The life-size, self-portrait photograms in Davis’ body of work, A Womb of My Own (Mistakes Were Made in Development), embody her symbolic rebirth after years of trauma. “I started making these [photograms] out of a real need,” the artist explains. “I had this impulse to crawl inside my film camera. I think I really just wanted to start my life over again and build my practice around giving myself the care I need.”

“#1”, 2014. Silver gelatin photograms (9), 48” x 60” © Hernease Davis

In response to this need, she transformed her living room into a space that allowed her to heal, explore, and create one-of-a-kind, life-sized self-portraits by laying on sheets of photographic paper, arranged into a grid in the dark, then triggering an overhead flash. The area that the artist’s body covered receives no light exposure and appears white, while the fully exposed areas around her body are black, creating a striking reverse-silhouette of her form that bears witness to her powerfully vulnerable experience.

“A Womb of My Own (Mistakes Were Made in Development)”. Installation view at Visual Studies Workshop | Rochester, NY (Spring/Summer 2018). Curated by Tate Shaw. Photos by Dan Varenka. © Hernease Davis

These photograms served as the foundation of A Womb of My Own (Mistakes Were Made in Development), a multidisciplinary project that includes sound installation, crocheted pillows and blankets, and performance. Davis explains, “Making this work changed me. As I changed, the work changed. I started working more loosely and intuitively. I stopped working within a grid, started hand-applying developer, and started incorporating crochet and singing—self-care rituals I use on a daily basis to keep sane. I made sure to only create what I felt like, when I felt like I needed to create it for myself.”

Performance: Anchor Song, Lecture at the Visual Studies Workshop. As a performance piece, I completed a blanket that was the width of “Anchor Song” and then sang that song while lying on the finished blanket. Afterwards, this new blanket was added to the “Anchor Song” blanket installation inside the gallery. Photos by Sadie Pak. © Hernease Davis

Each of these delicately interconnected works is a meditation on presence that harnesses art-making as a way of processing feelings. Often different mediums overlap and enrich each other, with each step feeding into the next. For example, Davis crochets while singing, making the initial stitching that defines each piece, that crocheters call the foundation chain, the length of a single song. Later, she uses her crocheted pieces in the darkroom to create web-like patterns within her photograms. She also installs her crocheted pieces as stand-alone works, sometimes hanging them from the ceiling, sometimes with her laying atop them on the gallery floor and performing the music to which they were made.

“#7”, in progress. Cyanotype on canvas, 54.5” x 60” © Hernease Davis

Ever-expanding her approach to photography, Davis took her latest step as an artist-in-residence at the Elizabeth Foundation. There, she began to experiment with cyanotypes—a historic photographic printing process that produces Persian-blue prints in sunlight. Working in parks across Brooklyn, such as Prospect Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the pocket park near her apartment, she has augmented this process to create abstract photograms on fabric by selectively developing and felting cyanotype-coated pieces of canvas, silks, and linen, leaving the undeveloped portions of each fabric to change and react to the environment continually.

While combining these printing and fabric-making techniques into a hybrid that complicates the notion of photography, she bends the medium to meet her evolving needs. Davis explains, “Since I made my practice a way for me to process my feelings, my work has become a sort of journal, documenting my recovery. These cyanotypes feel like a new entry in that journal. Making them is less about responding to stress and more about enjoying the art-making process.”

Editor’s note: Davis is part of the excellent exhibition, viewable online, ONE: Unique Photo-Based Images via Transformer Station in Cleveland, Ohio.