Writer and photography / Nancy Breslin
Nancy Breslin is engaged by memories in the form of cyanotypes, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
As traditional photographic methods wane, it always cheers me to see students embrace older processes. During a recent visit to Washington, DC, I visited the Corcoran Gallery of Art, where they currently have a number of exhibitions on display that I would recommend to any photographer, including “Roots and Links” (through July 14), “How Is the World? Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Photography” (through May 26), “Cynthia Connolly: Letters on Top of Buildings” (through June 23), and “David Levinthal: War Games” (through September 1, although it had not yet opened when I visited). In addition, much of the gallery space is taken up with “NEXT at the Corcoran 2013,” a show of work by students who are graduating from the Corcoran College of Art + Design. Having limited time, I breezed through the student show. However, I stopped and spent some time with one installation – Traci Marie Lee’s project, called “I really was there; I was never really there,” consisting of 300 cyanotypes printed on handkerchiefs.
One failing I see in much alt process work is that the technique and imagery don’t work together: random photos printed in a non-standard way do not suddenly become compelling. I found Lee’s work so engaging because cyanotype on fabric seemed to perfectly express her idea that memory, despite our urge to hold onto it, remains ephemeral. The handkerchiefs themselves, some vintage, represent the past in a concrete (although fluttery) way. The images Lee has chosen to print can be (appropriately enough) hard to see, but included what looked like old family photos, short texts of memories, and items such as lace and flowers that might be markers of beauty that is behind us. In her statement Lee mentions her grandmother, and as I walked around and under these gently swirling photographs, I felt some connection to the artist and her past.