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Elizabeth Opalenik, Mordançage

When I came to Provence in 1983, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Jean-Pierre Sudre, the founder of mordançage. I felt like I had come home photographically and continued to visit his atelier with students every year, even after his death in 1997.   In 1991, the Sudre’s offered a week-long seminar on Mordançage and so began my true passion for the possibilities of working in this incredible process.

Starting with a high contrast gelatin silver print, the photographic silver emulsion is chemically lifted in the shadow area and is removed or rearranged as it clings to the highlight.  The “draped spidery veils” in the images are my contribution to this process which I began saving immediately as I recognized the expressive possibilities of the technique. The veils are accomplished by using my breathe or drops of wager to preserve or alter the delicate floating silver skin.  As such, each piece is unique.  Sudre was dubious at first,  though he understood my artist lament of wanting to find my own voice in mordançage.  In the end, with a smile, he was asking for my notes and called me a “mordançeuse.”
Like any artistic process, just because you can, doesn’t mean you always should.  Many images do not have the draped veils.  That is by choice, for they are only there when they enhance the images.  Sure once said, “You must let your heart and soul enter into this and feel the blood pulsing through your veins” for the process to work.  Not only has my heart and soul entered, but it has remained firmly planted as I constantly seek to develop the endless possibilities the “photo gods” offer.
Elizabeth Opalenik