Former Maui Time photographer and recent cover model Kirsten Guenther is into recycling. In fact, she’s been lugging around a pair of door-sized windows for six years. Despite her boyfriend’s imploring that they be taken to the dump, Guenther finally found a spot for them—lit with rope lights, the panels now encase a series of photographs in her first-ever solo exhibition at the Livewire Cafe in Lahaina.
The theme of the exhibit is what Guenther likes to call “Ragged Beauty,” a juxtaposition of beautiful things with decaying or tattered objects. The photographs Guenther chose to work with are a mix of hard and soft images; metal spikes and barbed wire are interspersed with flowers and femme fatales. A reclining woman is seen amidst the ruins of a house falling apart.
There are also a lot of photos from a recent conceptual series Guenther did called, “Dolls to the Walls,” in which women are shown in various guises of frilly antiquity and mock plasticity.
“I thought it’d be fun for my girlfriends to dress up as dolls and play,” said Guenther. “You always have to have an excuse when you’re grown up but why do you have to be little to do it?”
Of the 14 pieces covering the cafe’s walls, most are images inspired by “Alternative Methods of Photographic Printing” classes she took earlier this year at the Hui No’eau with Paul Mullowney and Gwen Arkin. In the classes, Guenther learned about cyanotype (blueprinting) and Van Dyke Brown, which are archival processes of contact printing.
Typically in the dark room, a photographic negative is put in a plate with clamps and enlarged on paper, making a print. However, for most of the photos in Guenther’s exhibit, the procedure was decidedly more intensive.
After she first acquired each negative from an ink jet printer, Guenther then coated it with cyanotype or Van Dyke Brown chemicals and let it dry overnight. She then would place the dried negative on top of really thin, handmade Japanese paper called Gampi, sometimes adding peripheral touches, like actual lace around the border. Then she’d put a sheet of glass on top and sandwich it together. The last thing to do was take the sandwich outside so the sunlight could activate the ferric salts.
“It’s like cooking it, really,” she said.
The image would be left in the sun about 20 minutes, until the image was burned into the paper. Then Guenther would bring it back inside to the sink, take apart the sandwich and check the image. Finally, she’d have to gently wash the chemicals out of the tissue-thin paper for about a half an hour or it would continue to expose.
“It rips, it tears—it’s so delicate,” said Guenther. “It requires so much patience and determination.”
Once the paper dried, she adhered the Gampi to a regular watercolor printmaking paper, resulting in a one-of-a-kind piece she could never duplicate, even using the same steps.
“It takes hours and hours for each print,” she said. “But I love all the imperfections you see. The wrinkles and the little hairs are so cute!”
Guenther’s “Ragged Beauty” exhibit is on display now through Sept. 10, daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Livewire Cafe, 612 Front St., Lahaina, 661-4213. MTW