Svala's Saga

Collaborative Project with Kirsten Hoving


Svala's Saga



Artist Statement


From the beginning, Svala was the guardian of the birds. On a cold, gray day, Svala no longer heard the birds. 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. Svala’s Saga harnesses the power of fiction to explore topics such as climate change and species extinction.
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 This hybrid technique lacks the immediate historical references of other vintage processes.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, which we plan to print as a book 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 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 collage 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 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. Many of the locations we photographed were colorful, and since few alternative process techniques result in a full range of color this combination seemed appropriate.


At the same time, we wanted these images to reference fantasy and storytelling. This technique adds an element of texture that makes the viewer aware of the surface of the paper, instead of a seamless window into reality. 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 historic reference. Instead, this process looks more like an illustration or hand colored image.


I chose to print with palladium rather than platinum for the color and tonal range. Palladium is a warmer gray/brown, while platinum produces a cooler tone. The tonal range worked well and revealed the color underprint accurately. I developed a photoshop file structure that would allow me to manipulate the digital color underprint and the digital negative separately and also keep them perfectly aligned. This enables me to reveal certain colors, while maximizing detail in other parts of the image. The examples below show the digital negative and the color under-print that were combined to create the final print.



















In the beginning, I tested several different papers. I settled on Arches Platine paper. This paper is made for this type of process and holds up under multiple chemical processing baths. It also has a smooth surface which works well with the "puddle pusher" coating technique for applying the palladium chemicals. Because the paper is not pre-coated for digital pigment ink, it produces color that is not as vibrant as it would be on a paper with a surface prepared for digital ink. Knowing this, I raise the saturation on the digital file before printing the underprint. 


After printing the underprint, I coat the palladium chemistry evenly across the surface and allow it to dry. Using the digital negative, I contact print with a UV plate-maker. The digital negative is then removed and the print is soaked in developer, and then in a series of clearing solutions and water. When dry, I use a very fine-tipped brush and retouch or paint in any dust spots or imperfections.




© 2020 by Emma Powell. All rights reserved.