Northeast Ohio artists Jacqueline Bon and Samantha Bias will discuss their experiences as residents at the Cleveland Print Room during the Artist Talk & Pop-Up Exhibition Dec. 17. They will explain work created during their residencies, as well as project inspiration.

“Self portrait, tea toned cyanotype on fabric” by Jacqueline Bon. Courtesy of the artist.
Bias

Walk me through your residency at Cleveland Print Room. When did it start, and what kind of hours and experiences did it entail?

BIAS: This year I decided I was going to take more chances. In the past, confidence in myself and art has hindered me from taking chances, like applying for art shows or artist residencies. I had a fresh new medium interest in photography and alternative process after over 10 years of exclusively painting in watercolor. I had an idea for a project that involved old world photographic processes and needed the space and the knowledge to create the works that I intended on creating the summer of 2019. I applied, and to my delight I was accepted into the summer residency.

I was given a membership, a stipend and 24-hour access to the Cleveland Print Room facilities. There, I could use the space, equipment and darkroom at my disposal. Being a full-time art instructor for the city of Cleveland is a demanding job with rigid hours. Having anytime access gave me time before work, after work and weekend access, which is so important for the many working artists out there today such as myself.

I am a night owl and create best in the evenings. It was so freeing to be in a space dedicated to creating only. When I am at my home studio it can be distracting thinking about housework, not having enough space, etc. Typically, I would come to the Print Room after work, turn up my music and get creating. It was a freeing experience and one that I will always cherish.

“Z Baby” (summer 2019) by Samantha Bias. 11 x 14 inches. Chlorophyll process. Courtesy of the artist.

BON:  It was an eight-week residency that grew into a four-month journey. I was the fall resident artist, so technically it began in September. However, as soon as I was accepted into the program, I hit the ground running and I haven’t stopped since. I’ve been doing a lot of experimental processes, there was so much to learn. I’ve been working on new projects nearly every day since, sometimes a few hours of the day, sometimes entire evenings, and full days on weekends were an occasional treat. The beauty of 24/7 access to the Print Room is that it provides artists like myself who can’t take off work for an extended period of time the resources to reach for this dream that otherwise feels inaccessible.

Throughout the summer, I shot film to develop during my residency. I also created handmade paper at the Morgan Conservatory where I work by day in arts administration. Before the residency actually began, I took a polaroid emulsion lift workshop. This was a fun process where you basically take apart the polaroid, float it on the surface of water and adhere it to another surface. During the residency, I experimented with what I learned and transferred polaroids onto handmade paper. I also explored the darkroom, created cyanotypes on many different surfaces including handmade paper and fabric. I toned them using different substances including tea, coffee and red wine. I allowed myself to make mistakes and treated it like a laboratory where I allowed myself to experiment freely and absorb as much knowledge as I could. Looking back on it, it’s amazing how much I’ve grown throughout this process, I think a lot of the most valuable learning is gained through experience.

“Caitlin in October,” Tea-toned Cyanotype (2019) by Jacqueline Bon. Courtesy of the artist.

Were there any works you created during the residency that were particularly special to you? Why?

BIAS: One really special process that I learned happened by accident during my residency and became a profound turning point in my artistic career. During my residency I was working with chemistry that is UV light sensitive. It brought me to the idea of thinking about how we as artists can use our immediate natural resources instead of harmful chemicals that we often use in photo development. That thought drew me to plants and their comparable chemistry using UV light, similar to that of UV sensitive materials such as cyanotypes.

From there, I began to collect organic material, crush it up and use the juices from the plant as my photo sensitive chemistry. I was able to use it in the same fashion as cyanotype chemistry where I would paint the plant juice on paper and use photo positives to create photographic images also known as anthotypes. From there, I thought I would take it a step further.

Instead of crushing the plant material and using its photosensitive properties as photo chemistry, I would use the whole organic material – in this case leaves – to create photosynthetic prints using the chlorophyll in the leaf, creating a fully sustainable work of art. This process has been one of the most important projects I have ever worked on as an artist and my work regarding chlorophyll process has been recognized nationally and internationally.

“My Many Moods” (summer 2019) by Samantha Bias. 24 x 36 inches. Cyanotype. Courtesy of the artist.

BON: During this experience, I focused my attention on drawing inspiration from Cleveland, the region where I was born and raised. I think that when you familiarize yourself with a place it provides you with the advantage of being able to see things that were once not obvious on the surface. One of my favorite new images is from Whiskey Island. The sunset casted a pronounced pink haze onto the lighthouse walls. It was peculiar and romantic.

“Blushing Sunset, Whiskey Island II.” (2019) by Jacqueline Bon. Courtesy of the artist.

Why is Cleveland Print Room a good resource?

BIAS: Shari Wilkins’ story on how the Cleveland Print Room was founded is incredible. As darkrooms began closing in Cleveland, she collected materials that would otherwise be discarded and become a part of the past. Her foundation breathed life into a dying medium and ultimately created a staple of Cleveland’s art galleries, education and workshop offerings. They service youth, emerging artists and give a platform for local artists. I am so proud to have been a part of their first ever residency program and a participant in their gallery showings. They offer annual art shows and rotating workshops – I would highly recommend taking a class or showing your support in any and every way to help them continue to help flourish the extending art community in Cleveland.

BON: The only darkroom I had formerly worked in was a DIY bathroom turned darkroom over 10 years ago as a teenager. I was able to jump right back in by taking a workshop and it filled me with joy. I believe strongly in resources such as the Print Room that exist outside of college environments and allow individuals from different backgrounds and walks of life to pursue education, experiment freely and grow in their artistic practices. Shari is incredibly supportive and she has a strong vision; we’re a better city because of nonprofit organizations like Cleveland Print Room. 

“Blushing Sunset, Whiskey Island I” (2019) by Jacqueline Bon. Courtesy of the artist.

What do you plan to discuss during the talk?

BIAS: During the artist talk, I would like to keep it casual. Oftentimes artists talks can be stuffy, and I like to keep it more like a conversation. I am going to address my story behind the chlorophyll process portraits, my process and my plans for the new year. There will also be a Q&A for anything that I may not have covered during the talk.

“Holding On” (summer 2019) by Samantha Bias. 8 x 10 inches. Anthotype. Courtesy of the artist.

BON: I have a background in journalism, and I love creative storytelling. I’m going to tell the stories behind some of my imagery and some of the insights I’ve learned from my photographic adventures.

“South Bass Island, OH” Polaroid Transfer.” (2019) by Jacqueline Bon. Courtesy of the artist.

Where else can we see your work?

BIAS: Instagram: @naïve_melody, website: biasedart.wix.com/website or Facebook: Biased Art. Permanent archival work at PhotoMuse in Kerala, India in 2020, with Cleveland Photo Fest, and many local galleries in Northeast Ohio. Check out my Facebook for current realizations.

BON: I post new work and experiments regularly to Instagram: @Jacqueline__Bon (with two underscores). Keep in touch for more to come in 2020. 

The pop-up will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Cleveland Print Room, and the talk begins at 6:30.

By Michael C. Butz

World-renowned photographer Ruddy Roye documents his subjects – often strangers – in much the same way he meets them in person. 

His first shots are often wide, allowing the personality of surrounding buildings and streets to provide context. Then, he moves closer, snapping an image of his subject from the waist up. The interaction is completed when he takes a photo of only the person’s face. He adjusts the aperture of his 50mm Noctilux lens so that all that’s in focus are the subject’s eyes. 

“It’s a way of introducing viewers to the person. … And for me to say, ‘Look, look at who a Clevelander is,’” says the 49-year-old Jamaican-born, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist. “I want you to be engaged with this person and to ask questions – and to get answers from that face.”

That approach is particularly relevant for his current project, “Cleveland 20/20: A Photographic Exploration of Cleveland,” in which he’s one of more than 20 photographers documenting Cleveland and its residents. Roye is the only non-Clevelander among this veritable who’s who of Northeast Ohio’s artistic photographers.

“The project has many folds. One of them is to photograph the most diverse, segregated city on this continent,” he says. “How do I do that? I stay as an outsider, using fresh eyes – sometimes ignoring the history just to get to what is there.” 

For “Cleveland 20/20,” Ruddy Roye chronicled everyday goings-on in Cleveland
neighborhoods. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Archives.

Connecting to Cleveland

“Cleveland 20/20” is a partnership between the Cleveland Public Library and Cleveland Print Room. To mark its 150th anniversary, the library sought to document the diversity and richness of everyday life in its hometown. Between “Cleveland 20/20” and a similar partnership with ideastream on a storytelling project, a comprehensive portrait of the city will emerge. 

The photos compiled for “Cleveland 20/20” will be cataloged in the library’s Photographs Collection, which currently holds 1.3 million photographs, most from the mid-1800s to the 1990s. Thus, this project will provide a needed update. Secondly, a portion of the “Cleveland 20/20” photos will appear in a major exhibition scheduled to open Jan. 20, 2020 in Brett Hall at the library’s main branch in downtown Cleveland. It figures to make a splash.

Cleveland Print Room Executive Director Shari Wilkins says “Cleveland
20/20” got started in October 2018 when Aaron Mason, the library’s director of outreach and programming services, reached out to her with his vision for the project. 

“He wanted a number of local photographers, and then also asked about hiring an outside photographer,” she says. “We’d already worked with Ruddy two times, basically, so it was a no-brainer.” 

In 2018, Roye was an artist-in-residence for Cleveland Print Room’s Project Snapshot program, which through a partnership with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission aims to teach photography to area young people. In 2019, Roye’s much-anticipated solo show, “When Living is a Protest,” debuted at Cleveland Print Room.

Also on Roye’s resume: TIME Magazine named him Instagram Photographer of 2016, and he’s worked for the likes of National Geographic, TIME, The New York Times, Vogue, Jet, Ebony, ESPN and Essence. 

Though he acknowledges similarities between his “When Living is a Protest” series – which chronicles the struggles of African Americans in the United States – Roye has been mindful of not letting previous projects or past successes inform too much of his approach to “Cleveland 20/20.”

“I’ve allowed Cleveland, for lack of a better analogy, to play its music to me, as opposed to bringing my own tune – instead of saying you’re going to dance to my drumbeat,” he says. “Every street has its own cadence.”

Ruddy Roye introduces viewers to his subjects – like Jae Jarrell, co-founder of the collective AFRICOBRA, and longtime broadcast journalist Leon Bibb – by focusing on their eyes. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Archives.

Sparking a conversation

As of early November, Roye made five visits to Northeast Ohio for “Cleveland 20/20,” each lasting at least a week. His approach involves traveling the same routes each day, observing daily goings-on, as well as planned field trips to specific buildings, organizations or neighborhoods.

“I usually just go there and look at what I see and make an authentic image from what is there,” he says. “My attitude with photography is never to photograph what’s not there or to sensationalize an image.”

One excursion took Roye to Kinsman Road on the city’s east side, where a group of African American boys pedaled toward him on their bicycles as he drove. His efforts to flag them down made them speed away because, he says, they feared he might be a police officer. He eventually caught up with them in a nearby cemetery, where he explained the project and they agreed to be photographed.

The resulting image portrayed youthful exuberance against a backdrop of ultimate demise. It’s striking. Viewers may be inclined to interpret the photo as a nod to a mainstream media narrative regarding young black men and boys and violence. Roye concedes the photo has a message but says it’s deeper than that – and he wants to make viewers work harder to receive it and reach a better understanding.

“My mom said you can take them to the trough but you can’t force them to drink. I’ll take you to the trough, but it would be such a disservice to the image if I just leave it at, ‘This is the history of black men in Cleveland.’ I could say they have no work, they have no resources, they have nowhere else to go. That, to me, would be the greater message. I’m just showing you the result of not having that.

“For me, an image is not an end-all-be-all,” he adds. “An image is a conversation, and let’s have the conversation – as opposed to just leaving it at, ‘Oh, this is what happens to black men in Cleveland.’”

He suggests the narrative is that the boys – as well as many other Clevelanders – are trying to forge their ways along a path fraught with obstacles.

“It’s easy to say, ‘OK, it’s about violence and this is where they end up,’” he says. “But I’ve yet to see one engineering school. I’ve yet to see one masonry school. I’ve yet to see one wood shop. In a place that has space – and a mayor – I’ve yet to see anything that says, ‘I care about you.’ So, yeah, the image is about these guys in a cemetery, but it’s about more. It’s about a conversation we can have to make sure they’re not in the cemetery.” 

Ruddy Roye photographed this group of young cyclists in a cemetery along Kinsman Road in Cleveland for “Cleveland 20/20” and hopes it sparks conversation about life in the city. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Archives.

An outsider’s perspective

Roye might not search for themes, but they emerged as he worked on “Cleveland 20/20.” Emptiness – “not necessarily just buildings, but government responsibility” – is one example.

“There’s this huge void here,” he says. “Am I trying to photograph void? No. I’m trying to get at how people are living. How do people get by? What does that living look like? What is the culture of a neighborhood?”

But, undeniably, richness and fullness are also themes. Roye says he’s been warmly received by those he’s met, spoken to and photographed, adding that many Cleveland residents express a sense of pride in their respective neighborhoods. 

Authentically documenting those qualities is both important to him and central to the vision of “Cleveland 20/20.” A trip to Slavic Village brought to life both the fullness of the neighborhoods and the cadence of the streets Roye identified.

“On (East) 61st (Street), Miss Debbie Eason was out on her steps, and there was this very loud Rosy, who is a car washer. Everything on that street was loud. A cello up the road was loud. Everybody was shouting,” he says. “You go down another street, somebody’s mowing his lawn. It’s quiet. Or, there’s nobody. On another street, there were kids riding their bicycles, wheelin’. So those are the different characteristics.”

He’s also been a student of Cleveland history. For example, in talking with members of St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church near East 40th Street and Central Avenue, he learned of Dorothy Dandridge, Ruby Dee and Langston Hughes.

“They went to school right around the corner – that’s not something I knew before,” he says. “So, it’s been important for me … to allow myself to listen to Cleveland, to listen to what was here, what is here, what people are trying to do and what people did.”

Roye realizes he won’t be the only one to learn from “Cleveland 20/20,” acknowledging some who see his work in the library exhibition may never have stepped foot in neighborhoods he visited. That’s an important audience for him, personally, to reach. Bridging that gap in connection and compassion could have a lasting impact. 

“In seeking my voice, what was I going to photograph, this question was asked: Why are you doing this? It doesn’t change anything, so why are you pursuing photography with this aim in mind?” he says. “I think part of my ‘I’m going to prove photography can change the way people think’ birthed this idea that I can introduce Debbie Eason to you, and she’ll remind you of your aunt; the only difference is she has a different skin color. That’s my big hope for the project.” 

Ruddy Roye documented various environments for “Cleveland 20/20,” allowing the personality of buildings and streets – or basketball courts – to come through in his photographs. Image courtesy of Cleveland Public Library Archives.

‘Cleveland 20/20’ contributors

The more than 20 photographers taking part in “Cleveland 20/20” represent an array of talent. Many of them are prolific professionals: Tim Arai, Stephen Bivens, Bridget Caswell, Matthew Chasney, Hadley K Conner, Billy Delfs, Shelly Duncan, Aja Grant, Diana Hlywiak, Da’Shaunae Jackson, Adam Jaenke, Jef Janis, Dan Levin, Greg Martin, Christopher Mason, Ruddy Roye and Shari Wilkins. 

An additional six photographers are students in Cleveland Print Room’s Teen Institute: Enahjae Beasley, Destanee Cruz, Maria Fallon, Felix Latimer, Gabrielle Murray and Owen Rodemann.

Curating “Cleveland 20/20” is Lisa Kurzner, an independent curator who has worked locally with the likes of Cleveland Museum of Art, moCa Cleveland and Transformer Station, and was curator for FRONT International in 2018. Her curatorial assistant is Haley Kedziora, former gallery director of ROY G BIV Gallery in Columbus.

An exhibition showcasing the photography of “Cleveland 20/20” will open on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 20, 2020, in Brett Hall at the library’s main branch in downtown Cleveland.

The Cleveland Print Room executive director discusses “The Peer Show,” a nationally juried photography showcase. The exhibition opens with a reception from 5 to 9 p.m. Sept. 13 at Cleveland Print Room and remains on view through Oct. 25.

What can visitors look forward to from this year’s “The Peer Show”?

The photography in this exhibition celebrates the photographic medium and represents a selection of striking pieces with a fresh and unconventional slant by contemporary artists from around the country. You will find the alternative processes of photograms, photogravure with chine-collé, the chlorophyll process, collage and digital prints that are sliced, burned and splattered with nail polish, analog animation, as well as silver gelatin and digital prints.

“Twins in Repose” by Samantha Bias courtesy of Cleveland Print Room.

What can you tell us about this year’s jurors?

The jurors for this year’s show were Los Angeles photographer, Aline Smithson, who is the founder and editor-in-chief of an online photographic magazine, Lenscratch, as well as New York City’s Jacob Rhodes, co-founder and curator of Chelsea’s Field Projects Gallery. Working in tandem on two different coasts, they combed through hundreds of entries, finally deciding on a show consisting of 35 pieces that poignantly serve as a narrative of our times.

This is the fifth iteration of “The Peer Show.” How has it evolved or grown over the last five years?

Originally, “The Peer Show” served as a local showcase for photographers with jurors from Northeast Ohio. A few years back, we talked with juror Jacob Rhodes about the national juried shows that his NYC gallery holds a number of times each year. Our aim was to expand our call for art on a national level and we pushed to find jurors from outside the state to get local photographers’ work seen on a national level. This year, it is exciting to have work from contemporary photographers from 13 states shown on the walls of the Print Room, so Clevelanders can see what photographers are doing around the country. My hopes are to encourage local photographers to push themselves to think outside the boundaries of our established local scene. 

“Allegory of Touch” by Amanda D. King courtesy of Cleveland Print Room.

What programming surrounds this year’s show?

About half of the entries accepted in the show come from our local photographers, so we are excited to present the opportunity for them to talk about their work at a Peer Show Artist Talk from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25 at the Cleveland Print Room gallery.

You and the Cleveland Print Room are also involved in “Made in Cleveland,” a show that opens Sept. 12 at Tri-C’s Gallery East and will highlight Cleveland’s unique non-profits and the artists who founded them. What can you share with us about your and CPR’s involvement there?

It is an honor to have my work shown in the Artists Archive of the Western Reserve’s “Made in Cleveland” satellite exhibition at Tri-C. This show includes a wide array of my past work, with a focus on miniature instant film photographs from my ongoing “Promised Land” series, which portrays homes of Cairo, Ill., my father’s ancestral home. I document some of the remaining homes – some abandoned, some not – unintentionally capturing the beauty of this small town that lost its luster long ago.

Additionally, my Brain Box sculpture from 2015 will also be on display. This deeply personal piece was created during the year after my father’s brain surgery and inspired by his rehabilitation. I created a piece that would serve as a personal memory matching game using his photographs and words that relate to growing up in Cairo, Ill. I dipped the photographs and words in wax to create an encaustic matching game for him to help his memory improve.

“Yellow House” by Shari Wilkins and John W. Carlson courtesy of Cleveland Print Room.

Lead image: “Mandarin Dreams” by Gabriela Cociuba courtesy of Cleveland Print Room.