For several months I have been looking forward to seeing Elisabeth Sunday’s photographs which were recently published by Nazraeli Press in a special edition book entitled, Grace. It contains forty-five duotone plates in a limited edition of one thousand in the first print run with an illuminating essay by Deborah Willis.
Sunday’s passion for Africa has been a twenty-six year fascination with her rich and varied subjects all photographed using a curved, flexible mirror that she herself designed. She says she loves the people she photographs because they are “free, expressive, beautiful and willing.”
In her blog, she writes about the importance of her mirrors. After one cracked, she had another made. “The muse is tuned and waiting for me to engage it and bring out the images, calling them forward.” For Sunday, the mirrors, her passion and the stories her grandfather told her of Africa, all came together to create her muse. Her grandfather, Paul Bough Travis, was a Cleveland School artist who traveled to Africa. In 1982, she began having endless dreams about Africa which began her travels and thus her experiments with the mirror photography.
Elisabeth said “Everywhere I go, I go twice. Kenya, Mali, Ghana, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Sungal, Ethiopia. I wanted to go to the place where people continue to live with the rhythms and cycles of nature. You find the most traditional lives in Africa. Those ways are vanishing from all over the planet. For somebody interested in the origins of those people and spirit, you find it in Africa.” I was mesmerized by her enthusiasm and fascination for the people she photographs.
With so many digital photographers who don’t understand the merits of film, Elisabeth’s words are simple and profound: “Film is what I know and I do it well. I like the results I get from film. I see no need to change it.”
Elisabeth, like most caring photographers, is obsessed by light. “I came from a family of three generations of artists so I was exposed to composition, design early. My father was a stain glass window designer.”
As I made my way to Peter Fetterman’s Gallery at Bergamot Station Arts Center, I saw a magnificent purple, orange and pink Los Angeles sunset.
I stayed up all night captivated by Grace. It is a sumptuous, oversized (14″ x 17″) format on uncoated paper and bound in Japanese cloth. Her publisher used private reserve paper and special ink. Sunday’s solitary travels took her from the primeval forests of the Congo Basin to the vast stretches of the Sahara Desert. Whether it be the hunter-gatherers in the forest or the nomadic tribes of the desert, Elisabeth’s soulful images have been her muse for twenty six years.
Paul Strand said that your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who truly sees. Because of the unique way Sunday photographs, a layer is revealed that we don’t ordinarily see with straight photography. She reaches in and photographs the essence of a person. Elisabeth exemplifies a wise woman whose art comes from the deepest part of her soul. She’s created many transcendental moments of peace for herself and for the people who allow her to photograph them.
Henri Cartier-Bresson said photographers must respect the atmosphere that surrounds the human being. I believe that the synergy you get from your subjects has a lot to do with the photographer’s values. It’s apparent Elisabeth respects the people and their habitat. As she reveals the depths of her being, we are given the gift of her heart with timeless, honest photography. Honesty and passion are Sunday’s métier.
- Elisabeth Sunday, Grace at Peter Fetterman Gallery, Santa Monica, California – photos courtesy of Peter Fetterman Gallery.
- “Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.” –Leonardo da Vinci
- “Mirror photography is much more than photographing a reflection, it produces a visual alchemy that combines the physical world with that of the great mystery. Photographing with mirrors allows me to see the world in a different light and capture some element that remains hidden in straight photography. The use of elongation in indigenous and western art has long been an archetype for the unconscious. Following in this tradition, I use my mirror to shine into the internal deep spaces where we universally connect to something greater.” –Elisabeth Sunday