I have been creating tintypes of musicians who play traditional American music in and around the Appalachian Mountains — West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, since 2010. I travel out to the homestead of each musician, and spend a full day or more with each musician, documenting their likeness, their instruments, and the landscape that they reside in. Each 8x10 tintype plate is hand coated, exposed in a large format camera, and developed on-site in a small darkroom in the back of my pickup truck.
This music guides me visually – the portraits are traditional, with historical references, as the music is traditional. The tradition of American folk music echoes in the historic nature of the process I am using. My work is both a documentation of Appalachian heritage music, as well as a celebration of it.
Adjudicating the contest, Phillip S. Block, Deputy Director of Programs at the International Center of Photography (ICP) and Ed Kashi, award winning photojournalist, filmmaker and educator, noted the marriage between the process and the subject, and the artist's merging of past and presence, without being nostalgic or sentimental. "Though using a historical process, Elmaleh’s photographs are thoroughly contemporary and modern, as different from past era tintypes, as the contemporary musicians’ music is from their historical predecessors."
Lisa Elmaleh’s work is an exploration of rural America. Using a portable darkroom in the back of her truck, she photographs using the nineteenth century wet plate collodion process.
Elmaleh is a West Virginia based photographer and educator at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She has been awarded the Aaron Siskind Foundation IPF Grant, PDN’s 30, and the Tierney Fellowship. Her work has been exhibited internationally, most recently featuring her American Folk work as a solo show at the Appalachian Center, Berea College in Kentucky. Elmaleh’s work has appeared in Harper’s Magazine and PDN, among others.