As a child I used to walk with my father. We would take long walks and often end up at the Plush Horse, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, or the White Shingle, a local tavern. At the White Shingle, I would get dimes to play the bowling game and a kiddie cocktail while my dad had something stronger. At the Plush Horse, I got a single scoop of butter cream and daddy always had strawberry. My father was a fisherman and we spent vacations camping and fishing. This is how I developed my love of walks and nature.
When I started working on my series, pass, in Pass Christian, Mississippi, I walked the area that had been devastated by Katrina. I would see little shrines of objects on stairs that led to nowhere. I walked the beach everyday collecting shells, watching the stingrays frolic in the waves and the pelicans diving for fish.
The sounds of the waves, the smell of the gulf, the calls of the birds were all meditative for me. I found the remains of a bird; parts of the wings were all that remained. As an object it was strangely beautiful and repugnant at the same time. I put them in my bag. I had no idea what they would become but knew they needed another life, another form that would once again reveal their lost beauty.
I garden, I make bread, and I pour plates. I like the way the dirt feels as I plant a seed, the connection to the earth. I like the texture of the dough as I knead it, as it changes from sticky to a soft, satiny mass. I like the way the plate goes cold when I pour on the collodion and the dark pool beckons me into her depths. Through all this handwork comes satisfaction as I watch my labor become a plant spreading its leaves towards the sun, the aroma of bread freshly baked and an image revealed.
I collect things.
Before I start a new project, there is a period of time when I become strangely attracted to a certain object or objects. I start collecting, archiving, hoarding. I walk and collect and look and stare and think, till the pieces fall in place. It is in this same way that I create my collaged images in allegory. I look, I collect, and I create plates of individual images. I make a rough drawing of an idea. I piece it together, like lines of poetry, notes of music, a quilt. The images create the framework of an idea and from that framework I paint a supportive background for my chimeric vision.
S. Gayle Stevens has worked in antiquarian processes for over fifteen years. Her chosen medium is wet plate collodion for its fluidity and individuality. A member of the When Pigs Fly photo collective, she divides her time shooting in Pass Christian, Mississippi and Downers Grove, Illinois, where she resides. Stevens is represented by Tilt Gallery.