Like a familiar smell, a photograph has the power to transport us to another place and time. Photographs capture and preserve moments, providing evidence of past experiences and telling stories anew. These qualities inspire the artists Priya Kambli and Bettina Speckner, whose work is paired together in Kitchen Gods, a new exhibition on view at Sienna Patti Contemporary.
As digital imagery floods our lives, Kambli and Speckner are drawn to the tactile quality of printed photographs—though each utilizes these objects to different ends. Kambli’s photos are specific and personal, while Speckner chooses images of anonymous subjects far removed from her own life.
Kambli’s father was an amateur photographer, filling a family album with his numerous photos. Kambli’s parents passed away when she was eighteen and when she left India for the United States soon after, she brought this album with her—the only traces of her family and life in India. Kambli embellishes her father’s photos with Rangoli, a traditional Indian art technique. She stencils textile patterns in flour onto the photos, and then photographs these ephemeral sculptures to make new images. By choosing to obscure, reveal, and frame certain aspects of the photos, Kambli recreates her family narrative and reconciles her own identity—no longer Indian yet not fully American. Kambli’s work parallels her own life as she forges a new future for herself and her family.
Speckner also alters printed photos, scouring antique stores and flea markets for tin ferrotypes from the late 19th and turn of the 20th century, often looking outside her native Germany, where tin-types are rare. She takes these historical artifacts and carefully assembles them into wearable objects. Set in silver and gold, and embellished with stones, her unknown subjects are beloved again, reimagined as heirlooms to be passed on to future generations. Speckner has a gift for making the impersonal precious and the abandoned covetable.
According to Alison Devine Nordstrom, Curator of Photographs at George Eastman House, “it is women who traditionally have been the keepers of culture and memory.” Kambli and Speckner continue this custom, bridging the past, present, and future through their work. With their collected images, Kambli and Speckner craft stories that as speak a thousand words and that can be retold again and again.