“Salt Point” champlevé (recent)
Salt Point State Park is located on a remote area of ocean headlands in Northern California. At the ocean’s edge are unusual sandstone formations called “tafoni”. The most interesting ones require a bit of a hike, so I’m often totally alone there, mysterious sculptural rocks on one side, wild surf on the other. When I’m behind the lens of my camera, I’m transported into the “moonscapes” that these formations suggest.
I began photographing Salt Point in 1989, discovering the place quite by accident. Now I’m drawn to it over and over - my photos number in the thousands. Every visit yields different images as the foggy light or harsh shadows illuminate the tafoni in different ways.
Because etching is either “on or off”, a grayscale image has to be rendered in halftone dots, and the spaces between the dots must be big enough to accept enamel.
The shadows and gray areas often shift to a different color from the highlights as the copper oxidizes and colors the tiny dots, some as small as .25mm. This can be very subtle, but it determines whether the whites “hold up”, and whether there is a 3-D appearance to the piece.
The color shift depends on the chemical composition of the enamel, firing times and temperatures, and number of firings. This is all part of what I try to manipulate.
Recent champlevé pieces contain leaded enamels, which have an ineffable translucent quality and brilliance that unleaded enamels don’t possess. (Leaded glass has a higher “index of refraction”.) Leaded enamels also tend to turn green more slowly with copper oxide, so the whites in the tiny dots hold up longer. As a result of these qualities, the later work has a different color palette, and I can achieve more detail.
Each 8”x8” piece takes about 2 weeks to complete. Why do I go to all this trouble to render these photos in glass and copper?! When I began, I wanted to actually embed images in the metal itself, analogous to how translucent quartz is embedded in stone. Like a “fossilized image”. Now I’m captivated by this technique that seems to create a mysterious three dimensional quality when viewed from a few feet away. It’s like the images are floating, “there and not there”. They do something quite different from an image printed on a paper surface.