Robynne Limoges, a longtime FolioLink photographer, talks about the risks and rewards of pushing oneself to take on new challenges, the most emphatic of which was moving from infrared black and white analogue film to digital colour, increasing the scale of her work and marketing. The message of this post is that taking risks can translate to entirely new visual experiences without losing the integrity of one’s personal expression. Saying yes to unfamiliar contexts and demands can bring strength and creative invigoration.
I would like to describe my approach to photography over the many years I have been making images. My passion has always been to find expressions of emotion in geometric or architectural spaces and ambiguous narratives through abstraction. Fundamental to my work is making images that demonstrate the power of even the smallest gesture of light to dispel darkness. This core approach remains but now, as I have taken more risks with my work, its expression is not found only in abstraction.
An example of my earlier work is a series, If Light Were Breath (pictured above), subtitled Darkness as Museum, a reference to the death camps now being called museums. Within the architectural ruins of Auschwitz-Birkenau, I was determined to find a way to articulate highly charged emotional realities in an abstract way.
Only recently have I become comfortable with digital image making. For as long as Kodak HIE film was available, I kept to the chemical darkroom. It was a particularly exciting way of making images, because the very dark infrared filter meant I could not sometimes see exactly what I was shooting. Girl with the Pen Knife Necklace (pictured above) is an example from that time. When I asked the girl if I could photograph her, she said, ‘Yes, as long as you don’t show my eyes’.
During a transitional period from black and white to colour I shot the above image, Crossing the Square, Sibiu, Romania, a street portrait of a soulful young woman making her way across a huge public area in the rain. Although she started out in colour, she only really became ‘herself, in my view, when I deleted the colour and used a subtle sepia tone on the image.
In 2014 and 2015 I moved even further outside my comfort zone.
Commercial Exhibition: Hahnemühle and The Photography Show 2015
I have always looked to gallery exhibitions as the desired outlet for showing my work. In 2015, for the first time my work was shown as the focal point of Hahnemühle’s stand at the UK’s largest photography trade show. My triptych, Foundation Stones, The Blue Mosque, Istanbul (pictured above) was chosen by them as they had seen it on my FolioLink website. It was a particularly exciting invitation from the world’s premier paper maker and a gift of faith on their part in my image-making. The work will now become part of their corporate collection. The acceptance of this opportunity meant that I could see my work on a scale I had never achieved before (approximately 100 cm). I am now one of Hahnemühle’s featured photographers on their news blog site. What tremendous exposure from a context I had never before considered and what an endorsement from an organisation as important as any gallery.
Colour and the Retail Sales Environment
In 2014 I decided to take a risk and try to market my work to a successful interior design store with some contact sheets of colour( ! ) images. This would be my first experience in an overtly sales environment that involved a costly outlay with no guarantee of return. I was also concerned that the store’s audience might not relate to my abstractions of trees and other graphic images. The experience was enlightening. Not only did people want the images for the spaces they were designing, but the emotion I had experienced when I shot the images translated and they related to the ideas I was trying to express. While the commercial demand to meet the expected lightning turn-around time to replace sold images was difficult, it was a chance taken that I will never regret. It showed that images can speak to people not only in a fine art setting but also in a commercial context. Some of the most popular of those images include: The Vocabulary of Souls (pictured above), The Winter Cantos: Dreaming with Trees XII, The Winter Cantos: Dreaming with Trees X, and The Winter Cantos: Dreaming with Trees VII (pictured above).
Presenting Challenging Subject Matter in a Gallery Setting
A significantly larger risk came when an American gallery invited me to exhibit my work. They wanted me to show my series of large black and white metaphorical anti-war images, which I call The History of History. I presented the images in an entirely new way: they were unframed, printed on heavy, luxurious Hahnemühle museum etching paper, hand deckled and hand de-bossed and held to the wall by the gallery’s system of tiny magnets. The resulting objects were exquisite. Visitors were very excited about the beauty and the interesting way the photographs were presented, but they also expressed their unease at ‘living with’ images that captured such devastation and sorrow. The exhibition included The Queen of Grief (pictured above), Crystal Tears, Stigmata, The Man with the Broken Heart and The Return.
Entering International Competitions
The encouragement to enter the 2014 International Garden Photographer of the Year Award came from a photography colleague, Jocelyn Horsfall, who specialises in abstract lyrical flower images. This is an annual, prestigious competition presented in association with the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, which attracts on average 18,000 submissions.
This was a daunting prospect for me. I have no botanical knowledge nor am I a flower photographer and I wondered if I might be stepping too far away from my established subjects for photography. Colour of vivid tone had never entered my vocabulary before I entered this highly regarded competition.
The results truly surprised me, with awards in 2014 of Highly Commended in the overall competition and Finalist in the black and white projects. I re-entered the competition the following year and was delighted that a group of six images, Mysteries of Evening I through VI (selections pictured above), won Finalist in the overall portfolio category. In addition, an image titled The Madonna Cactus won Finalist in the single image category.
The experience has brought significant benefits. By pushing myself to find my style in a subject previously unexplored by me, I discovered an intimacy with nature that touched me deeply. More tangibly, my images have been published in two beautiful books and are being toured widely by the organisers of the competition, including shows at the Paleis Soestdijk, Netherlands, Sheringham Gardens, National Trust, in Norfolk, several other galleries in England and there are plans for the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney in 2016.
It is my emphatic conclusion that, while we work to stay true to our own vision and try to maintain a voice that emphatically speaks to the way in which we interpret the world, there is real value in remaining open minded. The act of stepping outside our comfort zone by studying unfamiliar subjects and forms can expand our creativity. Enlarging the context in which we present our work gives us the opportunity to reach wider and different audiences. Taking risks is, after all, one of the exquisite rewards of being a photographer.
Discover more of Robynne’s work on her FolioLink website: http://robynnelimoges.com/