FRAMED: A Conversation with Featured Artist Lisa Bennett

Our featured artist this month is the mega-talented Lisa Bennett, whose work we've all been fans of for quite some time. Lisa's one of those people who seems to always be making something new and magical -- from photography to textiles, drawings to videos, and heck, even stuffed weaponry

Lisa resides right here in Central Pennsylvania. She received her BFA in Photography from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an AA in Photography from Harrisburg Area Community College. She has exhibited her artwork in various galleries, craft shows and arts institutions in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago and Boston. She is currently an adjunct faculty member in the photography department at Harrisburg Area Community College.  

We talked to Lisa about her techniques, her inspirations, and what keeps her creating. 

What inspired this body of work?

This past spring, I taught a history of photography class at HACC. As I prepared my lecture materials, it was really empowering for me to observe the ebb and flow of styles throughout history. It made me realize that the most important thing to do, in order to progress, really is to keep experimenting. It also reintroduced me to John Herschel's discovery of the cyanotype in the 1840s and Anna Atkin's use of the process with botanicals. I thought it would be fun to have my students make cyanotypes, and I ended up being inspired to apply the process to my own practice.

Where were these images shot?

A few of the images were taken last year in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree National Park. Others were taken while on hikes in the central PA area, especially on the Appalachian Trail. The botanical prints were made from plants in my parents' garden and also with plants found near the Yellow Breeches Creek (the prints were processed in the creek, too!)

I used a variety of formats to take the images: camera phone, 120mm, 35mm. I didn't use my big digital SLR camera for any of these, and I'm pretty happy about that.

Tell us about working with cyanotypes and gelatin silver prints. Were those processes you’ve used before? How does that work?

I loved working with the cyanotypes since it was a process I could easily do anywhere. The initial mixing of the solution and coating the paper requires a dark space (with no UV light creeping in), but after that all you need is sun and water. I can remember using the pre-made cyanotype paper (or, sun prints) at some point, but this was the first time I used the process with waxed paper negatives and digital negatives on transparency film. The ability to tone the prints to colors other than cyan blew my mind, especially with the botanical images that came out both yellow and cyan.

I first learned photography in high school, and at that time we used black and white film/paper. I loved using film and being in the darkroom. I continued to use it throughout college too, even when other people were starting to pick up digital cameras. I admit it took me a really long time to finally embrace digital photography.

I started teaching photography at HACC last year and that got me thinking about using black and white film again. I'm a graduate of the photography program there, so I felt a huge amount of nostalgia being back in the darkroom again. Once I started developing my film, it really hit me that I missed the hands-on process of making images that I could eventually hold in my hands. I've always loved and needed to create things with my hands, so the traditional methods of making photographs satisfies that.

You’re a multi-talented artist who works with all kinds of mediums. Do you have a favorite, whether that’s an all-time favorite or an of-the-moment favorite? What keeps you creating and trying new things?

Oh! that's a tough question! 

Right now it's both photography and knitting. I'm currently learning how to do wet plate photography. It's an extremely hands-on process, which I love, but it's also a lot of chemistry, which is challenging. It makes me feel like a pseudo-scientist, for sure. As for knitting, I'm making a lot of practical items, like socks...I love knitting socks. 

My own curiosity keeps me going. I'm drawn to processes that are inherently technical and/or repetitious, but have room for creativity. Photography and knitting both have that. I've always liked to take things or ideas apart, experiment with it and see what I can do with the results. A good chunk of my artwork explores interpersonal connections and how location and language affect those relationships, often in a humorous way with crafted objects. So, I'm inspired by the people around me, whether they are makers or not.

How do you like to spend your time outside of creating artwork?

I like doing physical activities - hiking, running, swimming, climbing. It's taught me a lot about the limits of my own body, but it's also taught me how to have a practice and how to have patience. I can see the lessons from doing those activities slowly trickling over to my approach to my art/craft-making practice. I love being in nature, too, to feel humble and for all the healing that it provides.

Anything else you’d like our customers/fans to know about who you are and what you do?

My husband and partner-in-crime, Jay Johnson, is an incredible artist that you should know about. He has a knack for making ordinary things so hilarious (yet... beautiful) through drawings and video. My favorite drawings are ones he makes of animals. He draws them so they take on superpowers, like a snake riding a unicyclea cat doing karatea snake smoking a pipe...

Another favorite is his series of very short videos (most are only 15 seconds!) about his character named Kevin who has various adventures via his Sci-Fi Special Effects show. I've heard there are more episodes in the pipeline and I know I'm not alone in hoping more will come to fruition in 2016.


Come out for 3rd in the Burg THIS FRIDAY, November 20th, from 4pm to 8pm to meet Lisa and view her work!