Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist

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The Cure

Cures [Negative]
Cures [Negative]
2003, My first Cyanotype

Jewel-colored bottles winked at me through my hangover one morning in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I stopped and peered into the window of an old apothecary shop, and wondered if there were any hungry slugs crawling inside this ceramic bottle of leeches. A hand painted sign told me I’d stumbled onto the “Pharmacy Museum.”

Never one to pass up a chance to peruse Western torture instruments – disguised as medical devices – I entered and scanned the museum’s hardwood shelves. There were false eyes and heavy glasses, elixirs and potions, and  even “Love Drawing Powders” to add that southern voodoo touch.

My hangover was forgotten as I squinted and framed shots that would work in high-contrast monochrome of blue and white. A tour group wandered in and out and I wove between the visitors, shooting whatever I could squeeze into my lens. Back then I shot with film, and knew that as the sunlight hit these bottles the film would turn it into liquid radiance on my final prints.

While most memories of my four days there were lost in a daze of jazz and whiskey, invitations and forgettable encounters, the photos from my trip were tangible moments of clarity.

And they were enough.

Months later, I enlarged my prints from the trip and transformed them into A4 [letter] size negatives at Kinko’s, and made Cyanotypes every night after I came home from my work. Printing Cyanotypes was a challenge unlike any I had encountered in painting. It was more exciting, more opaque, and completely unpredictable.

And after a few weeks I knew this portable art medium was just the right one for me. Instead of heavy paints and bulky canvases, all I needed to pack were two powders and paper. I could take it anywhere, and who knows, it might take me places too.

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