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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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
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."
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