Hi! My name is Jen Perena, aka Kallitype Girl. I am a Rochester, NY-based photographer and artist.
I grew up looking at, taking and appreciating photographs. My maternal grandfather was an ‘early adopter’ of photographic technology and took a camera with him around the world during his time in the Navy in the 1940s, filling numerous scrapbooks with ‘slice of life’ photos from on board his ships and from his interactions with local people in the various countries where he was posted. I remember constantly looking through the large, leather-bound albums as a young child, fascinated by the very small, contrasty black and white prints with white borders and wavy edges.
My father was also a photographer, and for a short period had his own business taking portraits and family photos. His camera was the first one I ever held in my hand: a Nikon F3, which I later used in a photography class in high school, and which I still have to this day.
In that first high school class, I learned how to process my 35mm black and white negatives and make prints. My work was OK, nothing awesome, but I immediately loved the smell of the chemistry, being in the complete darkness to roll film for development, and having over an hour of silence in a small space all to my self. I was hooked….
After high school, I didn’t have access to a darkroom, so took a big ‘hiatus’ through college and numerous jobs, where I continued to take photos (so many cameras….Kodak disc, Kodak point-and-shoot, early digital cameras…), while letting others develop and print them. I like to think of this period as when I developed my style and appreciation for images full of texture and lines, the more contrasty the better!
In 2001, I was laid off from a job just after 9/11, and I decided it was time to re-learn how to work in a darkroom. So I took a refresher course at the Flower City Arts Center (FCAC) Photo Dept (then called the ‘Community Darkroom’), and that experience was the beginning of why I identify as a ‘photographer’ today.
Since that time, I have taken numerous classes at the FCAC, but after a series of traditional film-based classes, and untold hours spent in darkroom sessions, I wasn’t really satisfied with the end results or the process. Yet, for over a decade I continued to shoot film, make work and exhibit it annually in group shows….and then after the shows would end, the photos would go in a box never to be seen again.
This all changed when I took a class to learn how to use a Holga camera. I immediately loved the plastic camera with its quirks and light leaks, and the idea that each roll of film would be a crap shoot of whether anything would turn out. This was a bit more interesting to me because of the random chance that no matter what you did, a light leak or internal issue could impact the film. Then when you finally saw the film, you had to work harder to make something from the negatives.
Fast forward a few more years, and I began taking alternative and historic photo process classes, also at the FCAC. I learned how to make platinum and palladium prints, tin types, albumin prints, ambrotypes, cyanotypes, salt prints, wet plate collodion glass plates, and most recently kallitypes, which are my favorite to date. Working with these processes was like a ‘eureka moment’ for me – each one introduced numerous steps into the process of ‘making a print’, each one with a potentially different outcome, even though you essentially did the same thing. The quality of the original image/negative (composition aside) stopped really mattering when you were battling your own diligence preparing tin or glass plates, humidity and the age of the chemistry. And for me, this ‘process’ became sort of addicting.
I finally settled on the process I like best: contact printing – when I took a Palladium Printing class. Using Holga negatives, I made dozens of small, contrasty black and white prints – reminiscent of the ones I had loved in my grandfather’s albums – except the wavy white borders of his paper prints were replaced by the thick black borders made by brushstrokes as I painted chemistry onto different papers to make my work.
Since 2015, I have been focusing on making kallitypes, which are very similar, with slightly different chemistry and a larger format. For these, I have been combining digital work with alt process. I start with iphone images; these are then manipulated in Photoshop to create interesting black and whites with a specific curve for the kallitype process; the resulting digital negative is printed onto Pictorico plastic and then used for contact printing. The chemistry is all hand mixed and manually applied to watercolor paper, and then the prints are developed, washed, toned and fixed in numerous baths. Each print is a labor of love and no two are alike. And I love that.
I consider every photo-related ‘skill’ I have now to have been derived from the talented teachers in the FCAC’s Photo Dept alt process classes, and I feel that most of the inspiration I have to make new work is from the vibrant Community Darkroom community – employees, teachers, fellow students and other members who are also taking classes, making work, continually learning new things, and sharing it through Darkroom clubs, annual exhibits and more classes. The Center and its darkrooms are like a second home to me, and I feel such deep gratitude for access to such a special place, especially now, in the time of the coronavirus/covid 19 crisis.
I hope you find enjoyment reviewing my gallery, the Youtube links and my blog articles. I’m always interested to hear from those who take the time to look at and read everything, and I always respond to comments and inquiries. So drop me a line if you’re so inclined. Let me know what you think, and feel free to ask questions!