Fine Art Photography Daily

Thesis Project: Leah Schretenthaler

Schretenthaler_Invasive Species_1 - Leah Schretenthaler

© Leah Schretenthaler, Diamond Head from Kapiolani Park, 2020, Laser Etched Silver Gelatin Print

When looking at Leah Schretenthaler‘s work, what excited me the most was it’s place as a new investigation into a very heavy mythologized geographic location. Hawaii has long been a place of interest for photographers, and for good reason, but Leah’s work feels like it takes all of that and flips it on it’s head. Seeing traditional darkroom processes combined with new technological practices is a refreshing take on what a darkroom print is and should look like.

Schretenthaler_Invasive Species_2 - Leah Schretenthaler

© Leah Schretenthaler, Ko’olau Range, 2018, Laser Etched Silver Gelatin Print

The Invasive Species of the Built Environment

The land of Hawaii is vast, luxurious, and idyllic, but past the wanderlust images the land is very controversial. The growing population and tourism continues to threaten the space and its ability to accommodate all the occupants. From the research telescopes on the mountain of Maunakea on the Big Island, to the crumbling rail project on Oahu believed to fix the traffic problem, these infrastructures have augmented the land. The industrial growth happening in Hawaii goes beyond simply manipulating the landscape; it destroys the historical records and spiritual places that have existed there for millions of years. Through these photographs, the attention focuses on the spaces that these infrastructures impede on the natural environment, instead of colors of the idyllic Hawaii. Using silver gelatin prints which consist of selected, man-made spaces that have been attempted to be removed, create a burnt and sometimes empty area. The use of a laser cutter to cut the structure from the landscape leaves scar upon the image. The removed spaces aid in seeing what Hawaii would be like without these impositions. The areas that have been removed from the images are not being replaced with anything and therefore communicate the natural impingement this structure has on the environment, even if it were to be removed. However, the process of trying to remove these objects has weakened the paper and metaphorically weakened the landscape it is trying to depict. The areas that have not been completely removed leave a faint and thin layer of paper residue. The structures still exist and can never be completely erased. However, it draws attention to what is becoming the built environment in Hawaii. These invasive infrastructures have impinged on the natural environment. Although these images discuss visually the reality of Hawaii, it brings to light that this is not a one-state problem. Much like the invasive species that we eradicate from our gardens and fields, so too should we approach these human invasions onto the landscape. No longer should humanity build for the sake of building; but should instead question the social and political concerns that exist in the natural world. – Leah Schretenthaler

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© Leah Schretenthaler, Hawaii Kai Valley and Lagoons from Koko Head, 2020, Laser Etched Silver Gelatin Print

 Brennan Booker:  In this time of social-distancing and greater isolation, how have you adapted your studio practice to the current situation, and and how is it impacting the work you’re making now? 
Leah Schretenthaler: During this time I have converted a small section of my basement into a darkroom. Since I am unable to travel back home to Hawaii to continue to make work, I have shifted my practice to camera-less photography. I am now creating landscapes in the darkroom. My practice has also shifted to become more sculptural. I am currently using materials I have collected and experimented with during my time in graduate school and I am creating a materiality book that references my thesis.
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© Leah Schretenthaler, Ford Island, 2019, Laser Etched Silver Gelatin Print

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© Leah Schretenthaler, Waikiki Beach, 2019, Laser Etched Silver Gelatin Print

BB: As the traditional model of brick and mortar exhibition spaces become more difficult to sustain, both the arts organizations and the artist need to find solutions to sharing photographs. How best can an organization support the artist and visa versa? 
LS: From what I have seen, I have been very excited about different places offering ZOOM critiques. This is a great way for artists to meet new people in the photography community without needing money to travel. As an artist, we can support these brick and mortar spaces by becoming members, purchasing the magazines, and buying artwork. This is a great time to be a member of different spaces because places are offering more classes, workshops, etc. Purchasing art from galleries, exhibitions, and artists is a great way to support these places and people who have supported us.
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© Leah Schretenthaler, Hanauma Bay from Koko Head, 2020, Laser Etched Silver Gelatin Print

BB: How are you finding community (online and in person) in a climate in which we increasingly rely on digital platforms to connect with each other? 
LS: Instagram has been a great start for a community. Because of my travels to different conferences and exhibitions, I have been able to reconnect with other third-year graduates and practicing artists. We have checked in on each other and asked each other about the shifts in our practice. Also, since all classes have shifted to a digital platform, I have seen an increase of visiting artists talk with the different classes. This new way of connecting practicing artists with students is really exciting for the photography community.
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© Leah Schretenthaler, Mauna Kea Observatory, 2020, Laser Etched Silver Gelatin Print

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© Leah Schretenthaler, Ala Moana Construction, 2020, Laser Etched Silver Gelatin Print

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© Leah Schretenthaler, Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout, 2018, Laser Etched Silver Gelatin Print

 BB: What are your thoughts on being a photographer today? 
LS: Being a photographer today is very exciting. I am an artist that is constantly looking at images. The work being created today can range from traditional to experimental to documentary. You can easily find another artist to look up. During COVID-19, I have found that being a photographer now means making things work. People are developing their film at home, creating humorous still lifes, and using any materials that they have stockedpiled to create work. Today, it is all about being resourceful and engaged with each other.
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© Leah Schretenthaler, Mauna Kea Satellites, 2020, Laser Etched Silver Gelatin Print

Leah Schretenthaler was born and raised in Hawaii. She is currently an MFA candidate. Through her art practice, her research presents a connection between land and materiality. Her work has been displayed and published nationally and internationally. Most recently she has been named in LensCulture’s Emerging Talents of 2018, awarded 2nd in Sony World Photography Awards, and was also awarded the Rhonda Wilson Award from Klompching Gallery in FRESH2019.

Keep up with Leah Schretenthaler’s work here.

Instagram: @leah_schretenthaler

Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.

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