Surreal Beauty

MIDLOTHIAN, TX — Some of the photographic images were dark in color with an ethereal, dreamlike quality to them. Others looked as though they were under a shroud of fog. All shared an element of mystery, as the photographs were definitely not your everyday modern photos. Rebecca Rury, the creator of the images, is a dedicated artiste in alternative and antiquated processes of photography.

Rebecca first became interested in art at age 8 when the family received its first computer. “I started messing around with graphic art by way of Microsoft Paint,” she smiled. “That eventually became
my career. Graphic art is my real job. I got into photography when I was 13.

I was working as a teacher’s aide in a summer program, and they assigned me to photograph the field day program. I remember really enjoying it. In high school, my mom let me use her 35 mm camera, and that lit the fire!”

Rebecca enjoyed photography so much that she took classes at Mountain View College, along with Web design classes, to increase her knowledge. “I had to take a fine art elective class and chose a dark room photography class, using black and white film only,” Rebecca explained. After two years at Mountain View, she transferred to The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), where her direction in photography crystallized. “In 2008,” she continued, “we had an assignment where we had to purchase a Holga camera.”

The Holga camera, made in China, is considered a toy camera. Because of its simple construction, it is prone to vignetting [when there is a reduction of light on the periphery of a photograph] and other distortions. Many people use Holga cameras because they like the effect of the distortions.

“The Holga uses medium format film. Up until then, I had only used 35 mm film and digital camera,” Rebecca stated. “They take some of the weirdest pictures! Once again, I fell in love with alternative photography. Sometimes, it’s called nontraditional photography because it’s not your standard pose in a well-lit portrait. The Holgas are made for outdoor or very candid pictures. You have to tape it up or you get light leaks. The lens is made of plastic, so it’s all warped on the pictures. But I just loved it as soon as I developed that first roll of film. I was thinking, I never want to use another camera again! It gave such interesting effects. Some of the  students took pictures of people and others of landscapes. I took pictures of everything, because I wanted to know what it looked like with this camera.”

While attending UTA, Rebecca took an alternative process class with Professor Scott Hilton, where she learned cyanotype and other antique film processes. Cyanotype was invented in 1842 and used for architectural blueprints up until the 1960s. Cyanotype refers to the process of image making by using photosensitive liquid and sunlight to print a picture. “Most of these photographic processes have been abandoned for over a century except by enthusiasts, like myself,” she stated. “The whole world is digital now, and people have forgotten about real photography, where it can
take hours for one picture. I took two years of advanced photography classes to figure out what my purpose is as a photographer or what my style is. I knew portraits were not for me. I wanted to do antiquated photography for the rest of my life.”

Rebecca’s photography has a spiritual element to it. In many of her photographs, she has a passage from the Bible that best depicts what she wants to say about that photograph. “My favorite work is about surreal beauty in the natural world accentuated by alternative processes, defined by the simple elements and principles of art and inspired by the Creator,” she explained.

“Photography is not an outlet. It is an inlet. When I take a picture, I am letting a little of the beauty I saw come in to me. Making the print afterward is sort of anticlimactic to me. The actual taking of the picture is what I enjoy the most. My artistic expression matched what I
was producing.”

With Rebecca’s type of photography, time is an essential element in producing just the right image. When making wet plate collodion tintypes, she pours an emulsion onto the plate and then dips it into silver nitrate, which is what makes the plate photosensitive. All of this is done in the darkroom. Rebecca then places the plate inside the camera and, in her words, “opens the shutter for as long as 10 minutes, to expose the image onto the plate.” She then takes out the plate and develops it. There is no film involved.

Rebecca explained the cyanotype method. “Photosensitive chemistry is painted on paper, [and] then you place a film negative or objects on top and lay it in the sun for about 15 minutes. UV rays react with the chemicals on  the paper. This is a very hands-on kind of photography. This process is cool because you can do it on any material that will soak up the photosensitive liquid. You can make yourself a T-shirt with a cyanotype on it.”

As a photographer who appreciates photography’s past, Rebecca has a collection of Brownie cameras [introduced in 1900] full of history. She has her dad’s camera and her grandmother’s. Another Brownie camera yielded a wondrous find. Her sister found it at a garage sale and, knowing her sister’s passion, purchased it. “It still had a roll of film in it!” Rebecca recalled excitedly. “I call it the mystery film. I had the film developed, and it was photos of a family from the ’50s. I would love to find the kids in those photos and return them. It was pretty much the highlight of my life finding that mystery film.”

Rebecca tried to locate the family by doing some detective work, so she could return the photos. Guessing the film was from Norman, Oklahoma, since that is where her sister purchased it, and noticing the house number 1321, she traveled to Oklahoma to find them. Her trip, unfortunately, was unsuccessful.

Rebecca recognizes that her photos are very different from modern photos. “There is a lot of art in the world that is meant to be about something and makes a statement. Or it’s supposed to be shocking,” she explained. “I’m not into all that. When I discovered these alternative processes, I felt like I didn’t have the burden anymore of trying to make my pictures about something. I just wanted to capture something I saw, and I saw something beautiful. I wanted to capture it and share it. The alternative processes are a statement in themselves.”

Written by Betty Tryon.