Zoë Zimmerman Statement
Elements of Containment
An artist’s statement by
The work presented in this show is a departure; not a dramatic one, for some aspects of these new
images do relate to my older work. It is a departure along the lines of going for a walk as opposed to
getting on a train. Put simply, I have begun to look inward to find my images whereas I used to look out.
In order to create that early work I became a conduit between a reality which provoked an
emotional response from me and a fixed image which (if successful) had the power to evoke a similar
emotion in the viewer. My modus operandi for those years was much as Henri Cartier Bresson described
it: what the eye does is to find and focus on the particular subject within the mass of reality: what the
camera does is simply register upon film the decision made by the eye.
As I begun using large format cameras and utilizing antique and obsolete photographic processes,
I also began to reject this ‘decisive moment’ school of thought.
My recent works exemplify this rejection on two levels. Firstly there is the exclusion of the ‘mass
reality.’ The images are created rather than found. There is a rearrangement of the sequence of events that
leads to the existence of the image. The emotion (the looking in) is identified initially and brings about the
motivation to create the image. An image which illustrated a state of being or an emotional state.
The other level is a rejection of the ‘decisive’ aspect. Much of this work consists of diptychs
which are in essence very short movies. There is movement involved and an enticing ambiguity created.
These images purposefully raise more questions than they satisfy. They speak of ones fascination with
twins. Are we compelled by their difference or their similarity? They address duality.
The process of creating a photographic image (or any image for that matter) is fraught with
decision, with choice; which negative to print, which print to present.
The diptychs strive to reveal something of this process of choosing by including choices for the
viewer. I have essentially solidified an ‘indecisive moment.’
As pertains to the content of the work I have concerned myself with certain states of being which I
have experienced. It is a dialogue with the world loosely based on experiences of my child bearing years; a
saga of mindful waiting, of containment, of primal elements, bodies of water, growing, thawing, burning. I
believe birth and death to be the only true mysteries left and each contains an element of the other.
Once when I was somewhat vulnerable emotionally, I came across an image made by Julia
Margaret Cameron in 1865. In the foreground of the picture is a half-naked child of perhaps two years old,
prone on a velvet divan with his head turned toward the viewer and his eyes closed. Behind him in profile
is a young woman.
The title of the picture read ‘Shunamite woman and her dead son.’
When I read the title, I began to cry, suddenly struck by the profound sadness of the document.
But then I looked more closely at the photograph. The boy’s shirt is gathered awkwardly under his arms
revealing the entirety of his belly, loins and legs. Knowing the entirely unspontaneous nature of picture
making in 1865 it became instantly obvious to me that the boy was not dead at all.
The reason for not straightening his shirt and presenting him more like the formal postmortem
portraits of the time was that the photographer did not want to risk waking the sleeping child and ruining
her tableau. I was instantaneously comforted by the knowledge that the boy in the picture was not dead. .
.and then it occurred to me that seeing as the picture was taken over 130 years ago, indeed at the time I was
viewing it, not only the boy but the young woman and the photographer were dead as well. This
knowledge however did not bring me to tears.
This experience raised a question in me about the inherent nature of photographs. Most of them
have death in them somewhere. Because the moment depicted in the image is forever gone and what we
see is only a shadow.
But it also brought up another point for me. Often, we see and react to what we are told to see and
react to. Artists can be deceptive in how they evoke an emotion or response to their work. For example
Joel Peter Witkins’ photograph ‘Woman Breastfeeding an Eel’ has always intrigued me, but it’s the title
that gives it weight. I see no eel when I look at the image. But when we read the title we want to see the
eel suckling, we want the Victorian boy to be dead, we long to be manipulated, really. To be moved.
In this age of digital photography and computer enhanced imagery, manipulation is only a click
away and I wonder if the truly fantastical, the honestly fantastical in photography could be a thing of the
past. Though I have spoken both of a rejection of reality and an attraction to manipulation when it comes
to the tradition of image making, my methods remain antediluvian. The photographs presented in this
show are perhaps performances of a sort, but each still represents a real event.
At the turn of the last century Albumen printing, previously the most popular form of photographic printmaking, became obsolete. It was ousted by gelatin silver paper which was and is a more dependable, stable and easily mass-manufactured method of printing. It was not, however , more beautiful. The albumen print has a subtle delicacy and clarity of detail that has not been surpassed by advances in photographic technology.
And so, at the turn of this century I find myself immersed in the antediluvian methods of printmaking which were surrendered to convenience and affordability over one hundred years ago. Presently gelatin silver printing is losing it's footing to digital photography for much the same reasons.
After years spent mastering the traditional techniques of albumen printing, I have continued in my exploration of the process, taking up where the practitioners of the 1800s left off. My prints are produced by means of my own recipe and method, using the traditional albumen print as a general reference. I have not invented a new process so much expanded on the capabilities of an old one.