Fine Art Photography Daily

Paula Riff: Shibui and Blue is not the sky

Day Glo

©Paula Riff, Day Glo, from Shibui

When I first met Photographic Artist Paula Riff, her practice was in the classic darkroom, creating hand painted photographs of people and places captured in Russia. Today, her practice has evolved to lensless photography, using alternative processes to create a new kind of art, born from photographic materials. Paula’s layered constructions have an elegance that comes from Japanese and mid-century influences, elevating simple organic and graphic forms into new incarnations. Today we share work from two series, Shibui and Blue is not the sky.

Her work has been well-celebrated (she was a 2018 Critical Mass Top 50 winner) and that continues with work in the exhibition, Out of the Box: Camera-less Photography, at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida Exhibition runs February 9-June 18, 2019,  Solo exhibition at the Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester, MA Exhibition runs April 11-June 2, 2019, and beginning in January of 2019, work to be shown and for sale in the store and on-line gallery at The Print Center, Philadelphia, PA. Will also be showing with The Print Center at the Art on Paper Fair in New York, March 7-10 2019.

Paula Riff’s first career did not involve taking pictures. After college, she lived in Tokyo, Japan for several years and upon her return became an interpreter for Japanese production companies in Los Angeles. She switched careers while landing an internship at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the photo department. She also worked at the California Institute of the Arts, taking photos for their publications. Although Paula owns digital and film cameras her recent work finds her camera-less, coating her own papers and making photograms. Paula’s work was selected for the Top 50 Critical Mass Award of 2018 and was a finalist in 2018 for the Juliet Margaret Cameron Award in the Alternative Process Category. Her work has appeared in numerous museums, galleries, publications and exhibitions throughout the U.S and abroad. Paula’s work is also held in private collections.


©Paula Riff, Col-Trane(d), from Shibui


The Japanese word shibui refers to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle and unobtrusive beauty and it is the concept that reflects the spirit of this series, Shibui. An object of art that employs these characteristics may at first appear to be simple, but upon closer inspection the subtle details and textures balance that simplicity with a rich complexity.

I create cameraless images using the processes of cyanotype and color gum bichromate as a way to physically interact with the natural world as an artist.  I cut the paper at various intersections which allows me to enter the conversation with the images in a very intimate way. My intention is to strip away as much as possible so that I am able to focus more on the elements of design and consider elements of nature in a different way.

Night Garden

©Paula Riff, Night Garden, from Shibui

Indigo Dream

©Paula Riff, Indigo Dream, from Shibui

Ginkgo's Folly

©Paula Riff, Ginkgo’s Folly, from Shibui

Beneath Her Feet

©Paula Riff, Beneath Her Feet, from Shibui

Girl Crush

©Paula Riff, Girl Crush, from Shibui

On Brooklyn Ground

©Paula RIff, On Brooklyn Ground, from Shibui

River Wild

©Paula Riff, River Wild, from Shibui

  Blue is not the sky

Blue is not the sky is an exploration of color, form and design through experimental and cameraless photography. I use the historical processes of cyanotype and gum bichromate to imagine the universe through the world of abstraction, as a place where all possible shapes, forms and colors coexist.

I am inspired by abstract painters and the experimental photographers of the early 1920’s who created abstract images with the intention of moving beyond the medium’s ability to reproduce reality. My intention is to create a different reality by letting go of any preconceived ideas of photography. In the purest sense, I seek to look at art with its most fundamental elements of shapes and lines while giving homage to the simplicity of form, color and design.

Because of Blue

©Paula Riff, Because of Blue, from Blue is not the Sky

Blue on Green

©Paula Riff, Blue on Green, from Blue is not the Sky

Central Park

©Paula Riff, Central Park, from Blue is not the Sky


©Paula Riff, Chinatown, from Blue is not the Sky

Lost in Tokyo

©Paula Riff, Lost in Tokyo, from Blue is not the Sky

Night Fever

©Paula Riff, Night Fever, from Blue is not the Sky

Purple Romance

©Paula Riff, Purple Romance from Blue is not the Sky

Rhapsody in Yellow

©Paula Riff, Rhapsody in Yellow, from Blue is not the Sky

Shades of Blue

©Paula Riff, Shades of Blue, from Blue is not the Sky

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