Courtney Johnson


Courtney Johnson

Artist Statement

In 2014, I was pregnant with my first child and working on Afterlife, the second part, of Cycle of Cities, a nine part series chronicling the rise and fall of cities through a universal myth cycle. I was working in cliché-verre, an obscure historic photographic process first practiced shortly after the invention of photography in the 1800s. French for glass negative, cliché-verre is a photo-painting hybrid process. The work begins as a painting on glass in negative and is then enlarged and printed photographically.

I 're-invented again' cliché-verre in the late 1990s while living in an all-girls dormitory. With limited off campus access, my opportunities to take images with a camera were somewhat uninspiring, so I made my own negatives by painting on glass. I used available materials—nail polish, paint, Vaseline, white-out, wax pencil, &c. In hindsight, this is an exceptionally feminine approach to photography. Whereas a man might go 'hunting' for the perfect materials at an art supply store, or 'hunting' for a photograph with a camera, I worked with available materials, including beauty supplies. I have continued using nail polish as my primary medium for cliché-verre, along with ink and white-out, for the past two decades.

Since pregnancy prevented me from working with chemicals, including nail polish, I had to change materials for this series. After testing inks and dyes, I used natural food coloring made from turmeric, beets, and spinach to depict dead stars at the far reaches of space. Dead stars are very womblike, both coincidentally and intentionally.

Cycle of Cities is a uniquely feminine project, as much about motherhood as about the galaxy. Cycles—life, moon, menstrual—as well as mythology, storytelling, and interpreting cities and new technologies' impacts are all feminine, maternal approaches to photography and the world. Experiencing pregnancy and the birth of my daughter while depicting a lifecycle can only be done by a woman. By integrating content, form, and experience this work expresses the feminine without making the feminine the subject.



“Courtney Johnson,” Artist Parent Index , accessed April 17, 2024,

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