Cathy Immordino is an experimental photographer who transforms traditional photography by adding layered montages and applying artistic techniques like cyanotype and photo polymer plates to her photographs that result in two-dimensional artwork.
Cathyís work does not stop at the image itself, she also hand-embellishes vintage frames, always with the intention to tell stories, about her family, past generations, and the human condition in general. Using images of the city, its diverse spaces, and architecture as a backdrop for her personal story, Cathy Immordino succeeds in asking universal questions about life, exploring trauma, and proposing some answers that can only be found by recognizing and exploring the different layers of her work.
I am pleased to feature Cathy Immordino in this issue of Art Squat Magazine, and have the artist speak about her artistic journey, and the many diverse layers of her personal healing process through art.
Your two-dimensional photography is multifaceted and consists of many different layers. How do you explore themes of identity, memory, and history in your work?
Great question to start this off with! Layers are important to me. Nothing in life is ever just simple or black and white per se. I explore the history of photography in my work by taking something old and experimenting with it. In my series, ìResidency in Motherhoodî and ìIsolate + Reflectî, I further explore cyanotype photography, a photochemical process discovered in the mid-1800s, by using a CO2 laser printer as the light source. Essentially, I am burning the images on to the photographic chemical. This is a very exciting process for me because it is organic, the results arenít easy to reproduce in a consistent way, and as far as I know, I am the only person doing it. The resulting images have a very painterly effect with combination of ash and hand brush cyanotype emulsion. I have also made a combination of adding van dyke brown photographic emulsion to cyanotype to get a wider tonal range in the ìphotographî. I have also applied gold and hand coloring to prints to make what matters in the print stand out more while adding emotion and/or significance to parts of the photo. As a photographic artist, I feel this process helps define who I am, as it combines all of this pain and emotion in the idea of printmaking for photography. I like when I am challenged by the idea of what is photography and what is art. I also explore the history of photo collage in my series titled ìHeadsî. This work involves photo collaging, a process that was popular or notary during the Dada Movement. Photos I took of peopleís heads are then collaged with magazines cut outs. The idea of identity plays strong in this series for me because it brings me back to when I was an actress and how everyone auditioning for the same role looks similar enough with slight differences. I actually didnít start working on this series until I noticed a similar idea with dating apps and swiping and how people get judged by how they look, what they are wearing and their surroundings. This is my way of questioning the truth that people like to associate with photojournalism and how all photography is a lie to some extent because it only catches a moment in time that can be interpreted in many different ways. By combining many different elements, this exaggerates that captured moment idea and adds humor to my work. I always have to have a humor series to go along with the darker work. It helps me balance myself out.
I explore memory a lot in my work as well. In my series ìCry for Helpî and ìPilgrimage of Heritageî, I am exploring personal work that pertains to my life. While one series is about a traumatic pregnancy resulting in 7 weeks hospitalization and several months of drama, the other series explores my paternal heritage roots in Sicily and all over Italy. In that series, I learned stories and discovered clues to my genealogy and turned those into photomontages. In the ìCry for Helpî series, I made the work initially by just taking iPhone images in the hospital, as well as a few images before hospitalization, and then the real work was photo montaging them together about a year later as a way to help process the trauma and heal from the experience. Here is the link to the video discussion I did with that series at Keck School of Medicine: https://youtu.be/gVfoRpc7KsM.
Why did you choose experimental photography as your form of artistic expression? Can you tell us about your artistic background? When did you first start creating?
I chose experimental photography as my medium because I do not feel challenged by just point, aim, and shooting a photograph. I crave the challenge and I do not want my work to look like anyone elseís. My background as a photographer began really when I was 5 years old. I was hit by a car and given a polaroid camera to help pass time. I used to waste boxes and boxes of Polaroid film just to get attention. When my bones healed and the body cast came off, I was put in several dance, theater, and art classes for the rest of my childhood. I was exposed to a lot of art growing up in Minnesota. It never occurred to me that photography could be something more than just a hobby or something that everyone did to capture moments in time. That all changed when I was in my 20s. I was an actress at the time. The Writerís Guild went on strike, and I had to find additional work, or I was going to drive myself crazy. I took up a job as a nightlife photographer working with a company called NapkinNights.com. I was given jobs to document nightclubs, raves, and various events through Southern California. Since this was a pay-per-photo type of job, I made sure to max out as many photographs and events per night as I could. I would only stay longer at the raves and costume like parties to really photograph everything I could since the environments were much larger and there were hundreds of people wearing amazing outfits at those types of events. Some of this work was featured in the Month of Photography Los Angeles by the Lucie Foundation between 2009-2010. I took several workshops for photography in Los Angeles around that same time with an organization now known as the Los Angeles Center of Photography. After I had my first son, I decided to get a BFA in photography from the Academy of Art Universityís website, as balancing newfound motherhood with taking photography or art workshops was a challenge. I was also going for an MFA in photography; but then COVID hit. I had COVID right at the beginning of lockdown in March of 2020. My memory fog was so bad that I couldnít remember enough of the photographic history to argue my midpoint review and I was unable to continue in the program.
In what ways does your background as an actress benefit your explorations of identity and personal history?
My background as an actress benefits my art making to a great degree. Like any role for acting, I have to ask my art: Why does it exist? What purpose/motivation does it have in this world? Why is this moment relevant? And art takes a step further than a role in acting. For art, the question of how this pertains to me and my life or what this says about me as a person also plays into the making of the piece. Every piece of art made lets out a secret about its creator. The poetry of life slowly starts to get discovered as more work unfolds.
Your website talks about layering your own stories against landscapes and spaces where those stories initiated in your work. Can you give us an example for this type of storytelling?
This statement plays easily into my series ìPilgrimage of Heritageî. The original photographs, which make up the layers of the pieces, capture street scenes of people and landscapes of locations in Sicily and other areas of Italy, to be used to tell the stories I learned while discovering my paternal family heritage. For instance, in the piece titled ìThe Argumentî, this piece involves the street scene of people arguing over something in Florence in combination with another photograph of a building with paint splattered like blood running down the wall in Villalba, Sicily where my great grandfather was born. This plays into the information I know about how our side of the family immigrated to the US. Two brothers were arguing, and one dragged his family to the US; while the other one stayed behind. It tore apart the family. I could not figure out what the argument was actually about, but rumor has it that it either had to do with the farming famine happening during that time, or that it had to do with the uprise to help fight the bad guys in Palermo and make Sicily less associated with Communism. The details I learned about my paternal family heritage, I have found, donít really matter anymore. At the time, they meant a lot; but over time, I have realized that making on and working on this particular series taught me that all cultures experience similar circumstances, and we shouldnít let those things define us. Itís like how Joseph Campbell points out the foundations of Mythology and storytelling throughout all cultures. The ìPilgrimage of Heritageî series, to me, was like a Heroís Journey of sorts with it culminating in me having this epiphany and realizing that history is only stories told from perspectives that arenít necessarily the whole truth, but only part of the truth that whomever wants the rest of the world to remember. History is as much of a lie as a photograph. This is also why I make photomontages - because again, how truthful is an actual photograph? Everything is opened up to perspective, analogy and subjective opinions.
We recently came across your art at the LA Art show. Was this your first time at the show and what did you like most about the interactions with visitors?
Thank you for discovering my photographic art at the LA Art Show. This past year, I showed with the Los Angeles Center of Photography. This was not my first LA Art Show, nor will it be my last. I have also showed in the past with Fabrik Projects and the Los Angeles Art Association. I really do love showing at art fairs. The interaction of seeing peopleís reaction to my work fascinates me. I get to find out which pieces they linger around the longest and their reaction to the work in general. People have questioned my work as being a photorealism painting and then I have to explain my process of essentially taking a mini lightsaber to light sensitive chemicals and it resulting in ash and altered chemical. I love talking about the work and feel the intent and story behind the piece is more important than the actual work. Concepts matter.
Is there a specific photographer whose work you admire? Have you drawn inspirations from other artists for your own work?
Yes! I love the work of Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, Imogen Cunningham, Grete Stern, Hannah Hoch and Jerry Uelsmann. I am inspired by life. The sounds in an environment affect my work as much as the scenes or personal history do. I feel I am heavily influenced by my surroundings and emotions. I am an emotional person though I tend to hide it pretty well. The world is always falling apart and there is never anyone there to save me. I invent art pieces as a way of letting out this secret as a closeted damsel in distress. In my series ìResidency in Motherhoodî, I reveal some of the physical and/or internal struggle of motherhood. Though that series was created while I was married, it might as well represent during marriage and as single motherhood. The relationship didnít change much, though now I get two days a week to relax. This particular series might be easier to see the influence of Stern and Uelsmann.
The different layering techniques you use to enhance the content and stories you tell with your photographs are cyanotype, photogravure, and 3D reductive printmaking. Can you please explain each of these techniques, and how they enhance the image?
Well, it goes a little further than just the type of photographic process used to create my layering techniques. I start with an image or multiple images that are digital, I either photo montage these or make adjustments, so it will ìprintî out the way I want it to. A photogravure is a photograph made on a copper plate with tissues and etching baths. A chemical used in that process makes it less attractive for a kitchen photographer working at home with children and pets. One ingredient, potassium dichromate, is not something you want around living beings especially since it looks like orange pixy sticks dust. I have shied away from making photogravures in recent years. Photo polymer plates is another process similar to photogravure but nowhere near the same. It also involves make a plate but it is a lot less of a process and shorter ìetchingî or washing times. Both of those processes involve inking a plate and running them through a printing press. It is a fun process, as you can further destroy the plate before inking and printing. I feel this sort of printmaking in addition to the reductive 3D printmaking adds emotion and pain to the final print. It becomes more than a straight pigment print that some machine produced. The application of the hand is involved, as well as that soul of an artist. How light sensitive chemicals are applied and manipulated in addition to ink or layering chemicals adds emotion. The thought of etching or burning an image is similar to the process of life - how we are altered by the events that created us and mold our personalities are, I feel, similar to these processes in respect to how a print is made. All of these variables come in to play in how my art becomes a representation of my life.
Your Residency in Motherhood series, an example of the cyanotype technique, uses photographs of your children as the base of your work. How did you get the inspiration for this series, and how does your family feel about becoming art?
My children love being part of my work; or at least they did until lockdown started and then I had to turn to photographing myself because they refused or were frustrated with being photographed all of the time. I was inspired by making this series because I needed a way to vent the frustrations of Motherhood. I was loosely influenced by Sally Mannís work on her family. I had all of these feelings and emotions I wanted to get out revolving around Motherhood that I had to solve the problem about creating 2-dimensional pieces that would become a series to this effect. I made my kids model for me. I told them how to pose or what to do in the photo. I montaged myself into the picture. This resulted in chaos and humor as it was burnt on to the cyanotype emulsion with my 3D reductive printer. I used a colored pencil to help define boarders within the images and painted 24K gold over select parts of the print I wanted to bring to focus. So, you can say my inspiration was art therapy in a way or using art making as a process to vent my frustrations.
In your opinion ñ does art have the power to ignite social and cultural change?
Yes, art can ignite social and cultural change. Ignored for art to do this, its voice needs to be heard and seen. Letís take Elvis Presley as an example here. He made music unlike his cultural upbringings and exposed it to his culture. The way he danced and sang was seen as devilís work; and yet it helped bridge the cultural divide and became an agency for change in the world. Perhaps the photographer JR or other street artists could be similar. By pasting or making their art available to the public in specific areas, they are bringing attention to topics that need to be heard on a louder scale. Only time will tell if these types of art will make a huge social impact. Even the littlest piece of art, if seen at the right moment by the right person, can inspire social and cultural change to grow. All forms of art are like seeds. They just need enough attention or the right audience to water them and help ideas grow.
Art is a subjective expression of the artistís views of the world; your deeply personal Pilgrimage of Heritage series attests to this. What has been the most personal project of your career so far?
The most personal project I have done would be the ìCry for Helpî series. This series was the first time I turned the camera on myself and examining my own life. Everything I had captured before this was garbage or journalism. I initially started photographing that series with my camera. The images I shot early on were all staged and felt fake even though they told what I wanted them to say. It wasnít until I was hospitalized at 28 weeks gestation that the real work began. I only had my iPhone to capture images. I was in solitude a lot much like society was during lockdown. There was a broken TV in my hospital room. I assumed I was the worst, that I was going to die in the hospital. So, I did what any person who has lost faith in the medical system does - I captured every little detail of my time in the hospital and uploaded the pictures to Facebook along with the details of what happened; so that if I died at the hospital, there would be some record of what all went down. I lost hope, faith, and most of my sanity during this time. I felt alone and abandoned. It took a year after I had gotten out of the hospital to really begin processing the images and trying to use them as art therapy to heal myself. I photo montaged different images together. I started writing a journal of what stood out to me the most and found the combination of photos together could help describe this time and feelings. I am somewhat of a quiet and reserved person; so, this series really was a huge leap in getting my voice heard.
Do you have a theme in mind you would like to explore but which feels a little too personal for public display? What can we expect from you in the future?
The more I discover about myself lately, the more I realize how truly broken I am and how resistant I am to [be] wanting to heal. I know this is going to start coming out in my work. I have found a lot of satisfaction in destroying things and literally tearing down walls lately. I had a hammer, and a green light was given to build a photo darkroom at the Los Angeles Makery. I enjoyed taking out my emotions on drywall and ripping down the structure. The rebuild hasnít been as exciting, though I did create an amazing custom sink using paint, resin, Ray Beldnerís slides, and some color negatives from a childhood trip. And donít worry, I didnít steal Beldnerís slides, he gifted them to me with the intention of them being used to make art! I took these old discarded photographic objects and gave them a new home. It is a slow healing process. I am side tracking here. I will further explore the broken, neglected and thrown away items and continue to push the boundaries of what I consider as photography. I realize how vague that sounds, but at least I am committed to a direction and focus at this point in my life. I am working with a few other artists to build the Los Angeles Makery in Downtown Los Angeles on Los Angeles Street. This space is more than a makery. It has art studios, a gallery, a retail space, and workshops. You can find me here almost 7 days a week.
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