Artist, Innovator, Friend: Remembering Paula Riff
In early February, we lost a bright light and incredible artist, the one and only Paula Riff. She leaves her daughter and an army of friends and admirers to absorb the profound loss to our community. Today, I want to share some of Paula’s work and journey, but also am delighted to announce, The Paula Riff Award, created by Lenscratch and the Center of Photographic Arts, as a way to celebrate and continue her legacy. Paula was an innovator, using camera-less photography and historical processes to create objects of remarkable beauty. The Award will be open to artists whose art is challenging conventional photography through work that reflects the artist’s hand, either based on the historical/alternative photographic processes or with physical intervention through cutting, sewing, etc. Deadline to apply: June 8, 2021. The winner will receive $1000 and have their work featured on Lenscratch and on the Center for Photographic Art websites. The winner will be announced in July, Paula’s birth month. Artist Brenton Hamilton will be the 2021 Juror.
The second announcement is that Paula had just put the finishing touches on her spectacular monograph, Paula Riff: works on paper, when she passed. Designed by Susan Swihart, it’s a stunning color filled collection of three of her projects. The book will be printed in Belgium, 136 pages |54 color plates at 8 x 8″. We are doing a pre-sale of the book to help offset printing costs, though the book will not be available for shipping for several months. We are printing an edition of 350 and once they are gone, they are gone. If you are interested in pre-ordering a book, it will assure you a copy. ORDER HERE.
In 2014, a diminutive, bespectacled, smiling faced Paula Riff joined a class I was teaching. She sat right up front and would smile and nod her head through all my lectures. As an educator, it was a wonderful validation that what I was teaching was making sense and was meaningful to her. At that time, Paula had not started her amazing journey through alternative processes. The work she brought to share had been made decades earlier–small silver gelatin prints captured during a trip to Russia and hand-painted. Over the next two years, she began to tip toe into new ways of making work, without a camera, and found her voice through layered hand-made marbleized papers, gum bichromate, cyanotypes, and more…and the rest is history. Paula took her work seriously, studying and reading, trying and failing, but most often, trying and succeeding and building her own unique language in the photographic arts. Much of her work is rooted in her love of all things Japanese and in mid-century sensibilities. Her color palette was perfection and the simplicity of work filled with color and gesture, made it even more remarkable. She writes about the beginnings of her aesthetics: As I consider my influences and artistic journey, it starts in college when I fell in love with all things Japanese. I studied the language and culture and right after graduation I moved to Tokyo, remaining for almost a decade. I worked as an interpreter and loved being bilingual, and though I hadn’t considered an artistic practice at that time, I was profoundly inspired by the minimal and considered aesthetic of Japan.
Once Paula was introduced to the photography community, she jumped in with vigor and both feet, befriending and supporting everyone she met or admired. She showed up to every opening, loved to travel and attend Shootapalooza events or fly to Paris for Paris Photo, always with enthusiasm and in high spirits, bringing a sense of adventure and fun, with champagne along for the ride. She had a particular way of being fully present and engaged, and as the outpouring of love after her passing showed, she also knew how to make everyone feel special.
Paula had a great sense of style, from her cowboy boots to her colored glasses, with clothes and scarves made from her own designs. Paula also was the best kind of foodie, from sweets to sushi, she was game for everything. We all learned a lot from her – how to be a friend, how to celebrate everything, how to take chances in art making, and most importantly, how to love. And the person she loved most was her spectacular daughter, Cassidy.
I feel a profound sense of loss, an emptiness and a hole in my heart, but honestly, I still feel her on a daily basis, circling around her friends and family in the form of a hummingbird or a morning dove. Still wanting to be part of our lives, spreading joy and happiness and letting us know she’s still here, if only in our hearts. And that’s the way I want to remember her, with that big giant smile, standing on my doorstep with a bottle of champagne, and the words, “Where’s the Party ?”
Paula Riff (1952-2021) was a Los Angeles based artist known for creating one of a kind camera-less photographic works on paper that embrace bold colors, form and design. Her constructions combine the historical processes of cyanotype and gum bichromate allowing her to create a physical and intimate relationship with the materials that she used to push the boundaries of the medium while considering themes of abstraction and the natural world.
Paula graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Japanese language and worked as an interpreter in Tokyo, Japan for several years. Returning to Los Angeles, she switched careers after interning at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the photo department. Her work was selected as a Critical Mass Top 50 Award in 2019, the Top 50 Critical Mass Award of 2018 and was a 2018 finalist for the Julia Margaret Cameron Award for Women in the Alternative Process Category. Paula also received the Museum Purchase Award at the Medium Photo Festival in 2019. Her work has appeared in numerous museums, galleries, publications and exhibitions throughout the U.S. and internationally and is also held in private collections.
Paula’s work will be in Convergence, an upcoming exhibition at the Halide Project from May 8th through June 27th in Philadelphia. An exhibition of Paula’s work just closed at the the San Francisco Airport. You can enjoy the work here.
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