More about Captive

Adjunct Instructor, Forsyth Technical Community College

 Maybe you’ve seen Emma Powell in your dreams.

Emma Powell’s Captive is part of the larger series In Search of Sleep. As a child, Powell struggled with the process of getting to sleep. Inspired by stories her father would tell her before bed, her series uses staged dream-like scenes through the medium of cyanotype prints. The images are then toned with coffee, tea, wine, and other tannins, symbolizing the effects these can have on mental states and exploring the relationship between the medium and the message.

In Captive, Powell stages a scene of a woman pulling someone’s hair while her hair is also being pulled by an unknown hand. The action creates the illusion of the woman pulling her own hair outside the frame, producing a repeated optical illusion reminiscent of M. C. Escher. The woman seems to have even frightened herself with this action, being pulled backwards with a surprised expression. As dreams often give us a subconscious context for your deeper feelings, Powell seems to be representing the feeling of holding yourself back. In the images, Powell uses self-portraiture to create the sequences. Each image tells its own story while the larger series gives context to the relationship between the subconscious, waking world, and the psyche.

The cyanotype process gives the aesthetic of the work strong fantasy and dream-like vibes à la Surrealism, even though this is a photographic process. Alternative photographic processes often use a light-sensitive emulsion which creates intense hues and values based on the places where light touches it. Cyanotype hues are darker where more light has landed and lighter where light is blocked by a negative. Powell uses these processes to enhance the otherworldly view of the scenes. The process gives a painterly quality to the photograph, with soft edges and a vignette-like appearance. You’re basically entering into her dreamworld - but don’t get lost!