Niniane Kelley is a San Fransisco based photographer who specializes in traditional 19th century processes. Her work has been featured in the New York AIPAD Photography Show and the Scott Nichols Gallery’s “Women: Seeing and Being Seen” exhibition, among much more. We recently had the chance to talk with Kelley about her gum bichromate process and how her work has shaped her relationship with the Bay Area.
F295: What drew you to Northern California to create your newest body of work, North Country?
Niniane Kelley: This is my first foray into photographing the landscape. I made some landscape images while I was studying, but was never particularly excited by the results. Then, I greatly preferred to spend my time in the studio working with people.
I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and have spent the vast majority of my life, confined to a straight line, between San Jose and San Francisco. In that way, the landscape of Northern California has always been a part of my psyche, much of my youth was spent in this California Chaparral biome.
I have a fondness for the craggy oak trees and the golden, rolling hills that you find in this part of the state. One of my favorite smells is when you’re driving in the country on a warm summer night and the air is filled with the aroma of long grasses that have been baking all day in the sun. I have a very visceral response to this place.
This project is primarily focused on images of the land and, while not entirely accidental, is a surprising and exciting development in my work. I find both the personal interaction, photographing a landscape that I dearly love, as well as the resulting creative reward equally thrilling.
F295: To what degree is North Country representative of your relationship with both San Fransisco and Lake County?
NK: San Francisco and Lake County are, in my opinion, polar opposites: Lake County, a sparsely populated rural area, is 27 times the size of San Francisco but with only 7% of the population. They are very different experiences.
I love San Francisco, but in the city you are subjected to continual stimulus. And given my life-long struggles with anxiety, all of that sensory input can build up to the point of being overwhelming. When I began my visits to Lake County, I quickly realized how much I needed that rural environment as a balance to the stresses of city living.
I could go away for a weekend and exhale the accumulated tensions. The images I began to make reflected the quietude and serenity I found. While I do find it to be a remarkably beautiful landscape, most importantly these images represent moments in which I felt completely open and without worry.
F295: What ideas and concepts does North Country seek to reveal?
NK: This work is about finding what brings you joy. In my case it’s about slowing down and taking the time to explore, have fun, and enjoy life.
It’s easy to be completely overloaded by the daily stress of existing. If we can free a little of the mental energy that goes into checking our cell phones every 30 seconds (I’m as guilty of this as anyone) think of how much more fully could we experience our surroundings, or peruse the artistic impulse, or just hold someone’s hand and say, “this right here, right now, is what’s important.”
Through these images I’m reaching out to the viewer and inviting to take a minute to look around, listen to the breeze and the birds, inhale, and enjoy a quiet moment. This is a moment in which I felt wonderfully alive and I wish you had been there.
F295: How does the use of gum bichromate best enable you to articulate your message to the viewer ?
NK: For work that is so much about seeking quietude, it is only appropriate to carry that message through to the final print and presentation. The prints are small in scale, to draw the viewer in close to create an intimate moment of viewing. And this particular printing process– multiple layers of gum bichromate over cyanotype – is able to create such a lovely soft and subtle imagery, which imbues the images with a feeling of nostalgia as if you’re viewing a memory recalled.
I spend days (and days, and days…) creating each print, which I feel creates something magical in the physical presence of the object. There is a subtle interplay of color and tone. The warm paints hide and reveal the coolness of the cyan underneath, the texture of the pigments and the paper interacting. Each print has its own lovely vitality that compliments the imagery it creates.
F295: What message do you desire the viewer to take away from the work?
NK: I enjoy when the viewer is quietly drawn into the image, recognizes meaning in one of these captured moments, and with wistful sigh reveals a longing to be “there.”
In many ways the itself is its own reward. That said, it would be a wonderful achievement to encourage another to seek their own source of beauty and happiness.
Read more about Kelley’s lecture, An Accidental Visual Diary.