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Photographer Danny Conant has lived in the Washington area for more than half a century. In her current show—-“Looking Back/Moving Forward,” which is up through August 1 at Alexandria’s Multiple Exposure Gallery—-photography is only the starting point, not the destination, as she produces works in which the sense of dreaminess and mystery is heightened by her use of nontraditional techniques. For the exhibit, Conant revisited some of her older photographs and reprinted them using encaustic—-bees wax mixed with resin, which is heated and applied to images fixed on wood panels. This technique requires good ventilation, so Conant was only able to do it in good weather. Arts Desk recently asked Conant a few questions about these and other works.
Washington City Paper: What gave you the idea to revisit your old images?
Danny Connant: A couple of years ago I was talking to a photographer who commented that it would be interesting to go back to old images and see if we saw them in a different light now.
WCP: Describe your process for this exhibit in a technical sense.
DC: I print on a special film and transfer the images to a wooden panel, or print on various papers and adhere images to a wooden panel with wax. Images are first combined in Photoshop and printed on my Epson printer, sometime collaged with several images. For the show, all are put into wax. My favorite photographic techniques involve a lot hands-on work. I guess it makes me feel more a part of the piece. All of this is very time-consuming, but I enjoy it.
WCP: What are some examples of particular images and how you changed them?
DC: For “Life Pattern” [an image of a female figure surrounded by lines and writing], I scanned and printed parts of old family letter and adhered it to a wooden panel with wax, then printed the girl on film and transferred it to wood panel. I then covered it with piece of dress pattern and drew lines. All of it was embedded in wax.
For “Big Brother” [an image of two boys standing in a forest] I scanned an old photograph of my father and uncle, repaired damage to it in Photoshop and montaged it with a landscape taken several years ago in California.
“Looking Back” is a photomontage of a woman taken about 15 years ago, together with a building in France taken six or seven years ago, printed on film and transferred to wooden panel.
WCP: Who are some of your most important influences?
DC: I go back to the pictoralists, such as Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Gertrude Kasebier, and Imogen Cunningham. I feel that there is a lot of room for personal interpretation in their work. I like a little mystery when I look at a photograph.
WCP: How would you describe the major photographic series you’ve done in the past?
DC: Most of my major series have included a lot of hand work on the images, altering them in some way. Many years ago I did a lot of work with Polaroid emulsion transfers using figures and letters. I have printed a series photographed from the train on metal panels, as well as platinum prints on handmade Tibetan paper. These are featured in my book Tibetan Journey, published in 2002.
My book Vanishing Tibet is comprised of images printed on wood, metal, fabric, plaster and various handmade papers, each one reminiscent of something I saw on one of my trips to Tibet—-fabric for the prayer flags, metal for the prayer wheels, wood for the Tibetan houses and printing blocks, plaster for the frescoes in the temples and monasteries, and paper because Tibet was known for papermaking and I had bought paper made at a school for handicapped children while I was in Lhasa.
WCP: You’ve obviously traveled extensively. Were you going for the specific purpose of photography, or for some other career or family reason?
DC: Photography came from my love of travel. I finally decided I needed to record some of my impressions, so I started taking photography courses.
WCP: Why are China and Tibet particularly fascinating for you, from a visual and artistic perspective?
DC: My first trip to China was a bicycle trip about 27 years ago. I became interested in the people and the culture. I mainly focused on the villages as opposed to the big cities. Seeing such a big country required a number of trips.
I was drawn to the Tibetan people beginning with my first trip there in 1995. Their warmth and spiritual values made me return three more times. I am returning for the last time this September. I have to say the last time because it’s a very hard trip and I seem to get older not younger.
“Looking Back/Moving Forward” can be viewed through Aug. 1 at Multiple Exposures Gallery in the Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 North Union Street, Studio #312, Alexandria, Va. Phone: 703-683-2205. Open daily, 11am-5pm, except selected second Thursdays when hours are 2pm-9pm.