Alternative Processes in Contemporary Photography

Alternative Processes in Contemporary Photography

Linda Bryan | Cathy Cone | Chris Esten | Rachel Portesi | Vaune Trachtman | Mary Zompetti

Alternative Processes in Contemporary Photography | February 23-March 30, 2024, Opening Reception: Friday, February 23, 5-7 PM | Rebecca Lawrence Gallery Entry | Clifford B. West Gallery

In our current digital age, many photographic artists are embracing alternative or handcrafted processes to create work that doesn’t look like it was produced by AI or digitally manipulated. This exhibition consists of six area artists working in vintage or unusual photographic methods.  Although their processes are based in “analog” (created by hand), there can be elements of contemporary techniques incorporated into the work, such as scanning film negatives or vintage photos to create handmade work or hand-pulled prints. For these artists, handcrafted photographs allow for the unfolding of time, the element of surprise, and the occasional happy accident, which prompt further exploration of the medium.  The alternative processes are intrinsic to each of their practices and artistic sensibilities, and their projects are deeply personal and poignant.  For each of them, it’s all about making an image, rather than taking a picture.

 Artist Statements | Statements of Process

 Linda Bryan | For Linda Bryan, watching a white sheet of paper slowly form an image as it is rocked in the developing tray is magical. For her, the idea of capturing a fraction of time with a silver-covered surface is a visual way to communicate without cumbersome words. Photography became an integral component in her artistic vocabulary; it was a deeper way to communicate experiences, thoughts, and even dreams. For years, she worked in photo labs which strengthened her technical skills, and taught photography classes and workshops, which sparked a lasting excitement. As times changed, digital took over analog, shifting her practice; using digital equipment broadened her toolbox. Yet being in front of a computer lacked “magic,” and she eventually returned to the slow, hands-on processes that first captivated her. Today, her work incorporates many different vintage or alternative photographic techniques. She is inspired when using a camera that has one hundred years of history passing through its lens. These older cameras and processes require real patience. This slowing down of image-making allows her to be more present with the subject, but also more present with herself and her internal voice. Bryan is pulled to the places and moments often overlooked, where light and form can spark some vague memory or connection, these fleeting moments often turn into deeper personal projects.

Cathy Cone | Cathy Cone’s work begins with the process of discovery when an image in the world grabs her attention. Images she is most attracted to are anomalies; they appear rather strange or surprising. In the studio, she works more directly to untangle and rediscover a new conscious intention. The finding and constructing of what she understands links up with what is unknown or unseen, and if lucky, these elements will meld into a new image that lives on the threshold of in-between. “At the moment where images transform and upgrade my consciousness, photography is a guide for me to a deeper understanding on the other side of the transformations.” –Cathy Cone

Chris Esten | After spending many years working with film and silver print photography and struggling mightily to force her enjoyment of digital printing, Esten now works in processes described as “alternative” photography. Traditional and historical might be better words to describe these processes: Van Dyke Brown, Collodion and Printing Out Paper, Cyanotype. They are all rooted in photography’s early beginnings in the first half of the 19th century. What excites her about using these processes is the opportunity to use so many diverse types of paper for different results, being able to coat the emulsion by hand, and exposing by use of the sun or light box, all elements that contain risk and reward, surprise, and discovery. Esten enjoys being able to make images from a variety of materials from camera negatives to plants to fabric. She finds books and photography to be quite synchronistic: photography generates images, and books are wonderful structures to hold, present, and transform them.

Rachel Portesi | Rachel Portesi’s images address fertility, sexuality, creativity, nurturing, harmony, and discord. They are a response–part intuitive, part deliberate– recalling a time when the scaffolding of her life seemed to disappear– when her children grew up and she felt no longer needed. Some of us assume that the same woman will reemerge on the other side of motherhood; for Portesi the sudden realization that the Rachel she had been before parenthood was irrelevant, provoked a great sense of loss and grieving, and raised questions for her. Who had she become? Which parts of her old self were best to leave behind? And how would she want to grow? Portesi was intrigued by early photography and its particularly Victorian interest in loss and death. Commemorative portraits honoring the dead were fashionable and in demand. Another peculiar fixation of the era struck her: hair.  Art, sculpture, and even mementos of the time consistently used tresses of hair as both object and subject. Early photography, loss, growth, and hair became subjects that allowed her to discover a fertile new direction to explore. These photographs are part of an ongoing series of “hair portraits;” using wet plate collodion tintype and film to explore the nuanced transitions in female identity related to motherhood, aging, and choice, as well as the intersection of identity and femininity within the physical world. As Portesi engaged with this new mode within her practice, they became conduits of self-reflection– a way to look at the confines of her chosen female role from the outside. And there she observed a post-maternal strength different from her former role as “mother.” As she reflects on these images, she realizes that the photographs of elaborate hair sculptures constructed in her studio were the impetus for change. Parts of herself which she chooses to leave behind, others are brought along.

Vaune Trachtman | The works exhibited come from two series, Roaming and Now is Always. Trachtman explains the series, Roaming, as informed by an exploration of what it feels like to have lost her parents at an early age. For years, the view out of a car or train window felt more like home to her than wherever she was living. Bridges and highways, trestles and roofs, the husks of industrial towns racing by at two or three in the morning, Roaming is about brief inhabitations of these places, her evanescent homes– self-portraits as landscapes. She is seeking a convergence of longing and the land, absence and fullness, stillness and movement, the physical world, and the dream state. In the series, Now is Always, the artist added people to these locations. Her father captured the original images during the Depression-era Philadelphia. Intrigued by wanting to see what her father saw—but also a longing for the viewer to look at the past, and the past to look right back. In this work she desired to create a sense of collapsed-yet-expanded time by combining images taken a century apart, wrought through multiple integrated layers of technology and image-making history: her father’s 1930s point-and-shoot, her iPhone, his silver-gelatin negatives, her Photoshop files, and the traditions of ink, elbow-grease, and an intaglio press.  Now is Always is supported by a grant from the Vermont Arts Council the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mary Zompetti | The cameraless photographs in The Lost Garden series are created by exposing large-format film to environmental conditions over extended periods. The physical remains of wildlife and other remnants of the natural world are placed on the film’s surface– a starling frozen in the depths of winter, a woodpecker electrocuted by overhead power lines, and plants and flowers gone by. Bodily fluids and plant matter putrefy on the surface and these deteriorating effects are recorded in the film. Light and weather further alter the surface, cracking and pulling the delicate silver emulsion, leaving time and place-specific impressions outside of her control. Both delicate and resilient, the film becomes an imprint of the fragile body and a map-like record of time and place during this moment when our natural environment is on the precipice of irreversible change.


Linda Bryan is a Vermont photographer, printmaker, and educator whose work is rooted in the natural environment, familial spaces, and personal experiences. Using a range of photographic mediums from film and alternative processes to digital and photopolymer gravure etchings, Bryan explores the synchronicity between place, time, longing, and personal relationships. Bryan received a BFA in Studio Arts and an MFA in Photography and has taught digital and darkroom photography at the college level, as well as workshops in digital, darkroom, and alternative processes. Between degrees, Bryan honed her craft while working as a printer and film processor at a professional photo lab and has exhibited throughout the Northeast.

Cathy Cone is a photographer and painter. Her surrealist approach to photography began in the late 1970s with the introduction of the “Diana” camera. This led to the investigation of experimental techniques toward a multidisciplinary approach to her poetic image-making. Cathy received her training at Ohio University, Vermont Studio Center. She received her MFA from the Maine Media College. Some of her exhibitions include the Weisman Art Museum, the University of Alabama, the DeCordova Museum, the Griffin Museum of Photography, and the Vermont Center for Photography. Her works are in the collection of IBM, Hallmark Fine Art Collections, American Express, and the Beekman a Thompson Hotel, New York. Cathy, with her husband, master printer Jon Cone, founded Cone Editions Press in 1980 in Port Chester, NY as a collaborative printmaking workshop. Cone Editions Press is now located in East Topsham, Vermont where Cathy is director of the Workshops and Studio.

Chris Esten didn’t pick up her first camera until she was in art school. She planned to study painting but got seduced by the camera’s ability to capture a moment. Chris moved to Vermont over 40 years ago and while she and her partner built their house (without power tools, one might note), they lived in a tent on their land.  Chris developed film from her pinhole, 120 and 35mm cameras in their tool shed and made her prints and contact sheets on Kodak Printing Out Paper, exposing them to the sun and washing them with water hauled from their spring. She has continued to work in photography in one form or another over the last four decades and kept a black-and-white darkroom into the early aughts.  She started making and exhibiting books in the late 1990s. She also got involved in pressing plants and making artwork rooted in the tradition of Herbariums. As well as exhibiting original works, she scanned and sold the images as cards and prints for well over a decade. For the last eight years, Chris has been working with alternative processes.

Rachel Portesi received a BA in Sociology and Photography from Marlboro College, VT. Her recent work in tintypes, Polaroids, film, and 3-D imagery explores the nuanced transitions in female identity related to motherhood, aging, and choice as well as the intersection of identity and femineity with the physical world. Portesi’s photographs have been exhibited at various venues in New England and in New York including The Griffin Museum, The Newport Art Museum, Freight+Volume, and have been written about in Vogue, Forbes, Boston Globe, White Hot, ArtNews, and Musée magazines among others. She works and lives with her family in Saxtons River, Vermont.

Vaune Trachtman is a photographer and printmaker whose work honors historic processes, but without using toxic chemicals. Formerly a master printer of silver-gelatin prints and asphaltum-based photogravures, she began to feel that her immune system was being compromised by those processes. She now makes gravures with little more than light and water. Her images explore the evanescence of dreams and memory, resulting in “works that seem more like emanations than photographs” (Mark Feeney, Boston Globe), and a “fleeting, wondrous, sacred habitation” (Collier Brown, Od Review). She lives in Brattleboro, Vermont. Vaune is a Photolucida 2022 Critic Mass Top 50, and a 2022 finalist and People’s Choice Award Winner in Klompching Gallery’s Fresh Annual. Her work has been exhibited widely, including recent exhibitions at Soho Photo’s International Alternative Processes Competition, Klompching Gallery, and solo shows at the Griffin Museum of Photography and Vermont Center for Photography. Now is Always was named a Top Portfolio by Rfotofolio and Outstanding Work by the Denis Roussel Awards. Vaune has been shortlisted for the International Hariban Prize, and a semifinalist in The Print Center’s 95th and 97th Annual International Competition. Vaune has been awarded residencies and fellowships at Remarque Print Workshop, the Vermont Studio Center, the Tusen Takk Foundation, and Monson Arts and has received grants from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. She received her BA from Marlboro College and her MA from New York University and the International Center for Photography.

Born in New Haven, CT, Mary Zompetti is a photographic artist living and working in Roanoke, VA who utilizes traditional and experimental analog photographic methods to investigate land, home, and environment. Her recent cameraless photographic work explores the delicate and resilient nature of film emulsion exposed to environmental conditions, where she collaborates with light, weather, and time to create unique photographs that embrace chance, mistake, and deterioration.  Zompetti received an MFA in Visual Arts from the Lesley University College of Art and Design and a BFA in Visual Arts from Northern Vermont University. She was a recipient of the 2020 Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant in support of new analog, cameraless photographic work, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.  Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including at the Photographic Resource Center in Boston, MA; the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum in Roanoke, VA; the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA; the Mjólkurbúðin Gallery in Akureyri, Iceland and the A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, and recently in a virtual exhibition hosted by the Strange Fire Collective/Humble Arts. She has attended artist residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the Gil Residency in Akureyri, Iceland, and her work is also held in several collections, including the artist book libraries at Yale University and the Banff Center for Arts and Creativity.  From 2004-2020, she ran a public-access community darkroom and digital lab in Burlington, VT. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography at Hollins University, a historically women’s college in Roanoke, VA.

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