conventional sense of sight. The inky sensuousness of photopolymer gravure allows me to explore the viscerally-felt, deeply-imbricated emotional and psychological potencies of what persists in the land: human histories, animal histories, the bodies of deep time and the limits of our own knowledge. By harmonizing the conceptual properties of photography with the material properties of intaglio printmaking I hope the images from Being in the Land might help materialize and amplify this feeling of presence inherent in all landscapes.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?
Oddly, I don’t feel any one stage of image-making is more rewarding than the others. I love photographing in the landscape—making the raw material for a new work—and the complete absorption I feel whilst exploring the landscape. But I also love the more creative aspects of the digital editing process and the playfulness of the plate-making process. I have to admit that I want to love the actual printing process more but it’s pretty stressful for me—mostly because I am so invested in the work and I want the image to be successful. I really need to learn to relax during this process! I also love the moment that the prints are made and I can simply start having a conversation with the finished work—that is really when I can begin to know what actually has happened with the work and what it is really about. It takes me a long time to understand this, though, especially as I don’t really start with a concept…I start with more of a feeling that eventually reveals its conceptual leanings to me (hopefully).
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
I tend to work on more than one project at a time. This way if something is not working in a project I can pivot to another project and work on that for a time. The down side to this may be that it takes me some time to make a “finished” body of work. Most of my projects last years no matter what happens. I also read and write quite a lot which helps me cope when things are not going as I want them to.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
Mental gymnastics. Sense of humor. Empathy for self and world. Physical activity and exercise. Belief that art-making provides a path to richer and more nuanced knowledge—that for me it may hold the key to everything.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
I really want to learn how to make woodcut blocks with a laser cutter! I’d love to be able to make huge photo-based woodcut prints! I’m on the lookout for a good workshop to learn this process. The work of Jimin Lee is spectacular and truly inspiring.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
Making art is the truest and really only way for me to make contact with myself. Making art allows me to see what is possible—with my own mind as well as with images themselves. I’m with Werner Herzog—we need adequate images—and it may take the rest of my life to make them (if I am fortunate to make any at all).
How has the pandemic influenced your work methods ? Or has it?
The facilities at the school where I teach are quite good. I have access to a great photo lab as well as a printmaking studio. And as I have been teaching face-to-face since the pandemic hit I have been lucky enough to still have access to these labs.
What is on the horizon?
I have entire journals with pages of ideas! I’m sort of a slow worker (not by choice) and so as soon as I finish one project I’m (hopefully) ready for the next one. Right now I’m still working on Being in the Land and will be doing so for at least another year or so. I’ve also started a new landscape project that is in a super experimental phase—which allows me the freedom to play and experiment that I don’t have with a project that has sort of already defined itself. And I’m also committed to habitual experimentation with no project in mind. For example, I have quite a collection of “biological objects”—fossils, bones, rocks, etc.—that I have been looking at “with” the materiality of photography and printmaking. That is why I love both so much—they both have a forensic capability that allows me to see and touch the foundational elements of life that are so often withheld from view.
To learn more about the work of Robyn Moore please visit her site by clicking on her name.
These are stunning. I love Robyn’s statement, too, and I would love to see these in person one day. Diana Bloomfield