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Svala's Saga
Collaborative Project with Kirsten Hoving

Svala's Saga

Collaboration with Kirsten Hoving, 2013-2019


Artist Statement


From the beginning, Svala was the guardian of the birds. But on a cold, gray day, she no longer heard them. They all had disappeared. She searched throughout the land, but only broken shells and empty nests remained.  As winters and summers passed, Svala consulted oracles and interpreted dreams. The message was always the same: it was her destiny to rescue the birds. She bid farewell to home and hearth, then set out across the world on her quest. 



Svala’s Saga is a photographic fairy tale about the journey of a single character and the world she inhabits.  As told through fifty interrelated photographs, our strong female heroine, Svala, is confronted with the sudden loss of the world’s birds. She then embarks on a mythic quest: as the Earth heats and cools, she journeys through the wilderness searching for the last remaining eggs.
The landscape of Iceland is an active character in the narrative. Svala interacts dramatically with a variety of visually astonishing rock formations, steam vents, glaciers, and geysers. In this realm of environmental extremes, Svala’s story abounds with magic and metaphor.
We chose to print Svala’s Saga using the historic palladium process coated over a digital/pigment under-print, a process that has been called “Pigment over Palladium.” This hybrid technique lacks the immediate historical references of other vintage processes. Instead, it evokes hand-colored photographs or painted illustrations, reinforcing the combination of fantasy and photography.



Process Description


While making this project, Kirsten and I have worked collaboratively on the concept and structure of the narrative of around 60 photographs. On location, I acted out the role of the character, and we discussed the desired shot and composition as we went. Kirsten was behind the camera most of the time, although I did some shooting when the character wasn’t required. Each day we reviewed the images taken and chose the highlights. I did some basic editing in the field, as we discussed the trajectory of the project. 


I have been responsible for all of the post-processing and printing. Back in the studio, I did more complex collaging and compositional changes. I also created my own workflow in order to print these images using the chemical palladium process coated over a digital/pigment color under-print. 


After the first trip to Iceland, I began experimenting with ways of printing this work. I printed the images I had digitally and then began to try combining digital with chemical processes. In 2009 I worked as a teaching assistant for a one-week workshop taught by Dan Burkholder at Maine Media Workshops. In this workshop, I learned about the "Pigment over Platinum" process that he developed. He explained that he chose to name it "Pigment over Platinum" because the chemicals have soaked into the paper, while the pigment has stayed on the surface.  


When starting out on Svala’s Saga, I had this process in mind as a potential printing option. Unlike some photographic processes, and because it is a combination of techniques, I believe this process does not have an immediate association with a specific time period or historical reference. Instead, this process references illustration or hand-colored images. The examples below compare the digital negative and the color under-print that were combined to create the final print.

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