Velvet Glove
Velvet Glove
 

Shaina Nyman

Feature Prize Winner from this year's The Living Image call for entry presented by The Halide Project and hosted by Gravy Studio.

This past month Velvet Glove sponsored a prize at The Halide Project’s international open call at Gravy Studio and Gallery. We were honored and excited to contribute to this two year old organization, one continuing to keep alive modes of photography many have left behind. Halide started in 2015, and as their mission states they serve the Philly area with “an opportunity to engage with traditional photography by both viewing works in a gallery and gaining hands-on experience with the joy of these processes through artist-led workshops.”  

As someone  who spent plenty of their formative years getting lost in darkrooms, I jumped at the chance to devote some time to an exhibition and project with a similar affinity. Among the works in the Living Image show, Co-Founder, Matt Herzog, and I were taken by the numerous processes, some I’d never heard of, as well as diversity of themes and styles. It was not an easy decision picking our winner. We settled on a piece that wasn’t an easy fit, its process was veiled and its subject alluded simplistic readings. It was important to both of us that whoever we picked to interview had something interesting to say to our readers. The merit of an artwork can’t rely solely on it’s technique, even if it's made with magic and chemicals

Shaina Nyman’s photograph embodied both these desires. Her piece is both a quizzical use of process and also made me wonder what she was saying about her body, or mine, with her figurative melding of limbs.

Shaina hails from the suburbs of Philadelphia and is finishing up her final year at UARTS. I sat down with the young photographer to discuss her practice as an artist and her dedication to photographic experimentation. She opened up to me about process and the personal.


Abby: Let’s talk about photography. Why are you drawn to the medium?

Shaina: Well I mean, is it cheesy to say I’ve been around photography for my whole life? I’ve been taking pictures since I was little. My parents used to give me disposables and let me take pictures. We had a darkroom at my parents house. I would hang out in the darkroom with my Dad thinking this is so cool. I’m like a mad scientist, making things. I was always drawn to it.

A: Not everyone grows up with a darkroom in their house.

S: Yeah, it’s been so normal to me. They shot professional for a while together, they had a studio and I’d hang out there too.

A: Let’s talk about the piece you submitted to Living Image exhibition. Part of why we were drawn to it is because we could not for the life of us figure out how the fuck you made it. Can you walk us through the process.

Selfie, Shaina Nyman, 2017.


S: It’s a darkroom print, a silver print that I made from digital negatives. So I shot the image, digitally, no manipulation, it’s me and my body and I took these straight up studio shots in different poses. Because at the time I had started exploring a lot of body issues that I have. A lot of my work is about personal experiences. It was the first time I had addressed this in my artwork, so I was just kind of fucking around in the darkroom. I love trying new processes I’ve never tried before. It started out as me drawing chemistry on a piece of paper and being like woah there’s the light. I had a turkey baster in the dark room, splashing chemistry on it.

{It’s a] Chromoskedasic sabattier print. The process was very slight with the chemical, it's just in the body. That's what I wanted it to be. I just went over the image with one stroke of the chemical and then brought it back inside. It’s mixing developer and fixer.

 

For those of you like me and this is the first you’ve heard of chromoskedasic chemicals, here is Freestylephoto’s great explanation: “In a nutshell, [its] a black and white print that has been freshly developed but not yet fixed is subjected to two mild photographic solutions, an activator and a stabilizer, while under room light. These chemicals in the presence of light will produce deep red-browns, blues, yellows, oranges, greens and even purple. Saying the word "chromoskedasic" is more complex than doing the process.”

 

A: To understand a little better, first you shot digitally then made it into negatives, then exposed it in the darkroom?

S: I developed it as normal and then stopped the development process and then go in and add the other chemicals or some fixer or super concentrated developer and then brought it into the light. Its super physical and fun. It’s interrupting the developing process.

And the image originally started out as an idea about my body dysmorphia disorder and I wanted to make myself in this little portal. It looks really obvious and the narrative was very obvious that is was there. I was struggling to push it even further. I remember sitting outside the darkroom and my friend walked by and he picked up my negatives. There were two separate ones and he picked them up together against the light. And I was like, oh my god stop, that's it.

I went into the darkroom and stacked a bunch on top of each other. That's how that came together, by chance.

A: That's what darkroom photography also affords you, the physical element and also the community. You mentioned your own personal artwork is therapy. How do you relate to your work and how do you translate the personal into your work? You mentioned a transformation. It sounds like you are working through an idea of self through your series.

Somewhere Soft, Shaina Nyman, mixed media collage, 2017.

S: It's hard because I feel like I’m young and I haven't made much work yet. And everything I have made has been school related. So this year is the first time I’m starting to feel I’m making work [that] cohesively works together and is not just a project. I try sometimes to make work that I don’t understand.

A: How do you see body dysmorphia represented in your artwork?

S: I feel like my work is an exploration of the self because I have an anxiety disorder that goes hand in hand with the dismorphia and art is therapy for me. It just makes sense. And I feel like I have to make these things to understand it a little better.

A: How does it feel to take something personal and make something that hangs in a show, that is public.

S: I have to separate it from myself sometimes after the making ends. And then it just becomes art I think. It's about the process for me.

A: This is your body, you are using your own body and opinions, perception of your body. Transforming it and put it out into the world. Then the viewer is looking at it.

S: It’s strange. It definitely brings the viewer into it. I feel super exposed. But I think it's good, it helps me understand what other people's perceptions are. I am super interested in different realities and the idea that we all have our own little worlds.

Trapped, Shaina Nyman, gelatin silver print, - 2016.

A: I think it's brave to be upfront with these things, especially with the themes you are working with. You have a series called trapped that's dealing specifically with sexual assault.

S: It was a series reflecting the struggles survivors go through, depicting it in a visual way with tangible objects, visual cues almost. I had wrapped these women, women who had all been survivors of rape or sexual assault, in string. Because to me that’s how it translates. That you are constrained and you can’t get out.


A: Walk me through the process of putting that together, of translating something that’s personal into a photograph.

S: I try and think of surreal imagery and a distorted view that doesn’t really make sense. Then the viewer can project something of themselves and pull out what they see from it.

A: Have you felt any challenges in working with these themes?

S: Sometimes I feel the challenge of having to do it justice or speak to a larger issue.

I don’t think I’m at that point yet, at all. Because I am so young and I am just starting out as an artist. So right now it's about the self and trying to understand and reach some clarity.

A: You mentioned your thesis before, how does it feel to be working on that project?

S: I am two months into it and it’s pretty daunting. It’s also the first time I’ve been allowed to make work on my own for an extended period of time about the same idea. Right now I’m experimenting with this idea of my body dysmorphia and eating disorder related things and body image issues. Right now I’m in a place of experimenting with every single idea and process that pops into my brain and seeing what looks best and seeing what people are getting out of it.

The Bedroom Scene, Shaina Nyman, film still, 2017.

A: How are you exploring these themes in the new work?

S: Right now I’m focusing on mirrors. Especially thinking about body dysmorphia as another reality. Mirrors have always been the other world, the opposite. [I'm] drawn to that.

A: Talk about how you made the mirror self portraits?

Portal Play, Shaina Nyman, digital photograph, 2017.

S: Its me running back and forth between the camera, trying to do long exposures. I was really inspired by Francesca Woodman. That was my first shoot this semester. I didn’t know how to get back into things so I did a homage to her, because I really admire her work. My Francesca Woodman.

A: What are your other influences?

S: I loved the work of Shirin Neshat. An Iranian photographer and filmmaker. Our work is not similar a lot, but I admire her.  I’m really inspired by Cindy Sherman with her film stills.  A French artist, Sophie Calle, does a lot of cool work with texts. Text for me is a huge part of my work, especially when bring film and photography together. I write poetry and I write a lot about my work and the experiences that go into it. That’s what put mys work together.

A: Do you write down ideas before shooting or are you responding to a work with text?

S: Sometimes it’s a call and response to myself. Sometimes it’s poetry just being a different form of art that weaves itself into my work. Sometimes journaling.

Aura of a Dream, Shaina Nyman, gelatin silver print, -2015.

A: When looking backing at some of your old series I can see surreal themes at play in different ways. One body of work stood out, the aura of the dream. Can you talk about how these landscape photographs played with the same themes as your figurative works?

S: So funny because I was just thinking to myself the other day. I had spread out my work across and wall and asked where am I? What brought me here you know. I looked at some of the pieces in that series and was like oh my god, this is exactly what I’d be doing two years later but with my body. For me, then I was just experimenting and trying new things. This just made a whole new shape, it’s not even a building anymore. I was focusing on landscapes but I was really interested in different realities. Looking back at it now that was the first iteration of the work I’m doing now, almost.

A: It seems like that work and your current series both use negative space, how does that play into your work?

S: Positive and negative space is able to reflect a sense of isolation, visually, and a vastness. A lot of my work speaks to things like that. The unknown. Visually is connected.

A: What’s next for you?

S: I’m looking forward to making more moving things. I’ve known photography my whole life and my parents are not filmmakers so it’s kind of a whole new realm to explore for me. Even though I do love experimenting, I’m excited to see what that brings me and what I can push myself to do. I have a lot of fun shooting 16 mm. I have never touched a camera that old that actually works so I was like this is crazy. I want to know  more about it and to learn.

Uncomfortable, Shaina Nyman, digital photograph, 2017

Make sure to check take a look at Shaina’s website for a more in depth look at her photography and ongoing projects. As Shaina continues to explore what’s next in the realm of photography and film, the Halide Project is also taking their next steps to further establish themselves as the beacon for photographic traditions. Keep an eye on them this fall as they make their home in the South Kensington neighborhood, creating a physical space for those still interested in getting lost in the darkroom.