Women In Photography
Christine Triebert's Career--A Balancing Act

Christine Triebert was looking for a different way to photograph the landscape, an alternative process that would be more subjective in nature, more abstract. She wanted to continue working in silver since it would give her the opportunity to use the toners and formulas she had spent years learning to develop and understand. An interest in hand-coated silver emulsions led her to seek out and experiment with a printing process that would use the same array of toners, but would give her work a distinctly different look from previous prints in which she did a lot of selective toning and bleaching. These were small-scale custom toned silver prints that she exhibited in galleries and exhibitions around the Northeast and that recently have been released in the form of note cards, calendars, and posters by a large commercial publisher.

Triebert, a graduate of the Art Institute of Boston, worked for 10 years as a graphic designer. In '90 she moved to Vermont, opened a studio, and ran a successful design business. Until that time photography had been a private thing, but shortly after the move Triebert began to exhibit her personal images. As graphic design moved closer and closer into the realm of computer technology, Triebert's interest faded and she began to think about ways to focus on her photography and to market her work. "I never wanted to become a commercial photographer so in '95 I decided to design a beautiful cover and to package some of my images as note cards. I started with a series on Vermont and another on Cape Cod since those were the places I knew and photographed."

The cards sold-out the first summer and suddenly Triebert was in the world of wholesale and retail. She decided it was time to find an agent to do her marketing and hired a local dealer to take over the distribution. Since people are not anxious to buy a handful of designs, Triebert needed to create an extended line of cards. She focused next on Martha's Vineyard and began to develop several thematic series, one called "Water's Edge," another titled "Simple Shelters." The fax machine was ringing and orders were piling up--a dozen boxes here, another dozen there. The business took off and Triebert became a full-time wholesaler with an employee to package cards and a garage full of merchandise.

A photo trip to San Francisco came next, then one to the Pacific Northwest where she took on another rep group to sell her cards. "It was sort of an American success story," she says, "but I had to keep on growing and developing the line. Fortunately the Graphique de France Company with their worldwide distribution found me and took over the entire business end, giving me a chance to pursue my fine art work."

Driven by personal aesthetics and commercial forces, Triebert realized her work needed to change. It would be a balancing act since the large-scale reproductions of her work in the retail market might make original work less desirable to fine art galleries. Though she continued to photograph the landscape, she began to look for more personal subject matter and to further explore the silver emulsion process.

The process that she uses involves the hand application of a liquid silver emulsion under an amber safelight, exposing the image onto paper, (other surfaces such as wood, glass, or fabric can be used) then developing the print. "I was looking for a softer mood, a more timeless look in this work," Triebert says, "and though the appearance is similar, there is a different feel and it took me a while to get it down. There is also a lot more darkroom work because if you don't like the image you can't just reach into the paper box and take out another sheet of paper. Then, too, there are many ways to apply the emulsion--if I dilute it, the speed of the emulsion changes and if the paper isn't properly sized, the emulsion just sinks in.

"I use silver print prepared emulsion which I dilute 1:1 with distilled water since this makes the emulsion easier to apply as well as more economical. I coat the paper with a foam brush, the width of the brush depending on the size of the area I am coating. Paper is a most important element and aside from the personal preference of paper color, weight, and texture, one must consider several other aspects such as its archival permanence and durability to withstand development and washing. As a designer I had loads of exotic papers and thought it would be fun to experiment with them. I never got the results I was after and just threw away tons of chemicals. I tried different brushes, even a brayer, but more often than not, I found they were getting in the way of the image. At first I was putting on the emulsion too thickly, thinking the more silver I had, the richer the image would be but it only made for dense and muddy looking pictures. I've done quite a bit of experimenting and now have a good system for repeatable results, though each print is unique.

"Working under a safelight is not like working in daylight where you may be coating a sheet of platinum paper and can see what your emulsion is looking like. Under the safelight you don't have that visual control so you have to get a feel for it. I usually do a horizontal stroke, then a vertical stroke, counting and keeping notes on how many times I fill my brush. I use 11x11" Reeves BFK paper and my mixture of emulsion and water covers 12 sheets."

For toners Triebert uses selenium and thiocarbamide which is similar to a sepia toner. "This is a bleach and redevelopment process," Triebert explains, "and I usually bleach back part of the way so only the lightest areas are bleaching back and the darkest areas remain dark. The thiocarbamide has a brownish tone making the areas that are bleached back come out with a brown tint, while the areas that remain silver retain more of a black tone. It's a sort of duotone effect and since I dilute my bleach, making it much weaker than recommended, I can watch what's happening."

One of the unique aspects that Triebert's prints present and part of the overall quality she seeks, is the look of age. There is a distinct quality and feeling of vintage in her work. In many of her prints, such as the delicate series she did this past June in Cotswold, England, she uses a method of staining the final print in orange pekoe tea to change the white of the paper to an ivory tone, enhancing the brown colors and making them warmer. Many of Triebert's images are square format taken with a medium format camera which produces a 21/4 negative, though for the most part she crops from a 35mm negative. The Hasselblad is primarily kept on hand for studio work and though she uses it occasionally for outdoor shooting, she carries a Nikon 35mm for ease of use when photographing more difficult landscapes.

"When I did the small landscapes originally I always printed full out and went for the complete likeness," she says. "With my new work I am giving myself more cropping opportunities and am enlarging them more. Because of the nature of the hand-coated process, the images become softer and I don't mind cropping and working on the uneven edges. What I really want is for the image to come through. Sometimes people work with a process that obliterates their image, but I am looking to show the picture and I like letting little things happen accidentally that enhance it."

The small and simple early landscapes that became Triebert's first cards are now widely distributed and many of the designs have become 111/2x143/4" reproduction signed prints. These are not limited editions but printed by Graph-ique, 2500 at a time. In switching gears Triebert has devised a new way to interpret what she sees so that what is on the gallery wall appears different from her commercial work. The vagaries of her imagery will remain the same, though, especially those fortuitous things that occur where the strokes of her brush come through or where the emulsion doesn't lie evenly. Her latest foray is into the world of still life and working in a studio will be a new experience. Triebert's idea is to use the still life work as another way to separate what she does commercially from her fine art work.

Navigating between the worlds of art and commerce remains a balancing act. With the printing, marketing, and distribution now in expert hands, the income derived by the growing market for her photos is allowing Triebert to continue to develop her passion for fine art photography. And she has just built her first little studio.

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