In this month's FOUND we get to know Sam Metzner, a North Carolinian born and bred who specializes in alternative forms of photography. Sam uses a combination of a historical chemical process plus the sun to print images onto paper and ornate mirrors, making cyanotypes. She, then, hand-colors each piece, creating a visually expressive and unique element to her work.
Check out our interview with Sam below to learn about the process, her inspiration, and where you can find more of her work. Be sure to follow Sam on Instagram @samantha.jade.art, on Facebook @s.jade.photographic.processess, and on her website for updates on new arrivals and to purchase her art.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m an artist currently based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I work primarily with alternative photographic processes such as cyanotypes and caffenol printing. Cyanotypes are a historic process, dating from the late 1800s, and involve contact printing onto surfaces coated with a ultraviolet sensitive chemistry containing ammonium iron(III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide. Caffenol printing is simply a nontoxic and environmentally friendly way to develop and produce darkroom prints. It substitutes traditional development for instant coffee, washing soda, and vitamin C.
What’s your background?
I am originally from North Carolina and received my BA in Photography from Guilford College. I moved back to the Chapel Hill area just a month ago after living in Iceland, Wyoming, and Maine.
When did you become interested in alternative photography?
It all started when I took my first photography class at Guilford College. My photo professor, Maia Dery, pioneered the usage of caffenol in the college’s darkroom and strongly encouraged experimentation with other methods. Throughout my four years at Guilford, I was given the freedom to explore various methods of photographic printmaking and got hooked on cyanotypes. I haven't stopped exploring that process and am still so excited about continuing to push myself within the medium.
What got you started?
I’ve been taking pictures since I was a kid. My mom is an artist who had a darkroom in the basement of my childhood home and I was really immersed in the whole photographic process while growing up. Saturday mornings involved waking up early and doing all sorts of photoshoots in the woods with my sister for my mom. Think Sally Mann-esque portraits. My uncle is also an artist and I think all of those constant influences got me thinking about art-making at a really early age, so a lot of my personal practice feels really intuitive because of that.
Tell us about your residency in Maine.
It’s called Art Camp and is a cooperatively-run residency for artists to explore and transform their art practices through intentional community and Quaker practice. I was one of ten artists participating and lived there for a total of four weeks. It proved to be incredibly transformative for my art practice and really provided the respite I needed to focus on my creative practice within a really supportive communal living situation.
Describe your creative process.
As far as shooting goes, I love to collaborate. Depending on what I want to print, I’ll go to a location with my models and have fun while keeping a collective vision. It’s important for me to keep the process open when shooting and let those I’m working with have a large role in the creative process.
When printing cyanotypes, I’ve recently been doing more collage-type prints, combining multiple images together within a composition so there is a lot of sorting and drafts that happens there before I finalize a composition. I’ve also been playing with hand-coloring over my prints, so creating multiples before I commit to a final piece is a very useful step. The hand coloring is really fun for me because it creates a different sort of concentration and physical awareness than shooting and printing.
What are your favorite mediums to work with?
I love printing cyanotypes because I get to be out in the sun watching the image being burned into the print, but the feeling of being in the darkroom and watching your print emerge from the developer is magical.
Who or what influences you and your art?
Recently, I’ve moved away from portraiture and started to focus more on landscapes. This came about because I was so inspired by the natural beauty out west and wanted to recreate it within my own vision. Being outside and active is really important to me, so finding a way to tie that into my art practice was huge. I am also always inspired by Sally Mann and her concepts revolving around discovering a sense of place and what it means to identify with physical landscapes.
Moonrise Over the Tetons
What’s the biggest challenge you face with your work?
Finding a time and space to keep creating. I don’t have a studio at the moment so that’s a huge challenge I’m trying to overcome. I’m thinking about converting my bathroom to a part-time darkroom. I am also working two other jobs, teaching yoga and working on a farm, to try and fund my art, so balancing all of that is hard but becoming easier as I prioritize my art practice and direct more of my energy to it.
What are you working on now?
I shot a bunch of film when I was living and traveling out west, so developing that is my biggest priority. After that is all done and archived, I cannot wait to begin printing it in the darkroom creating more cyanotypes.
Any favorite collaborations you’ve done recently?
During the Art Camp residency, I did a ton of shoots with the other artists who were also there which was immensely fun because they got to be around from the start of my creative process to the finish. It’s also incredibly refreshing to be working with other artists as so many ideas, concepts, and different perspectives get bounced around. This really contributes a lot to the depth of the work and gives it multifaceted meaning.
What’s the next step? What are you hoping to accomplish with your art?
The next steps, as always, are to keep printing. I just recently moved back to Chapel Hill and am in the process of finding studio space to keep printing. In the long-term, I really just want to get my work out there and continue educating people about handmade photographs. I also hope my work creates a dialogue about the concepts I am exploring, specifically the formations of identity in relation to physical places but also whatever else it may bring up for the viewers.
What’s been your favorite memory of the work you’ve done?
Figuring out how to print cyanotypes on mirrors. Cyanotypes are traditionally printed on cotton-based surfaces, but I wanted to print on vintage mirrors to take photography to a more interactive and sculptural place. This was the most laborious and time consuming process I’ve ever done but by far the most exciting to be involved with. It took me months to figure out the right balance of chemistry to get the cyanotypes to stick to the surfaces of the mirrors. So, after much research and countless hours in the studio, until four in the morning some nights, I finally was able to consistently print images on the surfaces of my mirrors without peeling or uneven coating. It was truly a magical moment seeing that whole series completed and installed in the gallery.
What’s your favorite part of the process?
The repetition and manual manipulation of the cyanotype printmaking process. When coating my paper, I tend to paint on the chemistry in circular motions, moving with my whole body to create the brushstrokes on the pages of my prints. The repetition is comforting in a way, giving me a familiar pattern of movement and thought to sort-of settle into while printing. It’s a really hands-on process that not only requires a lot of physical action, but also an acute awareness of a mind-to-body connection because almost all of my work is done in little-to-no light due to the sensitivity of my materials.
Where do you find your materials?
When making cyanotype prints, I just use that chemistry and print on watercolor paper but my series with the mirrors required lots of resourceful scrounging through hundreds of eBay, Craigslist, and Goodwill listservs. Also, lots of hours sorting through thrift stores; I once traveled almost 45 miles to a family’s house to pick up an antique mirror I found on Craigslist.
Can you walk us through what it’s like to make your art?
When printing cyanotypes, I start by my coating my paper in very little light using various sized paint brushes depending on the desired effect or vignetting. At this point, I’ve decided what I want to print and size the framing and way of coating my paper to the composition. The paper then dries, usually overnight, in a darkroom. I’ll come back and place my negatives sized exactly to fit on the paper in the way that I like and then take it all out in the sun to expose it. Finally, a wash is done to rinse off any excess chemistry and the print is dried. At this point it is usually done unless I want to make any final tweaks on the composition or add any hand coloring.
Anything you’d like to promote?
My online store! I’m selling reproductions of my most recent series. I’d love to have these out in the world and get some funding for more projects coming up.
All photos by Sam Metzner. Find more of her work and purchase your favorite at jadedispatch.bigcartel.com.
FOUND is a monthly series by Original Fuzz Magazine. We aim to discover visual artists from every corner of the world, no matter the background or creative vision. We believe that all art is as important to our culture as music, words, news, science, even religion. FOUND celebrates the visual and those who create it, serving as a platform for the creative pioneers who embody Original Fuzz and our products.
FOUND is brought to you by Liz Earle, a freelance writer and purveyor of curiosity and imagination in the arts. If you'd like to be a featured FOUND artist, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.