Svjetlana Tepavcevic Statement

Artist Statement

Means of Reproduction Statement

For five years I have been collecting seeds and seed pods from various plants I encounter in my surroundings. They fascinate me in part because they are infinitely varied and ubiquitous yet unfamiliar and even strange. They inspire me to ponder the complexity of life, the nature of time, and how we humans relate to the natural world today, when nature has become more exotic than modern technology.

I read that all plant life on earth evolved from a single species that transitioned from sea to land. Infinity from singularity. Scientists say this is how the universe began. When I look at a tree with hundreds or thousands of seeds, I see that tree as a universe unto itself. Shaped over millions of years of evolution, each seed on that tree stands for the kind of time we humans cannot perceive. Each successful seed determines the character and destiny of the next tree.

This project builds on Karl Blossfeldt's book Art Forms in Nature, published in 1928. Like Blossfeldt, I am concerned with design and form. I am also concerned with color and with the concept that Georgia O'Keeffe, in her 1938 painting, called poetically “the faraway nearby” -- the macro embodied within the micro. In my large-scale prints, I isolate the one from the many and enlarge each subject many times without regard for its actual size relative to others. Haloed, they float in a minimalist color field, an illusion of a seemingly empty space. Inspired by Irving Penn's “Small Trades” and Richard Avedon's large portraits, I aim to bring the concept of portraiture to the still-life genre.

I believe that to understand the world, sometimes we need to focus on the small detail, look hard at what is close to us, and glean a picture of the whole from these small insights. I hope that this personal collection of images will illuminate some aspect of life's amazing transformative power.

The Sea Inside Statement

The Sea Inside (Portraits of Waves) is a series of abstract black-and-white images exploring the energy, complexity and individuality of ocean waves. More than simply being photographic representations, the images in The Sea Inside are unique and subjective interpretations, imbued with my emotional connection to the sea.

The sea has always had a magnetic effect on me. Growing up in Bosnia, I spent summers at the Adriatic Sea. The rest of the year I longed to be near it, often remembering my long, solitary evening swims when, far from the shore, only the glow of the day's last light and the deep darkness of the sea seemed to exist. I found unspeakable beauty and peace in my deep seawater solitude.

In the summer of 2008, a world away from the Adriatic Sea, I began to photograph waves. The desire was instinctive and almost inexplicable. Now my eyes beheld the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans, vast and mighty waters quite different from the calm cove of the Adriatic I once knew and still know in my memories. Ocean waves are untamable, but I photographed them as if I could somehow tame them, as if I could calm them and find peace inside them.

Fraught with dualities and complexities, waves are a metaphor for life. Mysterious and violent, at once they symbolize birth and destruction; force and fragility; chaos and peace. The same force that gives them life takes it away, often in the course of a human breath. Waves come and go, too fast for the eye to focus on their fleeting gestures, so our minds find comfort in their predictability and similarity. And yet, no two waves are ever alike -- they embody the idea of the infinite.

When I look at waves, I see invisible winds carving and crushing nameless sculptures never to be seen again. I also see reflections of myself as if I disappeared among waves. “It is a place of faith,” Ondaatje wrote of the desert. The same could be said of the sea. For me it is a place of consolation, a place where my faith in life is renewed.

Process Statement

With their deep, rich blacks and subtle tonal variations, the prints in the The Sea Inside (Portraits of Waves) portfolio resemble hand-made drawings. People often ask how I get the effects in my prints. All effects in my work come from the choices I make about how to use the tools with which I work. Those choices are guided by the vision for the project. I always endeavor to be in full control of my tools. What I cannot control -- and wouldn’t wish to control -- is the subject. Waves are unpredictable. They always surprise me.

The images are photographs. Everything that’s in an image is recorded by the camera in a single exposure. From the beginning of the project, I have followed my intuition. I knew I wanted to capture the motion and energy of the water in a particular way. Relying on longer exposures, I record with the camera what the eye cannot see.

While I work with modern digital tools, at heart I am a traditional artist. I am deeply committed to the craft and art of making the print and to the printed picture as an object. My aesthetic comes from my knowledge of the zone system of exposure on black-and-white film and the traditional darkroom printing. The adjustments I make in these prints are akin to adjustments one would make in traditional printing, only digital tools allow for more control and precision. With inkjet printers, I make the prints that are ink on matte paper, the kind of paper artists would use for etchings or drawings. These materials are essential for the expression of my wave portraits.

I often feel the printmaking process is like sculpting. The image you start with, as the camera recorded it, is like a block of marble -- the art of printing is to excavate and chisel out the final form and expression of the image. Sometimes you impose your will on the marble and break its resistance, other times it guides your hand. Being in firm control of one's tools is necessary. Another key factor is time. Silent time spent looking, looking hard, looking over and over again. Time spent listening, listening carefully to what your subject is telling you, listening to what your mind is telling you.

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