Q&A with Tamsen Wojtanowski

By Farrah Bradley | April 3, 2017

Tamsen Wojtanowski is an Adjunct Professor in Photography.

Describe yourself and your area(s) of expertise.

I am a studio artist from Upstate New York, and I have lived and worked in Philadelphia for the last ten years. I started working in B&W film photography and in the darkroom as a sophomore in high school. Art was elevated from hobby to purpose after a brief flirtation studying in the physical therapy program at Ithaca College. At Ithaca, I changed my major and earned a Bachelor of Science in Cinema & Photography. I went on to earn my M.F.A. from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, and fully committed to life as a working artist and educator. My areas of expertise include B&W film photography, B&W and color darkroom (wet process), digital photography and post-production, alternative processes in photography, and printmaking. In my studio practice, I also enjoy time set aside for drawing and the creation of small sculptures from wire form and papier-mâché.

I have found a wonderful community of artists in Philadelphia; it is a city where start-ups and experimentation are still possible. Studio space is available and affordable, and there is a multitude of artist-run platforms for exhibition, publication, and performance. I am a founding member of the artist-run exhibition space, NAPOLEON, which was founded in 2011. It is through my membership in this collective that I have had opportunities to engage with artists and art enthusiasts from around the world, and have staged exhibitions of my work in Philadelphia, Nashville, Seattle, and Miami. Also, as an individual artist, I have exhibited my work in many cities across the United States and abroad, including Los Angeles, Portland, and Melbourne. I have been named a top ten finalist in The Print Center’s 89th International Juried Competition (2015); Fotofilmic’s Spring Shortlist 2016 artist; Featured Artist on Other People’s Pixels blog (December 2016); and Fleisher Wind Challenge Solo Exhibition artist (upcoming, 2018). I have also been invited for a solo exhibition at 621 Gallery in Tallahassee, FL and asked to join in many two- and three-person and group exhibitions.

My time in Philadelphia has taught me how important it is to be a part of a community and to spend time working with other artists, thinkers, and makers. Beyond my group affiliation with the members of NAPOLEON, I have gained many creative opportunities for growth and success through my relationships with individual artists, writers, and academics. These relationships have given rise to actions in activism, work in Philadelphia communities at-large, book projects, publications, and publishing contracts. My advice to young artists: remain close with your friends, make new friends, never deny a contact, and never be afraid to reach out to someone new.

Tell us more about your work and exhibitions.

I currently have two bodies of prints. Both bodies of work rely on the cyanotype process, which is an alternative photographic process dating back to 1842. It is a process more akin to techniques in printmaking than those in modern photography, relying on the use of contact between the negative, stencil, or image-making device, the sensitized paper or fabric, and the sun’s rays (or UV light) for exposure.

The first, and older, body of work, I began in February 2016. The series is made up of small (11 x 15 inch) cyanotype prints on Rives BFK Watercolor paper and uses the combination of multiple exposures from handmade papercut negatives and toning to create humorous or satirical imagery about our everyday lives and the current state of things.

Selections of this series were listed to Fotofilmic’s Shortlist 2016, exhibited at the Delaware Contemporary’s Members Show in summer 2016 (curated by Bree Pickering, Executive Director of Vox Populi), and included as part of an Artist Spotlight interview on Selfish Magazine’s blog in August 2016. A selection of one of these editioned prints was auctioned at Collective Actions fundraiser for social justice organizations, which raised over $20,000 for ten local organizations. Currently, 25 prints selected from this series are on exhibition at The University of Delaware’s Recitation Hall, as a part of the exhibition The Systems We Have Loved with Marianne Dages, Kayla Romberger, and Lindsay Buchman, curated by Anne Cross. I will be exhibiting the whole series for the Fleisher Art Memorial’s Wind Challenge Solo Exhibition in April 2018.

My other current body of work, started in June 2016, is also comprised of a series of cyanotype prints on Rives BFK Watercolor paper made from handmade papercut negatives. The tone of this series is much different than the other. In this body of work I create larger scale (22 x 30 inch) cyanotype prints that often are made to extend into diptychs (44 x 30 inches) or triptychs (66 x 30 inches), sharing imagined scenes of utopian living. This series is titled Daydreaming About Us and is used as my time to regroup and imagine things as I would like them, rather than as they are.

Selections of this series are currently on display at The Westtown School as part of the exhibition, The Future Is Female, curated by Angela McQuillan and Ishknits. Prints from the series have also been selected for publication in Selfish Magazine’s print edition, “Issue Five: The Void of Course” (pre-order available in late March 2017). I am preparing this work in its entirety for a solo exhibition at 621 Gallery in Tallahassee, Florida, in May 2018. Prints will be exhibited alongside large scale fabric installations and small scale papier-mâché models.

Describe what led you to your exhibition opportunities.

Each opportunity to exhibit or publish came to me either by way of a personal relationship with another artist or curator (i.e. networking, attending openings, answering emails, etc.) or submitting to calls for entry. Every year, I create a spreadsheet of all possible opportunities, including such things as the calls website, due dates, if I applied, what I applied with, who was curating or jurying, and if my work was accepted. Every month, I research lists of calls for entry and add to my spreadsheet. Most of my blind submissions are made in the spring and summer, with exhibitions or publishing opportunities coming to fruition and taking place throughout the fall and winter.

Describe your process for planning, creating, and executing exhibitions.

When I start a new body of work it is rarely, if ever, intended to become an exhibition, publishing opportunity, or project. I work for myself and for my need to create. After that, I mine my portfolios for possible exhibitions, publishing opportunities, or projects. This way of working has suited me well. I have tried in the past to plan ahead, but I found that thinking of what might work for a particular space or site or audience acted as a limitation for me. I became too worried about pleasing others—or at least not offending others—and the work became disingenuous. Instead, what works best for me is to work hard and continuously. Once I have an exhibition or opportunity in place, I will then spend a few weeks or months polishing the work and forming it to fit the opportunity.

What excites you (or challenges you) most about your current work?

My current bodies of work are very time consuming with high levels of risk. I find that both exciting and challenging. I will have an idea for a papercut negative and print, but I won’t know if the print “works” (i.e. aesthetically pleases or communicates the way I want it to) until after going through the whole process of cutting the negative, creating the exposure(s), and toning or otherwise finishing it up.

Read Prof. Wojtanowski’s interview on Other People’s Pixels blog.