Printing Pixels: Sarah Comfort in the StudioAugust 9, 2016
In WSW’s Darkroom, Sarah Comfort makes digital drawings on her tablet, careful not to fog up her photo paper with the light emitted from the screen. Soon, she’ll transfer these images onto transparencies and with the assistance of water and sunlight, her pixelated, digital images will become physical photographic prints.
Sarah is no stranger to alternative photographic processes. Previously, she’s recreated grainy photographic images using an electronic jacquard loom; worked with hand-embroidery and photoreactive dyed canvas; and shot photographs with expired film. During her Studio Workspace residency, Sarah continues to work in this vein with cyanotypes and photoreactive dyes in the two series Blue Drawings and Uncanny Valley.
“A lot of people are rediscovering older photographic processes, and I think that’s in response to digital photography,” says Sarah. “It has, in a way, liberated traditional analogue photographic practices from the expectation that they would be able to produce this perfect image, which you can do pretty quickly and easily with digital photography. Analogue doesn’t really need to be held to that expectation anymore.”
Following this thinking, Sarah purposefully uses imagery that could only be possible with a computer. In Blue Drawings, a series of cyanotypes, Sarah coats her paper in emulsion, covers it with the transparency of her digital drawings, and exposes it in the sun. After fifteen minutes are up, Sarah runs the print through water and all of a sudden, thick scribbles over constellations of blurred splotches appear in a field of deep blue. Some of the Blue Drawings feel organic, like x-ray images of the body or magnified slides of cells—but Sarah also intentionally borrows the low-skill aesthetic of doodles made in MS Paint.
Sarah appreciates this specific, familiar graphic quality of digital imagery. “If you look at my lines, you can see that they’re pixelated,” she says. “It’s normal for a digital image to try to fool the eye into thinking it’s something else, something real. But I’m not trying to hide that these were created on a computer.”
For Uncanny Valley, Sarah works with similar ideas using a different process: hand-dyed silver prints. In this series, Sarah first enhanced the pixelation in pictures of clouds she found online. She then picked grass found around WSW and overlayed it digitally onto the images of the clouds, creating an uncanny juxtaposition of real and fake, an eerily computerized and abstracted version of the natural world.
After exposing the photo paper with this imagery, Sarah dyes the paper with vintage-tinged greens, pinks, yellows, blues, purples, and oranges. In some of these prints, a layer of pixelated blocks is added on top of the grass and the clouds. In others, Sarah double-exposes her prints: once with the pixelated transparency, then again after rotating the patterned layer. This effect complicates the image, making the grass and the clouds unintelligible, resembling a corrupted file or an old computer game.
The irony isn’t lost on Sarah: she’s creating analogue images using low-tech, cameraless photographic processes that begin with digital aesthetics and computer-assisted technology. Through both Blue Drawings and Uncanny Valley, she explores the difference between—or the relationship between—a non-material image and the physical object it can become. By pulling her imagery from a purely digital space into the physical world, Sarah is able to hold in her hands what she created on a screen.
“The digital has changed the way we think about image-making,” says Sarah. “Now, I’m free to focus more on the materiality of these processes rather than the image I’m producing. I’m making a print on paper, I’m using water and chemicals, it’s a very physical, very real process. It’s the opposite of a muddy image on a computer screen.”
Sarah Comfort is a Toronto-based artist originally from Portland, OR. She has a BFA in Fine Art from Emily Carr University, a BFA in Art History from York University, and an MFA in Studio Art – Fibres from Concordia University. You can find more of Sarah’s work on her website sarahcomfort.com and see more images from her residency on our Flickr.