An Interview with Dale Rio

Dale Rio is a photographic artist whose work explores issues such as mortality, human constructs, and man’s relationship with the natural world.  Utilizing film and historic photographic processes, Dale employs “straight” photography to document the world around her and also creates 
conceptual work in response to that world. Her work has been shown extensively in the U.S., as well as in England, Germany, and New Zealand.  Her images reside in private collections and have been reproduced in countless publications.  She has authored one book and co-authored a second.
Dale received a BA in Studio Art from Smith College in 1993 and an MFA in Photography from Pratt Institute in 1996.  In 1997, she was awarded a Fulbright Travel Grant and the Miguel Vinciguerra Grant to document life in rural Sicily.  Upon her return to the States, Dale embarked upon a varied photographic career that has included freelancing, serving as a master darkroom printer, teaching, curating, and editing.
In 2018, Dale was the recipient of a Windgate Scholarship, which allowed her to study the Daguerreotype process at Penland School of Craft. She has attended residencies at Penland, the Studios at MASS MoCA, and the Farmington Valley Arts Center and will be in residence at Ars BioArctica 
in 2023.
Dale has been involved with numerous photo and art centers across the country, and in 2015, she co-founded The Halide Project, a Philadelphia-based non-profit whose mission is the support of film and historic process photography.   In 2021, she launched Point A to Point B: analog explorations, a print publication that features travel- and place-based film and historic process photography, and in 2022 she founded Lux et Libera: women at the intersection of light and chemistry, 
an initiative that seeks to recognize the leading role women play in alternative process photography.

You can find her poem series Reconciliation in the April 2023 issue.

What is it that interests you about pinhole photography?

One thing I really like is being able to build my own low-fi cameras out of common objects like tea and cookie tins. And because the process requires long exposures, it can be used to create work that – because of its conceptual underpinnings – requires that type of look or ethos. My ongoing pinhole self-portrait series, Reconciliation, is an example of that, since my goal with the work is to have my image meld with the natural surroundings behind me, and that blending is achieved because of my movement during the long exposures.

How did you first decide to begin taking pinhole photographs and how long have you been practicing? 

I first started doing pinhole photography on a regular basis around 2017 when I was working nightshift as a CSI. My schedule was grueling, and one way to stay connected to my photography (in addition to project-based work that I did as time allowed) was to create one image a day before I headed in for my shift. I chose pinhole because of its simplicity, and the low cost of shooting paper negatives seemed appropriate for such an “assignment.” 

I find that some pinhole photographers are interested in the art of the form while some are more interested in mastering the technical aspects. Where do you fit on that spectrum? 

I definitely fall on the art end of the spectrum. I’m very controlled in my “regular” photography, so pinhole is a medium where I can let go of that control and allow a certain amount of serendipity to come into play, which I like. I always refer to pinhole photography as an emotional rollercoaster, however, because no matter how well dialed-in you feel your exposures are, you’re never 100% sure of what you’re going to get, which allows for some exciting “reveals” in the darkroom and also some heartbreak.

Can you tell us a little bit about the technique you most often use to take your photographs? What is it that appeals to you about this particular technique? 

Outside of pinhole, I shoot only film, primarily medium and large format. I also do some wet plate work and print using some historic processes, like platinum/palladium and cyanotype. I choose what techniques to use based on what I’m trying to express with a given project or series. For instance, for a series where I wanted text to be an intrinsic part of the final image, I created tintypes and hand stamped the text into the plates. 

Where do you go for inspiration for your photography?

My projects usually stem from what I observe in the world around me, either directly within my sphere or community or issues that are more universal.

It seems like pinhole photographers have a special interest and take joy in experimenting—both with the devices they use (often homemade) and the techniques they use. Have you tried other alternative photography methods?

Yes, several. Wet plate, Daguerreotype, platinum/palladium, and cyanotype are the primaries.

Are there any projects youre working on now or have worked on in the past that youd like to tell us about?

I’m currently working on a few different series.  “Look At Me” is a highly-collaborative environmental portrait series of survivors of sexual assault depicted from a place of strength. Another is a platinum/palladium retrospective portfolio called “The First Fifty,” which consists of images made during what I hope will be the first half of my life. And I’m also working to pull together a project that explores deep time and volatile/fragile natural environments around the world. 

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