Becky Chung reviews Vanessa Marsh's "Falling" series for The Creators Project

These Stellar Galaxies and Nebulas Were Created in the Darkroom

January 2015

The Creators Project
by Becky Chung

The photographs we have of galaxies and nebulas aren't exactly as they appear. When we see invisible gas clouds in fantastic hues, they're actually the results of calculated data interpretations and heavy post-processing color work. Artist Vanessa Marsh wanted to explore the artificiality of these images by inventing her own deep space bodies—master paintings birthed in the darkroom—so she created Falling, a series of large format chromogenic contact prints transferred from handpainted negatives.

In the darkroom, Marsh observed the interactions between light from the enlarger, transparent paints on clear mylar, and photographic paper, and learned to foresee how colors translate from negative to positive. Through her experimentations, she's discovered adding textures, and how to create landscape silhouettes inspired by the works of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. “Many of the problems I saw at the beginning eventually became defining points to the work; evidence of the process of painting and the materials used,” she tells The Creators Project. A closer look at the final pieces reveal inconsistencies, serving as visual reminders that these stars were created by hand. 

For Marsh, deep space images are inextricably linked to the contemporary experience of the sublime. “Especially in cities, we are very disconnected from a sense of the greater cosmos that we are a part of,” she says. “I hope my images help people to check back in with that understanding and consider the origins of all that surrounds us.”

Below, gaze into Vanessa Marsh's handpainted star field series, Falling:

Deep Field 2

Detail of Deep Field 2

Milky Way

Detail of Milky Way

Mountains 10, 2014

Detail of Mountains 10

Mountains 11

Detail of Mountains 11

Detail of Nebula 6

“Falling" is currently on view at Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco through January 3, 2015 as part of their artist-in-residence program. Selections from the series will also be included in a group show next summer at The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.