Object/Image: Suzanne Mooney in the Studio

October 5, 2017 by

In front of WSW’s studio doors, Ora Schneider Regional Grant Resident Suzanne Mooney smashed a piece of antique glass. To be more specific, she smashed a glass plate negative that had been recorded in the first few years of the twentieth century at New Hampshire’s Mount Monadnock. Earlier in the day Suzanne made a contact print of the photograph, seeing the image in its intended, now obsolete, totality.

Gathered from auction sites, Suzanne’s collection of glass negatives were all made around 1900 when that process prevailed over the medium. Well before today’s digital or plastic film methods, glass slides were coated with photoreactive emulsion and placed inside cameras. Suzanne’s search for these plates yielded results from images rich with historic references to the timeless landscapes she sought.

“I want the viewer to have a close proximity to the scene as if it could have been taken in present day,” she says. Views of nature, void of dated details, best fit this criteria—for the same reason that decades-old prints of photographers such as Ansel Adams resonate with audiences today. There’s an innate understanding that can be found in the geography, flora, shapes, and light of even unfamiliar landscapes. Besides, Suzanne adds, “I was not interested in representing the ‘ye olde past.’”

Now over forty individual fragments and a pile of glass dust, that singular photograph of a mountainside lives as a portfolio of silver gelatin prints. In the darkroom, Suzanne used the enlarger to magnify and project the shards onto photographic paper, then fixed and rinsed each sheet. Each shard was printed twice; the smallest pieces and glass dust were consolidated onto the final slide.

Black and white, the photographs show irregular clippings of a landscape, from abstracted glimpses of shadows to a clearly defined horizon. The cutting glass edge disrupts the hazy imagery and splinters the shapes with bright white lines. Moreso, these tactile suggestions of pattern and texture lay flat, manifesting only as chemistry and paper.

While it was the first time Suzanne pursued this line of working with antique negatives, the project stems from her series Something to Grasp, Nothing to Hold. An entirely cameraless body of work completed last year, it consists of pieces of sea glass augmented in the same way. “The quality of the leached and scarred glass acted very much like a negative,” she says. Each print revealed a unique surface, flattened by the process, as much as it referenced the stone’s three-dimensionality.

“From that project, I was much more aware of how glass has been used in photography, both through its optics—the precision glass in lens—and when glass was used as an image’s physical support.”

When the glass support fails—in this case, shatters—Suzanne posits that the objects are liberated from their imposed functionality. Instead, the shards of the negative beg a new direction, unable fabricate the original scene. Alluding to but breaking this photographic process follows the artist’s interest in expanding “photography,” as she offers: the representation, the apparatus, and the performance.

Before throwing the plate, Suzanne had a suspicion that the craggy shapes of the photograph would make sense with the project. In the resulting compositions, Suzanne also found, had a balance and completeness of their own. The ridges of Monadnock’s rock face visually complement the fractures in the shard; the geologic structures echo the materiality of the plate. From the volume of the project, Suzanne imagines it may appear again in another form—a book or video. For now, the entire project: the chemical, two-dimensional, object, and conceptual, folds together neatly as a record of a record caught in black and white. 

Suzanne Mooney is an Irish artist whose practice primarily sits within photography, found images and objects, print and collage. She holds a BA(Hons) Theory and Practice of Visual Arts, Chelsea College of Art, London and an MA in Fine Art from the Royal College of Art, London and has exhibited her work extensively both nationally and internationally.

See more images from Suzanne’s residency on our Flickr!