“The moment I watched a photograph develop in the darkroom, I was hooked,” Leon Syfrit says in an interview with Monovisions Black & White Photography Magazine. The photographer, who originally thought he’d be a painter, switched mediums in college and felt that fateful click.
Now, Leon’s love affair with photography continues as he experiments with new techniques and subjects. With his recent series, Portraits in ICEolation: What Lies Beneath?, he created a process-driven body of work, using water, botanicals, and food coloring to manipulate simple black and white portraits. “I like the idea that my life experience filters through my art. The creative process is how I make sense of who I am and my place in the world,” Leon writes in his artist statement. “My work uses found and collected objects to make still-life and portrait photographs.”
Leon starts his unconventional process in a conventional way—he snaps a portrait. From there, he shakes, steeps, freezes, and swirls it up. He describes his process, saying, “I make a print of each [portrait] on paper that I stain by steeping it in botanical concoctions such as fresh blueberry pulp, pulverized tomato flesh, and crushed rose petals. I place the picture in a small container and freeze it in water with plants and other objects. I apply gel food color with a syringe while the items congeal. I make my final photograph when everything is icy.” The resulting work centers on piercing eyes that cut through cloudy layers of delicate plant matter and watery washes of color.
Blurred by fluid, fractured, and plant-riddled swirls, Leon’s subjects are shrouded in mystery. With only a few perceptible facial features, the portraits sink into the water below and hide beneath the ice above. Peering through slabs of chipped ice, each portrait begs the question, “What lies beneath?”
“The creative process is how I make sense of who I am and my place in the world.” — Leon Syfrit
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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