Artist Spotlight: Anna Tomczak May 16 2020

Anna Tomczak

When did you first realize you had an interest in photography?

When I was about 10, my father gave me a Brownie Starflash camera and I used it to photograph my surroundings. In addition to photographing the landscape, I enjoyed photographing my horse, Apache; my collie dog, Ranger; and various cats and farm animals.

Name a few artist(s) that had a strong influence on your style or art practice, and why?

I was strongly influenced by Evon Streetman and Jerry Uelsmann, my photography professors in graduate school at the University of Florida. Their exploration of unusual techniques, blended imagery, and experimental methods are a lasting inspiration.

When did you begin working with Polaroid transfers, and would you briefly describe the process?

In the fall of 1992, the Atlantic Center for the Arts invited William Wegman to be a Master Artist for their Master Artist-in-Residency program and I was selected to be one of his associate artists. During this residency one of the original 20x24 Polaroid cameras was shipped to ACA to allow Wegman to create a new body of work. Each associate had access to the camera and sheets of 20x24 Polacolor film. During the residency, Wegman encouraged me to experiment with Polaroid transfers using this film. He suggested that this process would be a perfect segue from my earlier work in which I embellished matte black and white prints with oil paint.

Polaroid film comes in several different formats and each film has its own technical qualities. With Polacolor film, the negative can be separated from the positive allowing the dyes to be transferred onto watercolor paper. Only five 20x24 cameras were created by Polaroid, which made access to this camera and film hard to come by. Thanks to John Reuter, the former director of the 20x24 studio in NYC, these processes were shared with me to create my series of Polaroid transfers, made over a period of time from 1993 until 2018. 

Your large-scale Polaroids often depict still-lifes you set up in your studio. What types of objects and ephemera do you collect to incorporate in these scenes?

I search for unique artifacts from museums and antique collections to use in my compositions. I often incorporate old photographs borrowed from the early days of photography and I also enjoy integrating botanicals into my work.


Image (1): Wombley's Girls, Polaroid image transfer on Arches paper, 40 x 30 inches
Image (2): Lotus Prophet, Polaroid image transfer on Arches paper, 39 1/2 x 31 1/2 inches

What are some common themes you explore in your work and has that changed over time?

I frequently explore historical symbolism, antiquities, traditions, and memories. Animals have always been a reference, as I am fascinated by their beauty.  My work evolves slowly, with subtle shifts in subject matter over time.

Do you have an idea in mind when you begin a new piece or do you work intuitively, figuring it out as you go?

I definitely work intuitively. Ideas come to me in mysterious ways and I am open to making changes as needed.

What are some of the benefits and challenges of working with large format Polaroid transfers?

The prints are beautiful and one-of-a-kind. At the same time, the camera is a challenge. It is large and requires two people to operate it. The transfer process requires precision, a bit of stamina, and is a delicate process in its own right.

Choose one of your pieces at Arts on Douglas to discuss. Please share a story about it or offer additional insight.

I created the piece titled Lucero in 2009 when I had a unique opportunity to photograph a horse using the 20x24 Polaroid camera in the painting studio at ACA.  My friends John and Estella brought the horse over from Mt. Dora and carefully coaxed him into the studio. We searched the ACA campus to find rubber backed rugs from other buildings so Lucero would not get spooked by the cement floor upon his entry. It worked well, and we placed him in a perfect spot for the shoot. The camera operator, John Reuter was clearly nervous, and I remember him saying, “Anna – big horses and big cameras just don’t mix.” Despite the challenges, all went well, and Lucero was the star of the shoot.

Image: Lucero, archival print of original 20 x 24 Polaroid transfer, 51 x 41.5 inches


What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

I would share a quote by Jerry Uelsmann, “Don’t wait around for inspiration - just get your butt into the studio and work as hard as you can!”

In addition to making art, you also teach workshops. Do you find that teaching and interacting with your students has had an impact on your own work?

Yes, the camaraderie that develops when working on several different processes with various students and artists provides me with multiple points of reference. These workshops help me to solve some of the technical questions we are faced with and expand our ideas.

What are you working on now?

Recently, I have been working with wax and oils to create encaustic collages. I am going back into my archives to find imagery from my travels to places such as Italy, France, Mexico, Prague, and Croatia. I incorporate these photos into this new collage and waxwork.


Image: Anna Tomczak, Carissimo Figlio: Dear Son, 
photo transfer, beeswax, 8 x 8 inches

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