News Column

Playing with fire: Romy Eijckmans' ethereal photography

August 8, 2014

By Michael Abatemarco, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Aug. 08--When Belgium-based photographer Romy Eijckmans came to Santa Fe in June for Center's Review Santa Fe, a juried portfolio-assessment event for photographers worldwide, she had the opportunity to show in Lucent, Cloud 5 Project's exhibit of light-themed work by 10 artists. It was curated by two of those contributors, local photographer Nancy Sutor and the gallery's founder, Stephen Auger, a photographer as well as an artist. Eijckmans was asked to include a number of pieces from several series she had shot in the Southwest and other parts of the U.S. over the past year.

Her approach to photography is unusual, relying on older and alternative techniques such as photogramography (a cameraless process of producing images on light-sensitive paper) and tintype photography (a method that dates back to the mid-19th century). But Eijckmans is not interested in capturing the antique appearance of old-time photographs; her intent is to update the medium. "More and more people are picking up these old, forgotten processes," Eijckmans told Pasatiempo. "I think in the States, probably, it's really popular; in Europe, a little less. A lot of people are searching for this again, trying to get back to the material. It feels great to create something with your own hands. I don't have anything against cameras, but it gets further and further from the material. It's important if you still work with film to give it a contemporary touch and feel. I don't think it's interesting to make something people made 100 years ago, because that's been made. If you use older processes, the technology lies in trying to make something in a contemporary framework. That's the big challenge. It's very labor-intensive."

Several of Eijckmans' pieces in Lucent are from the series Lampyridae -- Living Light, backlit photograms of fireflies that accentuate the almost magical quality of the bioluminescence the insects use to attract mates and prey. They are abstract: constellations of glowing green dots marking patterns in the darkness around them. These linear trajectories of light are the result of timed exposures. Untitled nighttime shots of a canyon, taken here in the Southwest, were done using a camera and a long exposure that allowed background images to show up. The lighted paths of fireflies appear in the photos like fast-moving UFOs. "Some of the exposures are 15 minutes long," Eijckmans said. "You can see the star trails, so you have an idea of how long the shutter has been open. But you can also see the trails the fireflies make in the canyon."

One of her photograms, Traces of Fireflies #1, has been selected for Alternative Processes, an exhibition opening in October at the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado. The same piece is on view at Lucent. "Last year, I spent the whole summer in Santa Fe because I was working for Stephen Augur, who opened his space to the public for the first time at that point. It was for the show Coherent Light. I helped install that show, and that's how I got to know him. He was interested in my work. We kept in touch. When I said I was coming back to Santa Fe, he was already thinking about putting the Lucent show together and invited me to participate."

The quality of timed exposures made at night lends Eijckmans' works an eerie, otherworldly presence. Between Light and Darkness, a second series on view that includes the canyon photos, deals primarily with portraits of creatures shot at night in natural settings. "It's the quality of the light. Everything changes just after sundown, into twilight, into nighttime. You have this moment where you can't really perceive colors anymore. I find that really fascinating. In the evening, when everything gets quiet, all the animals and life in the outdoors come alive again. Most of the animals I photograph, they go out to search for food, and they show themselves. For some reason I feel very charmed with that specific moment and time of day. It's a magical time, and it doesn't last that long."

The photographer first came to the area in October 2013 as part of an artist-in-residence program developed by Center before being selected to attend Review Santa Fe. "You have to submit your portfolio in January. In March you find out if you got in or not. That was my main purpose for coming to Santa Fe in the first place." Her stay was a working trip, with numerous excursions into the wilderness to set up equipment and wait. The images from the series include shots of bats in flight, an owl, star trails, a fox, and a deer standing motionless in a meadow in the enveloping darkness. "I was actually camping," she said. "We were walking one evening. We went through this meadow. We had headlamps on our hats. There were lots of deer. I just bumped into this one and lit him with the headlamp, and he just froze. He kept staring at me, and I just stood there and stayed put." Another nighttime visitor, a fox, came up close to Eijckmans' campfire. "We'd just come back from a really long two-day hike. It was just me and a friend, and we were so beat. We were making food, and he just showed up. It mostly happens when I least expect it to." The image is ghostly -- the fox led there, it seems, by its inquisitive nature. Eijckmans took its portrait through the campfire's flames.

"Before, I was always working in the studio, in the darkroom. When I was in the States for most of last year, I was having so much fun being in the outdoors and photographing a lot, making a lot of work. I really got inspired. I was a little tired of working in the closed environment of a darkroom. I decided to start experimenting outside and let nature be my darkroom and my studio."


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Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM)

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