Finding Your Voice with Carrie Mae Weems

Roy DeCarava

I attended the Carrie Mae Weems workshop at Filter Photo Festival yesterday.  Now my brain is swimming with questions.  The workshop was great except that we just couldn't fit everything in and we ran out of time.  It felt like we were just beginning to get to the central theme "Finding Your Voice" and then the workshop was over.  Nevertheless, I took away many positive things as far as work ethic, and asking tough questions about your work.  Here's a few key points that resonated with me:

 Finding your voice:

  • You only really change your work when there is a drastic change in yourself.
  • How do we know distinctly the voice of Nina Simone, the sound of John Coltrane? Discover what is your pattern, your rhythm, your notes... that are distinctly you.
  • Your voice is grounded in consistency, in a set of patterns
  • How do you develop a relationship from one image to the next one?

Work Ethic:

  • Taking your work seriously will help you find your voice.
  • The only way to deal with fear is to challenge it, to confront it. 
  • It is really important to exhibit your work - for it to be SEEN.  Whether it is in a gallery or in something you set up yourself.
  • We put things off because we are fearful.  Make the decision to commit. Make the commitment to WORK.
  • No excuses.  Get up earlier, stay up later.  Get it done. Do the work.

Lee Friedlander

Consider your audience:

  • How does the work create and foster dialog and discourse?
  • What kind of physical experience should the viewer have with your work?

Artist Statements

  • What is your approach and why?
  • What are the patterns that allow you to get close to the work, what allows you to get into a zone?
  • What is the CORE of your work?
  • For each proposal, exhibition, etc, the artist statement sets up a framework for your work.  How does it fit into the concept of the exhibition, etc?


  • Voice is developed by consistency over time.  The only way to get consistent is to write, to play, to journal
  • Things burning in your head have been there a long time.  Write them down

And other things Weems mentioned to me that stuck in my mind:

Too Sweet?

  • Woo - look at that LIGHT and COLOR!  Beautiful.
  • Your images are too sweet
  • You love light, color, pattern. But what is your point? You have to find the core idea
  • Look at Roy DeCarava's images of family.  Lee Friedlander's shadow images.

I really wish we had had more time!  This was a good kick in the rear though for me to get moving, to get thinking about where I want to go next.  Do I accept the challenge of trying to make pictures that are not saturated in sticky sweetness?  Carrie Mae Weems basically confirmed some of my suspicions.  Is it possible for a mother to make pictures of an adorable toddler that are not so sweet? Or is it okay to revel in sweetness occasionally?  To me, the picture to the right has quite a bit of seriousness to it.  The weight of responsibility the parent feels, the overwhelming task of caring for a tiny human being.  But perhaps that is my own subjective interpretation.  What do you see?


Cyanotypes & Platinum Palladium Prints

4 different versions of Jesse & Ruby

I finally got around to taking some pics of the cyanotype prints I made this summer.  All prints involve hand-painting emulsion onto the paper in darkness prior to exposure.  The blue prints are "straight" cyanotypes - unaltered by toning.  The prints with slight or heavy brown tints have been toned with varying amounts of tannic acid (tea).  The prints that show no remaining signs of blue have been bleached all the way so the blue color disappears, then toned multiple times with tannic acid to get a rich brown color.  Some of the images are split-toned (they have both blue & brown tones) due to minimal bleaching which helps to retain some of the blue color from the original cyanotype print. 

The platinum palladium prints are a more involved, and much more expensive process that involves mixing individual drops of chemistry and carefully coating the paper.  Then you put the print through several different chemicals to develop the image. It was so much fun getting my hands dirty this summer! 

I learned a lot from my very knowledgeable instructor, Hans Klemmer.

*Click on images to view them at a larger size.

Abstracts of snow and shadows, shot with a Holga

A few older images from various projects

3 versions of "30 weeks" and a toned print of "Ruby at Her Table"

Platinum Palladium prints. The top one was printed from a digital negative with more contrast.

Pavones in August

One week ago I landed at O'Hare right about now... just after a 2 week trip to Pavones, Costa Rica.  I went to visit my sister, to take Ruby to Pavones, to relax, to photograph.  I shot a lot of pictures.  I haven't even gone through all of them yet. Too much to do with the new semester starting up.  In fact, I sat down to make this post because I am asking some of my students to blog, which reminded me that I have not posted a blog entry in awhile!


Anyway, there was an image that stuck out in my mind from shooting during this last trip.  It stood out in my mind as I was shooting it, in fact.

Kids Playing in Punta Banco

The light in Pavones is so lovely.  Every time I go it is a little different depending on the time of year.  This year there was a gauzy, thickness to the air.  It was the intense humidity combined with the salt in the air from the ocean.  It was visible, it was tangible.  I tried to capture some of that while I was there. The above image will probably be added to my de Pavones  series.

The photograph to the right will be probably be added to my shadow patterns series (seriously need to come up with a good title for that one).

Getting Back on the Horse

Taking an alternative processes class this summer has been great for me as an artist.  It has given me permission to have fun making new work.  (Wow - what a concept! I had forgotten art-making should be fun!)  And I'm trying to "get back on the horse" as far as submitting work for shows.  I just have been too overwhelmed by motherhood to even think about showing work.  I went back through my images from the past year and half and discovered a few that I might have overlooked.  I narrowed it down to 3 images I plan on submitting to a show.  This work is still new, but I think there is promise here. 

Ruby at her Table... and some things I've been working on

I've been playing a lot with alternative techniques for printing images.  I'm taking a class one night a week and thoroughly enjoying the structured time to think about and make photographs.  I think I might use this image of Ruby to make a chlorophyll print, a print on a leaf. 

Here are a few prints I made utilizing materials from my yard and garden.  These first ones are anthotypes. They are printed on paper using an emulsion I made from marigolds, pineapple sage, rose, or a combination of two of those plants. The last photo shows prints made using the chlorophyll printing process.

I have also made some cyanotypes and toned cyanotypes.  I'll post some pics of those when I get a chance.

New Photo

AND... she's napping!  Here's a new photo I took yesterday of Ruby and Jesse hanging out in the studio.  I may do a little more editing... but here's the RUFF draft

Nap Time is MY Time

The life of a full-time, summertime mommy... Nap time becomes MY time.  Morning naps usually consist of a quick shower for me.  Afternoon naps are when I can get a few things done.  Like downloading and importing photos into my Lightroom catalog.  Or making a couple prints, or retouching dust on scanned images.  If I'm lucky I get a full hour to myself.  That's a big IF... right now I'm watching little Ruby on the monitor and she's rolling around in her crib and fighting her nap.  So for today this might be it, just enough time for a blog post.  Oh well, it's something right?  Gotta utilize every spare minute!  Next scheduled "me" time will be about 8:15 pm, once she's gone down for the night.

New Photo

I like the perspective of this one, but somehow it just isn't quite working for me.  I think I prefer when the shadows are cast onto non-natural surfaces...


Job interviews... no matter how much I prepare or how many of them I have had ... I always feel as if it is the first time.  I had a phone interview today for a job I would really love.  It went okay, but of course as soon as it was over I realized all the things I should've said or could've said better.  I could've given more specifics.  It is just so hard not to get flustered when you know you are on the spot.  Mostly I am relieved it is over.  It wasn't a total failure I don't think.  And hopefully I will make it to the next round in the process.  We shall see!

Making Time for Art

Ruby and I, March 2014

Ruby and I, March 2014

As a new mom, I have struggled with balancing the demands of motherhood, work, and art-making.  How do you find time for each role? I find I have to be very disciplined and think of art-making as one of my jobs.  Just as I have to be at work at specific times and have a routine for my daughter's bedtime, I have to carve out specific times to work on photography.  But I have to admit, making art these days sometimes takes a backseat to making a living and making sure my daughter's needs are met.  How do you find time to create?