Patricia A. Bender is a photography-based visual artist living and working in New Jersey and Michigan. She began studying photography in the early 2000s, and was hooked from the moment she shot and developed her first image. She works exclusively in the darkroom with black and white media, and personally creates each image from the moment it is conceived through the finished gelatin silver print.
Bender has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions globally. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her work, including being named to the 2018 Critical Mass Top 50. Her work has been published in Harper’s Magazine, The Hand Magazine, Lenscratch, The O/D Review and Analog Forever Magazine, among others, and was recently selected as the cover art for a collection of poetry by acclaimed Tunisian poet Mokhtar el Amraoui. Her work is held in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as many other public, corporate, and private collections.
After producing traditional analog photographs for many years, working with black and white film in the chemical darkroom, I recently decided I want to be even more hands-on in creating images, and I began to experiment with photograms. At first I played with typical photogram stuff, arranging plants, glass objects, fabric, and other sorts of odd things on photographic paper to get a feel for the process of creating these camera-less images. I was uninspired, and so was the work.
Then, with a bow to Bauhaus, I set my sights on constructing geometric abstractions, largely from collaged paper cutouts and hand-drawn paper negatives, and an obsession was born. I could not get enough, and I have been working with single-minded intensity on this series for the past year.
An image of complex and intricate beauty can be developed from the simple mark of a line. This fascinates me. Rudimentary geometric forms — circles, squares, dots — can be combined in infinite ways to generate moving and mysterious nonobjective images. A line leads to a triangle, which leads to a cascade of circles, and before you know it, you have created something no one has ever seen before.
This, for me, is the wonder of abstraction and the crux of its power: its ability to move you in deep, inexplicable ways with the simplest of forms and with no reference to reality.
This work has been guided by a constant voice in my head asking, “What if I . . . ?” What if I added crayon, folded the paper, smudged the graphite? My creative process for all this work has been a joyful, intuitive, ongoing series of experiments in the darkroom to see what will happen if I . . . .
My only rule has been no erasing, no removing. Every mark or fold or tear I make stays and serves as a building block for the next mark or fold or tear. There can be no mistakes because the image I’m creating does not exist in the real world. It can’t be wrong. This rule has helped mute the insistent critic in my head and given me the freedom to try new things until an image feels right.
So I continue to play and experiment with objects, lines, papers, shapes, light, shadow, texture, size, and depth in the darkroom to construct my own abstract creations. To paraphrase one of my heroes, the artist Dorothea Rockburne, I want to create images that are solely of themselves and not about something else. It’s a heady and exciting process.