Planting Rice, by Barbara Maloney

Rendering The Spirit: Interview with Barbara Maloney

What is your name?
Barbara Maloney

Where are you from?
I was born in Washington, DC, and live now in Howard County, Maryland, halfway between Washington and Baltimore.
 
How did you get into photography as an art medium?
Almost as soon as I got my first SLR, I took a photography class, where I learned to shoot, develop black and white film, and print.  I was smitten with every aspect of the process and began to see the world in terms of images. 
 
Which alternative processes do you practice?
I work primarily with temperaprint, which is a variation of gum bichromate, and polymer photogravure.

What attracted you to alternative processes in general?
I think that it was in the early 1990’s that Polaroid transfers became popular.  I loved the look of Polaroid color on watercolor paper, and I loved the beauty of imperfection and unpredictability of the process after having worked for several years making full range, full tone silver gelatin prints.  Within a rather short time, I was drawn to some of the more traditional historic processes.

What drew you to the specific media you practice?
I had the great fortune to live in London from 1993 to 2000.  During this time, I had the opportunity to take classes in alternative photographic processes with the late Peter Fredrick at Kingsway College.  We learned several historic techniques, like cyanotype, VanDyke brown, p.o.p., gum bichromate, etc.—all of which I quite liked… but it was Peter’s own process, temperaprint and also photo-etching that truly resonated with me.  
 
How does the choice of media influence your choice of subject matter (or vice versa)?
Subtly, I think.  I have a few on-going projects (windows & mirrors, the garden of sculptures, the C & O Canal, the watershed behind my house, for example) where I take photos that I know will eventually be printed as temperaprints or photogravures…but much of the time, I take photographs as a means of discovery & pleasure, without a great deal of thought as to the final image.  Some will translate beautifully as alternative prints; others will not. 

In today’s mobile, electronic world of instant communication and virtual sharing of images, how important is it to you to create hand-made images? 
It is very important to me.  I am delighted that photography has become so easy & so spontaneous, and that we are able to share photos instantaneously.  But it is pretty wonderful, as well, to be able to take some of our work many steps further, to create something that comes out of us as artists.  Perhaps it’s similar to the difference between a quick email relating events and a soulfully written poem.  Hand-made images have that quality.

Is your choice to practice alternative, hand-made photography a reaction to, a complement to, or not influenced by the world of digital media?
I would say that initially, there was no influence by the world of digital media.  I began working in alternative photography at a time when I was mostly making silver gelatin prints.  Now, the choice to practice hand-made photography is a complement to the world of digital media. 

Do you incorporate digital media into your alternative process work?
I shoot digitally and make my enlarged color separation negatives (used for temperaprint) and positives (for polymer photogravure) via my computer.  This is so much easier, faster, and more reliable than working in the darkroom.   
 
If so, how do you incorporate it?  Is it limited to mechanical reproduction technique, or does it inform/shape/influence the content of your work? 
I don’t limit myself to using digital techniques for sheer mechanical reproduction, but most of the digital manipulation that I make is small in comparison to what was originally seen and shot.  I’m in early stages of a new project, however, that references a time in the past of personal significance.  I suspect that digital compositing will play a greater role in my printmaking for these images.

What role do you see for hand-made/alternative process work in the art world of today?  Where do you see yourself in that world?
It seems to me that hand-made/alternative process work has an important role in the art world today.  Many artists are using historic and other hand-made processes to produce pieces with incredibly varied aesthetics.  There’s a fairly steep learning curve with much alternative work, but the rewards in terms of expressiveness and creative possibility are enormous.  My work tends to be quiet, contemplative, and pictorial.  I follow my heart every step of the way, and I truly feel like the handmade aspect of printmaking is necessary to complete my vision.

Planting Rice, by Barbara Maloney
Planting Rice, by Barbara Maloney

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