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How these Utah artists are addressing the air quality problem

Artists at Luminaria studio are communicating ideas for a better future by building a community of creatives and addressing the air quality issue in Salt Lake

Christine Baczek, Bandit and Dave Hyams of the Luminaria photography studio in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Christine Baczek, Bandit and Dave Hyams of the Luminaria photography studio in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Katie Walker

SALT LAKE CITY — Winter is approaching.

The season often spurs fond memories of hot chocolate and snowmen; however, many Salt Lake City residents experience feelings of dread as they anticipate dense, smog-filled air.

In the heart of Salt Lake City live artists who have something to say about it.

In collaboration with local silversmith and artisan jeweler Kathleen Carricaburu, Dave Hyams, co-owner of Luminaria studio, created the environmental piece “Sylph.” Its exhibition at Luminaria as part of the Wasatch Studio Tour from Oct. 12-13 hopes to shed light on the ongoing pollution crisis and the unique medium these artists work in.

Historical image-making

Ring the doorbell at Luminaria and owners Hyams and Christine Baczek warmly greet you — that is, if they aren’t holed up in the darkroom or in the middle of a portrait session, or if their dog, Bandit, doesn’t get to you first.

The studio is dedicated to alternative photographic processes and “preserving historical image-making.” Within the Salt Lake art community, Hyams and Baczek strive to reach, communicate with and enable like-minded neighbors and artists by being a hub for tintype portraiture, fine art printing, workshops and creative collaboration, keeping “the tool-kits of artists full of different ways to communicate,” according to the company’s website.

Both Baczek and Hyams earned degrees in art and photography and worked at Bostick and Sullivan, a renowned center for handcrafted and historical photography supplies in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Those experiences brought a love for the darkroom that keeps them in it today, despite their considerable experience working with digital.

“(Alternative processing) helps take the photograph out of an everyday context,” Hyams said. “It’s that intersection of art and science.”

Alternative process photography includes the platinum, palladium, tintype and cyanotype methods, among many others, that involve hands-on manipulation of chemicals and materials. But contemporary artists in these mediums do often utilize modern technology to enhance their work, including using editing software to perfect an image before printing the negative.

“Why we made the shop was to bridge what’s happening now in photography with what happened in the past,“ Baczek said.

“You have the perfect negative to make the perfect print,” she continued. “It’s a lot easier, and all of those things together make it more accessible and more pleasant.”

For almost 20 years, Hyams has been researching, refining and streamlining his workflow as he works to differentiate himself from others in the field.

“The obsession, basically, is the difference,” Hyams said.

But the vision, more than the process, is the defining factor in the the art created at Luminaria. There is a type of responsibility artists take on when they have something to say.

“I think that images are good because they have meaning,” Hyams said, “and there are ideas that are driving (a) project, and they can be expanded with process.”

Placing issues in a new context

During a 2015 trip to China, Hyams and Baczek focused some of their work on the smog that blanketed the urban landscape there. Upon returning to Utah, these themes hit much closer to home and inspired Hyams and Carricaburu to bring “Sylph” to life.

“Sylph,” referencing the nature spirits who are believed to have domain over the winds, addresses the oppressive nature of polluted air in urban landscapes, and the possible human ability to change it. The piece began as a diorama made of dead leaves — which are natural air purifiers — that were then photographed and printed on Japanese gampi paper using the platinum palladium method. The photographic prints were constructed into a hand-held fan adorned with a tassel of dead flowers transformed into silver through the handcasting and metalsmithing process.

“There’s a terrible beauty to it,” Hyams said.

The piece reveals the “catastrophic prophecy of a devastated landscape,” Hyams said. The imagery of the fan and natural elements draws upon themes of landscape decay and the human ability to physically move undesirable air.

As the creator of the piece’s silver elements, Carricaburu uses a far different skillset and medium than the historical photographers. But her interest in exhibiting an “environmental ethos” is something she says all three artists share.

When describing the inspiration for the project, Carricaburu pointed to the imagery of the fan, saying that the “imperial” look and silver flowers create an irony that places higher-class citizens on the same plane as everyone else when it comes to the inescapable problem of declining air quality.

“Air is kind of indescribable, it’s hard to define,” Carricaburu said, “but we all depend on it for everything. And if we don’t have it, we deteriorate. And the fan is about having some sort of agency, about wanting to do something now, and we can move the air.”

“The fan is a metaphor for the sense of rupture and anxiety because of the deterioration of our air,” Hyams said, “as well as a resolve to reconnect with nature.”

The artists’ symbiotic working relationship has furthered the feeling of community that is cultivated at the studio.

“I really enjoy working on these collaborative projects with people who do things that I could never do,” Hyams said. “It enables me to make work that is exponentially better with other people than what I could create on my own.”

People have attempted solutions to combat environmental problems, either by actually altering policy, industrial behavior and modes of transportation, or else raising awareness that inspires those solutions.

“Sylph” does the latter.

“This is another way to hopefully create something that will place that issue within a different context,” Hyams said. “Obviously it’s not a solution, but it may raise awareness or continue to further the awareness that you’re already a part of.”

If you go ...

What: “Sylph” by Dave Hyams and Kathleen Carricaburu, on display as part of the Wasatch Studio Tour

When: Oct. 12-13, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Where: Luminaria, 14 E. 800 South, Salt Lake City

How much: Free

Website: luminariaslc.com or wasatchstudiotour.com

Note: For a list of other studios participating in the tour, visit wasatchstudiotour.com.