Leah Sobsey - Natural Magic, Words of Light: Cyanotypes
January 8 - 29, 2012
The Horace Williams House, 610 East Rosemary Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Tuesday - Friday 10am - 4pm + Sundays 1 - 4pm
Leah Sobsey's beautiful exhibition of tea-toned cyanotypes in various shades of inky blue and black, pale fleshy pink and sepia, tan and chocolate of organic matter - a bird's nest full of speckled eggs, animal bones, plants and moths - are not made in the tradition of botanist Anna Atkins' blue contact prints of algae, plants, and flowers. Sobsey photographs her subject matter and then converts the image into a large-scale digital negative, prints it as a cyanotype in the sun, and tones them in tea. This provides an uncanny viewing experience as the scale of a bird's egg and moth is the same as an animal's jawbone and delicately flowering plant. Through the presentation of many images in grid-formation and the manipulation of scale, Sobsey works towards a more scientific or taxonomic approach. Rather than ghostly and abstract white shadows of the real things, Sobsey represents each object with extreme photographic detail that is then rendered poetic through the cyanotype and tea-toning process.
The most powerful photograph in the show is the one of a field of indigo blue in which two pale pink moths hover. They are not pinned down but they are still, unable to fly. Oriented vertically on the paper, one on top of the other, they seem to want to ascend but they are forever held in a bath of hovering and smudged blue. (The blue holds variation in the surface due to hand-applying the light-sensitive chemicals on the paper.) This
This new body of work, Natural Magic, Words of Light, evolved out of a month- long stay at the Grand Canyon as the National Parks 2010 Artist In Residence. Sobsey studied and photographed specimens in the Grand Canyon Museum Collection from the earliest days of collecting at the park (1920’s) to the present. Sobsey writes in her artist statement, "Different from Bernd and Hilla Becher's "cataloging” and Anna Atkins “direct documentation,” I work at the intersection of science, art and wonder, and the exploration of photographic historical processes intertwined with digital technology. I'm interested in the bridging of history, both technologically and metaphorically, as a way to connect to the present and explore process as a concept and metaphor."
I imagine these magical images of desert and canyon specimens to be an archive of: things that may soon disappear due to uranium mining or climate change; organic matter that will eventually decay; specimens chosen by the artist for their bone beauty and fragile existence; the shift from 1800s technology through the century of every kind of photograph up to our digital era. Sobsey's archive makes us want to observe the natural world more closely and to preserve it, however that futile that effort may seem.