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Focal Point

"Focal Point" letterpress broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

If you earn your living by drawing pictures, you have to spend a lot of time with your head down and your eyes on your paper. Yet at this time of year, with spring coming along fast (at least in the Northwest…), life hurries by at a frantic pace. I hate the idea of missing any of it—so I’m always happy for any reminder to stop and really look around me. So for our newest Dead Feminist broadside, we’re heeding the words of one of America’s greatest photographers:

The seeing eye is the important thing.  — Imogen Cunningham

This piece is a major departure from what we’ve done in the past—as you can plainly see. For the first time ever we’ve printed the broadside on black paper—which helped us “pull the focus” (if you will) onto the quote. It also provided a beautiful backdrop for a tribute to someone who spent her life creating black-and-white images.

Surrounding the quote is an intricate metallic silver filigree of spring botanicals and portraiture, creating a pastiche of the subjects of some of Imogen Cunningham’s most iconic photographs—while the color choice references the traditional silver-gelatin photographic process. In the eye of the storm of imagery is the all-seeing camera lens, looking out onto the world.

Ink mixing photo by Chandler O'Leary

Jessica has her own secret-sauce recipe for gold ink, and while we’ve used it before in our series (like in Gun Shy), nothing makes it look so fabulous as a dark background. The gold ink looked amazing on press—we kind of wished we could just leave the ink on there permanently, because that’s some serious bling. (It almost made the Vandercook feel like some sort of super-cool Bond gadget.)

In-progress photo of "Focal Point" letterpress broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring

As always, we donate a portion of the proceeds of the series to a nonprofit that aligns with the message of each piece. To help sharpen the seeing eyes of the artists of tomorrow, this time we’ve chosen Youth in Focus — a nonprofit that puts cameras in the hands of at-risk youth to “teach them how to develop negatives into positives.”

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Focal Point: No. 19 in the Dead Feminists series
Edition size: 164
Poster size: 10 x 18 inches

Printed on an antique Vandercook Universal One press, on archival, 100% rag (cotton) paper. Each piece is numbered and signed by both artists.

Colophon reads:
Imogen Cunningham (1883 – 1976) graduated from the University of Washington in 1907, earning a degree in chemistry with her thesis on chemical processes in photography. Shortly afterward she was hired by photographer Edward Curtis, who taught her platinum printing and portraiture. She opened her own successful studio in Seattle, and published an article entitled “Photography as a Profession for Women.” In 1917, Cunningham and her husband and son relocated to California, where she gave birth to twin boys. Her children and the plants in her garden then became key subjects of her work. Her experiments with double exposure throughout the 1920s and 30s contributed to a growing appreciation of photography as art. She was a founding member of Group f/64, a collective of influential west coast photographers including Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. The group mounted a 1932 exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, united by a manifesto declaring “photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation.” Cunningham’s vision came through in both her personal and commercial work: unvarnished celebrity portraits for Vanity Fair; documentary street photography; nudes and botanical images — a lifetime of work that continues to challenge and intrigue viewers.

Illustrated by Chandler O’Leary and printed by Jessica Spring, grateful for artists who remind us to focus.

Available now in the Dead Feminists shop!

Detail of  "Focal Point" letterpress broadside by Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring