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After more than a decade as a photo-journalist Ann Marie Rousseau begin to reflect on her formal training as a painter. After doing the same thing for so long I was exhausted and looking for a new direction, but I was uncertain about which way to turn," explains Rousseau. "I realized that when I had taken up photojournalism it was like a love affair at first sight. I jumped in feet first and never looked back, but I had cut myself off from a part of myself that I missed.

Photography had allowed me to express something I cared about deeply but there was just something about the act of drawing and painting that I missed, even though I continued to be very much in love with photography. I wondered why it was that you could look at a photograph for two, three, maybe even ten minutes, but you could spend hours in front of a great painting.

Photography could record one instant, or one fraction of an instant, and I wanted to catch that instant and expand it into hours or a lifetime. Painting was a way to do it."

For nearly three years Rousseau experimented with her photographs, at first relying on collaging images with her drawings, and then turning to painting directly on the surface of the photograph. Rousseau gradually left off all collage elements out of her work and began working only within the boundaries of the photograph. She began to deliberately take pictures that she knew she would alter later.

During one summer in the Catskill area of New York State she became intrigued with many old abandoned houses that had been left to fall into ruins when the economy of the region changed. With her camera and an assistant she began finding ways to get into the houses and photograph the rooms. "I chose abandoned houses because I was interested in the left-over fragments and bits of life and history that remained in the rooms people lived in and then the way nature and light were reclaiming the spaces."

In time Rousseau brought models into the houses and began a series of pictures about the relationships between men and women. "My pictures portray a kind of drama in which light itself becomes one of the most powerful players," says Rousseau, "illuminating, enhancing, or obscuring an image." In a series called, "The Light in Rooms," she explored how light filtered into spaces. "I wait until the light is perfect, often very early in the morning or at sunset." Rousseau eventually moved on to exploring other rooms in houses belonging to friends, in particular a stately old house (not abandoned) by the sea on Shelter Island on the Eastern hip of Long Island, NY.

Rousseau describes the process of the work she does as having three distinct part. She begins with a concept of what she wants to do and selects a location and models to photograph. Once she begins shooting, different things begin to happen. "I find that if Iím too rigid about what my idea is, the work ends up being very static and not terribly interesting. I try to let something evolve from the sessions." Since Rousseau generally works with models who are her friends, she views the shooting process as essentially a collaboration. "The models," she says, "are all very special people, often other artists, writers or poets. They know my work and have an understanding of what Iím trying to do. Itís more that we work together to create something.

The next step is reviewing the contact sheets and selecting a picture to enlarge. Rousseau says, "Out of hundreds of takes from each session I very often chose the shot that isnít quite Ďrightí. Iím looking for that mysterious thing that can happen in the blink of an eye. Thatís the unique wonder and power of photography."

Rousseau enlarges the prints to 30"x40" and 40"x60". She describes the printing as a time consuming, cumbersome process, but one which she enjoys. "I raise the enlarger to the ceiling and tape Kodak or Ilford mural paper to the floor for the exposure. My assistant built a large wooden Ďrockerí tank that looks like a huge barrel sawn in half. We lay the print in there and slosh the chemicals over it, then watch it archivally in another 50"x70" tray we built. But I also work with a custom printer at a professional lab when possible."

Much of the work Rousseau has done has been in 35mm, but she has recently moved into using a Pentax 6x7 camera in order to keep the flexibility of working with a smaller camera and to gain a little in negative size. She uses Kodak Tri-X 400 film, TMax 400 and 100 films, and doesnít mind the grain of the enlargements which for her becomes an integral part of the picture.

Once Rousseau has enlarged a series of prints she keeps them around for a long time without working on them. I is perhaps the longest step in the process; hanging the prints on her studio walls and gradually letting the photographs Ďspeakí to her. "I spend a lot of time simply sitting and looking," says Rousseau, "Itís a kind of meditation. Iíve put all this effort into producing a particular image, then I sit with it and let it reveal to me whatís next." At times Rousseau finds that there's nothing to be done. An image is complete as it is and really wants to be a perfect black and white photograph. These she leaves alone. Other images begin to Ďcallí to her and she begins to see ways she can deepen their content or enhance certain ideas.

"At the heart of the creative process," says Rousseau, "is flexibility and the willingness to take risks- not trying to control how things end up." This isnít easy when youíre blowing up prints very large and youíve already invested a lot of time, energy and expense. Once I put any kind of mark on a print I know there is no turning back. Iíve either got to keep going forward and complete the process, or accept that Iíve ruined a perfectly good, and rather expensive, print." She adds, "Iíve ruined a lot."

"I know that my work is very intense," says Rousseau, "and I know itís not necessarily pretty pictures to hang above the couch on the wall, but I think theyíre about whatís important. I view myself as being on a path. My only job is to do the work and see where it leads me."

Opticon Magazine


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