It was a time when Rachel Portesi used Polaroid film to take a lot of photos. She describes the immediacy of the images, how each photo is different and often doesn’t quite match what you see with your own eyes, and “the feeling of Christmas when you turn the paper and see what you get.” and liked what she called it.
But Portesi eventually landed on a much older style of photography (tintype). This also allowed us to create images very quickly, with each photo revealing its own characteristics, much like a Polaroid.
Today, the Vermont photographer has combined techniques first developed in the 1860s with her own subject matter. “Hair Portraits” is a series of sepia-toned female portraits that sculpt her model’s hair into elaborate designs that look defiant. It tells a complex history of gravity, and how women have been portrayed, especially by men.
Portesi will bring his work to the Valley starting this weekend in a new exhibition, Rachel Portesi: Looking Glass, opening January 15th at Deerfield Academy’s von Auersperg Gallery.
The show, which runs until March 1, will feature larger tin portraits, 8 x 10 inch Polaroids, 3D Viewmaster images, and a video installation showcasing elements of the process Portesi used to create his tin portraits. are mixed.
In a recent call from her studio in Saxton’s River, a village about 20 miles north of Brattleboro, Portesi said she was thrilled to bring her work to the von Auersperg Gallery. Island, and Massachusetts—because Deerfield’s exhibit offers the most wall space she’s had to work her way through.
“It’s a great opportunity to show the scope of work for this project,” she said.
In 2014, she became interested in tintypes, which treat aluminum plates with a liquid silver solution and respond to images framed by a camera lens. , in a way, looking for a new identity and a new photographic direction.
“I was a photographer, but then for a few years I was just a mother,” said 51-year-old Portesi. She was the same person… there was a sense of starting anew.
In the same year she took a course in tintype photography. One of her great attractions was the ability to generate images quickly, but the process requires long exposures (about 30 seconds), during which the person being photographed cannot move.
Tintype photography was largely superseded by other methods by the early 20th century, Portesi points out, but other older photographs have been used as a response to today’s ubiquity of digital photographic images. Like technology, it has recently enjoyed a renewed interest.
It took a while to find the right equipment (and money) to start taking tin-type photos, but Portesi now has a giant accordion-sided box camera mounted on a stand, with her head Working with a large blanket to throw over the Take a picture of her—like someone taking a portrait of her family in her 19th-century fairgrounds.
Her interest in photographing women’s hair in unusual ways grew out of many threads. Portesi says she was thinking about both her own life and her aging, and about the idea of women’s hair, especially long hair, as a symbol of fertility and sexuality.
But images of fertility and sexuality have been presented primarily through, as Portesi puts it, “the male gaze.” At the same time, women’s long hair is sometimes depicted as a sign of madness, like the key character Ophelia. From Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”.
“I was intrigued by the idea of giving women control over their hair and allowing them to express themselves in different ways,” she said.
Some of the portraits are also homages to her favorite artists, such as Frida Kahlo.
“Different” is certainly one way of describing Portesi’s work. Her photographs are veritable visual records of sculpture, the woman who modeled her has her hair twisted, curled, and stretched in myriad patterns, some held up by pins or fishing line. There is also Their hair is sometimes interwoven with flowers, leaves, and branches to create fantastic environments.
For example, in “Frida,” model Isabel Rodriguez with her eyes closed and her head turned to the left is adorned with leaf-covered branches that extend left and right beyond her head and across part of her chest. Her hair pulled up in her big bun is only partially visible.
In “The Goddess,” Rodriguez is wrapped in a kind of giant dark-leaf cloak, adorned with a small collection of brightly colored plants. Only his model face and neckline are visible.
Preparing these elaborate tableaus typically takes at least two hours, says Portesi. Models sit and photographers style their hair, sometimes pinning it to scaffolding on the wall or tying it to fishing line (Portesi is a fisherman). ) hung from the ceiling of her studio.
“It’s a pretty complicated process,” she said. “Just getting each (photo) plate ready, that alone, takes 30 minutes. Normally she gets one good shot a day, but if she gets two, she’s really lucky.”
But Portesi works with a handful of young models, especially two that she’s known for years and considers family, which makes the whole process easier. Some of them are also her students and play an important role in helping design the staging of the photos.
“I get along very well with them and I think it adds a kind of intimacy to the overall tone of the picture,” she said.
Deerfield’s exhibit includes many small photographs and diptychs and triptychs, many of which are displayed in antique frames, adding to its sense of intimacy.
Another work, Chandelier Hair Polaroid, contains 16 small shots of a model with a twisted Medusa-like column of hair rising overhead. Almost all of the images are taken from behind, but one woman is partially facing the camera and has a cryptic look on her face.
Portesi says she’s not obsessed with antique photography — “I’m not a purist,” she said with a laugh — and uses digital photography to create formal portraits for her private clients. was taken. She recently photographed various scenes in nature.
However, “Hair Portraits” are still her main concern. “I think it’s an ongoing exploration of femininity and different periods in our lives, myself included,” she said.
For more about Rachel Portesi, visit rachelportesiphotography.com. The artist’s reception will be held at the Deerfield exhibit on January 15 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.