Along My Walk

I’m a walker. Most days I do a fast 4-6 mile walk for exercise. Generally I oppose the practice of multi-tasking, but during my walks I listen to books and podcasts in addition to enjoying the natural beauty along the Potomac River. Unifying my values and interests into an integrated lifestyle is important to me so I tend to listen podcasts about conscious consumerism, ethical manufacturing and environmental sustainability. Today I listened to a great discussion between Clare Press of “Wardrobe Crisis” and the zero waste advocate, Joost Bakker. It’s definitely worth a listen during your workout or commute.

I also discovered a new plant. Since I’ve lived in urban areas most of my life and I don’t have a green thumb, I use an app called PlantSnap to help me identify things. Below is a picture of Pachystachys Lutea, commonly called Lollipop Plant. Apparently it’s a popular landscape plant in sub-tropical and tropical areas, but here it is thriving in the Mid-Atlantic.

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Pamela Viola
Standing the test of time and rocking the little black dress.

I mentioned in my last post that I don’t like shopping for clothing. Consequently, I have some clothes that are pretty old. Thankfully my taste is classic and a bit minimalist so there are few trendy or outdated items in my closet.

On my way to a party last weekend I realized that the dress I was wearing, a classic black linen sheath, was over 20 years old. It fit a little more snugly than it had 20 years ago (sigh), but it still looked terrific! In fact, I was told several times that “I was rocking that little black dress.” The timeless shape of the dress had stood the test of time, and because I could still fit into it I guess I had too.

In the United States, 10.46 million tons of used textile waste ends up in landfills each year. This amount has doubled in the last 20 years. My 20 year old dress is still serving me well. I urge you to be mindful in selecting new garments and hang on to those classics that still make you feel good. Repair, reuse, repurpose.

Repair, reuse, repurpose that little black dress.

Repair, reuse, repurpose that little black dress.

Pamela Viola
Water Usage
Refections on the Ganges River, Varanasi India

Refections on the Ganges River, Varanasi India

In my previous blog post I mentioned that I’ve been making cyanotypes. While I enjoy the process and it’s unpredictable nature, the amount of water used during the washing phase troubles me. Researching the method, I discovered that some notable practitioners and educators advocate for washing in natural flowing water. The chemistry involved in cyanotypes is non-toxic so I’ve been experimenting with this technique. How wonderful it would be if my studio were beside a lake or flowing river, but sadly this isn’t the case. Instead I’ve been letting pieces soak in multiple baths rather that continually running water. This seems to work though I haven’t done a scientific comparison of water used.

And so, this started me down the path of thinking more about water and how various industries use this precious resource. Garment manufacturing is one of the heaviest polluting industries in the world. Many of the fashion industry’s negative environmental impacts spring from the production of materials used to create clothing. For those of you who know me well, you know I dislike shopping, especially for clothing. In turn I’ve been reading a lot about the “slow fashion” movement, mending, natural dyes and sustainability.

Over 700 gallons of water are needed to grown the cotton for a single t-shirt and a pair of jean can use up to 1,500 gallons of water. I urge you to consider how your own wardrobe impacts the environment and how you might be able to extend the life of your garments by repairing them or repurposing them with natural dyes. Learning to work with foraged natural materials and the meditative process of slow stitching to mend or repurpose an article of clothing is the perfect antidote to a hyper-paced digital world.

Pamela Viola
Then and Now
Silver Gelatin Print - Madrid, NM, 1985

Silver Gelatin Print - Madrid, NM, 1985

Cyanotype on Watercolor Paper, 2019

Cyanotype on Watercolor Paper, 2019

I have been serious about photography since my high school days. I’ve accumulated years in an analog darkroom as a black and white photographer. As a shy and introverted teen, the darkroom was a safe and welcoming place for me.

After earning a liberal arts degree in college, I tried unsuccessfully to make a living as a fine art photographer. Those were pre-internet days when it was difficult getting a gallery director or editor to accept your phone call or answer a letter. After a few years of exhibiting in group shows I turned to a career that would actually afford me a living wage, the film industry.

I worked in film production for 15 years or so. My work was all budgets, schedules and dealmaking, pretty uncreative stuff. In 1999 I realized I missed photographing and bought my first digital camera. When I left the film industry in 2006 I turned my sights again on making it as an artist. I have been a full-time artist for ten years working mostly with digital photography. I never went back to an analog practice until now.

I realized I missed making things by hand. Sure, I made my own digital prints, but much of my creative work involved compositing and editing on a computer. I wanted to handle raw materials again. So, as part of my practice, I make cyanotypes. I enjoy coating paper and fabric by hand, collecting plant life and exploring experimental techniques associated with the medium. Making cyanotypes feels integrated with the way I live my life.

Vintage sari ribbon bracelet
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Years ago I made jewelry in between film jobs. Then it was made of gold, sterling silver and semi-precious stones and was sold in boutiques in NYC and Brooklyn. On a whim today I made this bracelet from hand dyed vintage silk sari ribbon, some gold beads I had lying around and a wood button as a closure.

I wish I could use all the bits and bobs that have collected around me over the years before acquiring new materials. Essentially I’m a wabi-sabi minimalist with a touch of collector when it comes to things that might work in an art project someday…

Pamela Viola