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News . Feature Stories . Photography major captures images on hand-blown glass

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February 19, 2014

Photography major captures images on hand-blown glass

Senior Emma Howell featured on Wired.com for her innovative process

Photography major captures images on hand-blown glass

Sometimes it helps to be a little unsure of what you want to do with your artistic talent. Case in point: CIA photography major Emma Howell. The senior from Stowe, Vermont, who was recently profiled on Wired.com for her ingenuity, knew as far back as high school that she loved making photographic images. But she also loved making objects by hand.

Howell said she applied to eight different art schools and was accepted at all eight. “I chose CIA because it has a Foundation program and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew I liked being able to make things.”

That first-year experience allowed Howell to try working in a variety of media and now she’s grateful that she wandered up to the Glass Department one day during freshman year.

She befriended glass majors, took a couple of elective glass classes, but focused on her photography major. She even got a work-study job assisting in Professor Mary Jo Toles’ Alternative Processes photography course. Howell particularly enjoyed assisting when 1989 CIA graduate Greg Martin came in to teach the wet plate collodion process, a Civil War-era procedure that involves developing images on flat plates of glass.

“It dawned on me that why can’t I do this process using a glass vessel I make up in the hot shop,” Howell said. It would be just the combination of image making and object making that she had wanted.

She made glass forms – some as large as a foot in diameter – and then had to make her own large-format camera to accommodate the forms. Howell made the camera body from a sawed-off barrel she found in the glass shop. Six weeks of tinkering was all it took.

“Emma is a good problem solver,” said Professor Nancy McEntee, chair of CIA’s Photography Department. “She has always been enterprising; she works very hard and she doesn’t let anything stop her if she wants to do something. She figures out a way to do it. She’s just ambitious and talented.”

In a semester on the west coast last fall, Howell and an assistant hauled her homemade equipment to various scenic spots to photograph and develop her unique vessel-pictures. In the process, she captured images of seascapes that seem to pull the viewer into the image. She also captured the attention of Wired.com, where contributor Joseph Flaherty wrote, “Trigger-happy digital photographers can fire off dozens of exposures per second, but the labor-intensive nature of Howell’s work requires extraordinarily careful shot selection and composition. Like a carpenter who designs a table to take advantage of the wood’s grain, Howell looks at the swirls and swells in her glass objects as inspiration for photographic subjects.”

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