Scanning the world around her to create unique photographs
While in art classes at Brentwood High School in Nashville, Claire Bloomfield took a picture of a barn and made a painting from it. Finding joy in recreating the image she captured, she became obsessed with going on walks and looking for beautiful things. She would take photos, then go home and paint from the pictures.
In art school at UTC, she wanted to see how far she could push herself. She enjoyed painting, but as she began to delve into the ideas behind the art she was studying, she realized that painting was not an efficient way to express her ideas. Photography got her closer to sharing her vision, so she made it her major.
Claire is a quick-minded person whose thoughts and ideas evolve rapidly. “What was difficult with painting was the duration of painting time—by the time I finished a painting, I was thinking something different. Every photo represents an idea. I’m layering what I’m thinking about that day—it might be psychology, the mind, the subconscious, pop culture, and toxic culture all at once.”
Her need for a means of spontaneously generating imagery caused her to seek out a new medium, and what she discovered is a most interesting photographic tool; a flatbed scanner. “The images look like they are from a foreign universe, a strange world, different from where I am. I’m genuinely surprised and impressed every time I make a scan. I might put down something artificial and something natural, and then capture the interaction of those two materials. 50 percent of the time it looks good, the other 50 percent of the time it’s awful—I experiment with various materials, playing with chance—and select my best ones to edit and print.”
The ideas behind her recent work are as technological as her creative tools. “I’ve been thinking about the internet, information technology, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, etc. With all of these, we are constantly connected to each other in this alternative world. My photographs are part of that cyber world.”
Claire has created a series of landscapes with the scanner. “I’ll be thinking of water, then an image will emerge as a digital version of water. I will draw on it using Photoshop, adding wires, energy, as if it were actually alive in a digital space. With this process, I have to work quickly - the scanner bed only takes about 30 seconds to make a scan, so I will be painting as it scans, maybe using the movement of my hand to make a mark—then I might crack an egg on the scanner, or pour something on it. When you make the scans, it happens really fast, but then the images look paused, in another time.”
This brilliant approach to photography isn’t without its pitfalls. “I currently don’t have a scanner because I dumped milk on it. I used to lay down plastic sheets and tape the edges to protect the scanner, but I’m a spontaneous person. Luckily the local thrift stores will sell scanners for around $5 to $20. The cost of a canvas is $20 to $50, so I think of it as buying a new canvas every time I buy a scanner. I have gone through four scanners since December—I try to go for the same brand, HP printer/scanner combo, super hi-res. Right now I’m on the lookout for a film scanner—they scan on the negative, producing bizarre colors that one wouldn’t normally get.”
You can see this stunning series of photographs at Claire’s solo show at Cine-rama’s Swine Gallery. For the show, entitled “Cooking Up The Universe,” she casts herself in the role of Oz the Creator. “I feel like a god—I’m at this table, throwing food into a bowl, telling a story of how I think the universe was created. It is symbolic, not literal or religious. These are like Native American sand paintings, medical paintings where you have a shaman come over and bless the painting, erasing the painting to release the energy—that’s what the scanner is to me—the scanner bed is an altar piece. What is on it gets sent to this other world, the digital world, then I erase it, like a ritual. The scanner becomes a holy space. If I crack an egg and pour ink on it, it might be symbolic; I might be using food and plants to make a political statement. If I were to be using people as models, it would be more of a bold statement.”
Claire’s art jumps like a spark between the real world and the digital world, echoing the work of her heroes. It makes you feel fulfilled when you walk away, like you just watched a movie or read a book. “I appreciate technical art, but at the end of the day I like the artists that make me change my way of thinking.”