Welcome to our very first Artist Spotlight!
Diane and I recently met with Amy Burke Pirrotta, 1st Place Best in Show winner of this year’s 11th Annual InVision Photo Festival Juried Exhibition at ArtsQuest. See the winning image below called "Juliette Sleeping." Congrats Amy!
Art of the Woman event participant, a film, and wet plate photographer from Allentown, PA, Amy began her photographic journey as a kid. You might almost say she got her start in fashion photography as a model herself. Her dad had a Polaroid camera which she would sneak away from him to take pictures of her and her friends. They would come over to her house and do makeovers and play dress-up together and she and her friends would record their antics using instant film. She was also a photography major in college. She says she really has only been shooting for five years, having put the camera down after college to raise her family and only picking it back up at the age of forty.
Amy got her first antique camera in college and used it to create large negatives. It was a Graflex Crown Graphic 4 X 5 camera from the 1940’s, similar to the camera that Arthur Fellig, aka Weegee, used to chase ambulances around at night in New York City as a photojournalist, capturing the macabre and unusual on the streets in the dark.
Pre-COVID, Amy got involved with the Penumbra Foundation, where she says she was in her “happy place.” There, in addition to other workshops, she learned wet plate photography and was instantly hooked. Amy has always loved history and learning early photographic techniques using film, emulsions, chemicals, and such.
Amy also got her Master of Arts in costume design and has used that training to re-build old camera bellows. She likes to write and keeps a journal of ideas for her work. She has an eclectic design style when it comes to decorating her mid-century modern home in the architecturally diverse historical part of Allentown where she lives. Amy has a fascination with mirrors in her work and finds it much more interesting to look at her subjects through the decay and imperfections of old antique mirrors.
We asked what drives her to create. She says she never really knew for a long time. Then a few weeks before COVID hit, she took a seminar from Marcia Lippman, who hosted a gathering in her flat in NYC. Amy said that Marcia helped her to understand that she was creating an environment in which she could thrive. She now uses this same concept in her work. “You know that moment, right before you wake up and you can still remember your dreams…” Amy tries to re-create that feeling in the imperfections of her printing methods.
Amy is influenced by her memories, her family, shadows, and light. She is also inspired by Impressionism, the Photo Succession Movement, and other photographers’ work like that of Sally Mann, Sarah Moon, Julia Margaret Cameron, Alfred Stieglitz, Julie Blackmon, and Deborah Turbeville.
Amy is passionate about history. She says that just the act of touching an old camera has the effect of transporting her back in time. In addition to wet plate photography and Polaroids, Amy has experience with fine art, platinum/palladium, cyanotypes, gum bichromate, as well as digital technology. She gets inspiration from traveling to museums like the Fotografiska in NYC to Washington DC, taking the bus and spending a weekend to get lost in her thoughts. Prior to COVID she was going to start working as a Teaching Assistant with Penumbra. She says they are building back their in-person programs and she hopes to re-establish a relationship with them soon.
Amy recently had a one-woman show at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, not far from where she lives. She has exhibited work in galleries such as the A.Smith Photo Gallery, South Shore Art Center, the Halide Project, and the Banana Factory, to name a few. Most of her work can be seen on Instagram.
Amy recognizes that she needs to have a website in the future. She just hasn’t found the time for that as a busy mom of three girls, all of whom act as her models. She is most proud of teaching her kids about photography. She smiled as she told us the story of buying her middle daughter a digital camera and her daughter asking, “where does the film go?”
Amy gets into creative blocks, just like we all do, when she’s busy with work or life and just overwhelmed. She needs alone time, to set time aside to clear her mind. And film photography can be financially challenging as well.
We asked if she prefers black and white or color photography. Amy says “black and white feels like my language.” When she shoots in color, she says it adds another element to the subject and she wants it to be all about the color. Black and white to her is more expressive and her go-to medium.
Amy likes to collaborate with her subjects by talking through the creative process with them. She tries to have a reason for working with them, a purpose. As a film shooter, she says she works at a much slower place, which gives her the opportunity to connect with her models on a more personal level. She loves working with her kids and she feels that is her strength. She likes to get lost in the process, creating a mental landscape. She just found a great new prop, but she won’t shoot until she thinks through just the right use for it.
Amy says that the pandemic helped her become more creative because she was restricted in space and place. Since she couldn’t leave home, she had to decide what she would make of what she had to work with. It has helped her to be more focused. She used to try and get away and just be silent, but she often felt guilty. We talked about how we as women often lay that guilt on ourselves because we are caregivers, taking care of others, and not so much ourselves. She felt it was self-indulgent. But she now recognizes this is not just something she needs for herself, but also something she needs to be more present for her family.
We are delighted to have worked with Amy at our events and look forward to continuing to watch her photographic vision evolve. We are big fans and we’re sure you will be as well once you become familiar with her work.