Stable or Mostly Stable © Lisa Nebenzahl

Lisa Nebenzahl is the 2023 Denis Roussel Award recipient.

“I love this work for all of the languages it is speaking and for the obvious love of the craft on display. In a contemporary context, your work is profoundly emotional, lighter than air,
moisture laden, and ironically, reconstructed and housed in geometric form. For me, the work explores the vulnerability of our environmental existence and the abstracted concept of archiving little preserved and contained pieces of it that are “suitable for framing” … a natural history of inevitable change… in nature as well as life. Denis Roussel would have loved this work I think. Wondering if you have looked at German Sculpture Thomas Demand’s work with paper? Or perhaps Berndaut Smilde’s clouds within rooms? For me the work is precious and sad in the same moment. ”Christopher James

Would you please tell us about yourself?

I came to Minneapolis from my hometown Evanston, Illinois in the late 1970’s to attend art school. I spent my youth and twenties working in photography, printmaking, sculpture and film. Then I began a 35-year career working as a documentary producer and raised a child, which consumed most of my creative energy and left my studio practice dormant for decades. My path back to my art began after the death of my closest friend in 2012. Processing the mystery of death and grief led me to a new kind of freedom and courage and I rediscovered my creativity.

Over the last nine years I have returned to my roots, focusing my attention on developing a visual language upon which to build a body of work.My current practice involves experimentation with the elements of chance and surprise, working with multiple-layered montage photography, alternative and historical printing processes, letterpress printing, case-making and photo constructions. I explore fragility, resilience, loss, grief, persistence and the passage of time. Using shadow, light and manipulation of the natural world of plants, flowers, water and sky, I’m seeking to affirm the beauty and melancholy of change and express the temporal nature of life.

Embracing chance and surprise, I weave these elements into my practice as I observe and respond to the natural world. My work explores abstraction and play, with a nod to the mystery of the subject matter. I’m attempting to provide a lens with which to view the natural world; an ephemeral and complex realm.

Please tell us about the portfolio you submitted to the Denis Roussel Award.

I submitted a new body of work I call Box Works. These objects continue my interest in exploring case-making using beautiful bookcloths and papers. I was initially inspired by a pasta box that I saved and played with. I enjoyed the aperture on the box that frames the inner box in a kind of dioramic way. Within the boxes are my constructed photographs. These constructions hold images of clouds, water and shadows. The BoxWorks project continues my consideration of the photograph as object and the elusive qualities of the natural world. They invite us to enter a space where abstraction, landscape and nature share space.

My exploration of folding and constructing new images in three-dimensions creates new ways to observe and experience shifts and changes in the natural world. The constructed photographs are made with archival printed rice papers and cyanotype prints in the shapes of pentagonal dipyramids, octahedrons, square trapezohedrons and cuboctahedrons. The constructions are housed in hand crafted cases covered in book cloth, Cave and Canson papers

Please tell us about your process. 

My process is a lot about process,meaning I employ multiple photographic and print making techniques to create each work.

I use cyanotype, photogravure, letterpress printing and paper construction in my work. I am a gatherer of images; I don’t typically set out to make a single, stand alone image. I compile images and store them away for later use in my constructions and projects. Once I’ve made decisions about the direction of a new project I consider what kind of media I will work with; photogravure printing,case-making,cyanotype,digital printing, etc.

I choose processes based on my intuition, my current interests, the seasons, and what access I have to a printmaking studio. For example, I process all of my cyanotypes in the sun so this work must be done in the summer unless I’m fortunate enough to be working in the winter somewhere warm!

Do you enjoy the process itself or is it just a means to an end?

Yes, process is a very important part of my workflow.Oftentimes the process itself leads to two of my treasured states of work—surprise and serendipity.

How long have you been practicing this process?

I’ve been working with cyanotype printing and 3D photography for six years.

Do you have a mentor or a teacher that has helped your journey?

My friend Keith Taylor has worked with me on many projects over the last few years. Keith is a photographer and printmaker using traditional, historical and contemporary photo processes, as well as the book arts. I’ve worked with Keith almost from the beginning of my re-entry. He taught me platinum printing, photogravure and box building. My work with Keith has been invaluable; he is a consummate craftsman and a great teacher

I’ve also had the good fortune of having Susan Kae Grant mentor me during my 2 year 2020 McKnight Books Fellowship. Susan is a remarkable artist and influential lens-based artist, educator, and early proponent of photographic book arts. We Zoomed for months during the production of my project “THE CHICO POEMS” and Susan’s critiques and demonstrations have been important to my growth in the book arts and her insight and vast knowledge has been invaluable to my work.

How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?

There are times when taking a break from the studio is necessary. I like to spend time outdoors when I need to re-focus or think about solving an issue in my work. I feel like it’s important to change the channel. I’ve also started to trust the ebb and flow of the work. My process is intuitive and I trust that the spark will ignite when the time is right.

What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?

The point where the image and the process spark a pathway to new work or new considerations. The images I work with are simple; clouds, plants, shadows, water—for me it’s thrilling when my images find themselves in a new context.

What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?

I love my Kutrimmer paper cutter which I use for cutting bookboard for box making. Bone folders are a must. I rely on my Epson 3880 printer when making archival prints. I have an aluminum sheet viewing wall with magnets to hold prints and papers for looking at my work progress, which I love.Most of my photographs are made with an iPhone. Materials are also essential to my work; in particular paper inspires me to take creative risks and try new approaches.

What’s on the horizon?

I’m beginning a new body of work combining cyanotype printing with Chine Collé and photogravure printing. Chine Collé is a process in which finer, more delicate papers are bonded onto a more sturdy paper during the printing process.

I’m also working on a project printing and building a series of rice paper lanterns. The lanterns carry cyanotype images and are lit from within with small LED lights. I’m currently working on ways to construct the lanterns and that is a journey in itself.

To learn more about the work of Lisa Nebenzahl please visit her page by clicking on her name.

Featured Comments

“Lovely work and I’d make a piece of art out of Christopher’s comment, Lisa. Incorporate his words.. Both beautiful. Both art.”Elizabeth Opalenik

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