Artists » Elizabeth Opalenik

Elizabeth Opalenik by F A Martino

“Every once in a while, an artist comes around that has a truly distinctive way of using materials in a fresh new way. Elizabeth Opalenik is one of these artists. Her work connects us with layers of the worlds that often go unnoticed.”
Joyce Tenneson – photographer and author

Elizabeth Opalenik left home in 1969 to the sound of peace marches. Her mother’s response was, “I knew you were different from the time you were two.”  Elizabeth liked to feel she was alive, and has had many lives within this life – as manager of the accounting department for Continental Oil Company,  manager of a Jazz club, and owner of a construction/design company. Throughout these “lives” however, she craved something else. Something creative and expressive. She decided to take a two week photographic workshop at the acclaimed Maine Photographic Workshops, started by David Lyman. It had an impact. Elizabeth went home and sold everything. She was ready to commit to honing the fine art of photography. That was nearly 40 years ago, and she continues to seek, stay inspired and grow as an artist today.

In Elizabeth Opalenik’s recent work she uses models in diaphanous fabrics under water.  Her camera is at a very interesting vantage point where the water distorts the reality. Her process is unique as she prints these dreamy images on deliciously rich handmade Japanese paper, making the prints look, appropriately, like watercolor paintings. Because of a water shortage on the West Coast and the exorbitant cost of heating a pool to a comfortable temperature, the resourceful Opalenik realized she can  also make pictures reflecting off of Mylar, which similarly distorts in interesting ways.
This body of work has never been shown before, and we are delighted to be bringing them to you.

Classically trained before digital, Elizabeth shot film and fell in the love with printing in the darkroom. This prompted her to study with photographer Jean-Pierre Sudre in France, who later became her mentor. He taught her the Mordancage process, which is altering a silver gelatin print by chemically lifting the emulsion in a way that degrades and etches into the image.  Each work is unique, and cannot be duplicated. Jean-Pierre Sudre was credited with the development of the process in the 1960′s, and Opalenik is now known as a one of the world’s masters in the process. She also creates traditional black and white and hand colored photographs. Opalenik believes that all good portraits are self portraits, and she is certain that her many former lives manifest themselves in her images. As she choreographs the shot, the portrait becomes as much about her as the person in them.

Elizabeth thrives on travel and philanthropic projects, which keep her grounded and connected universally. She is  world recognized as a photographer and educator who teaches workshops domestically (including New Mexico, Maine, and California) and Internationally (including Italy, Cuba, France, Mexico, Argentina and most recently the Far East). She has held many breast cancer / art therapy workshops and has worked with Medical Ministry International in South America (where teams of volunteers work on projects involving vision care, dental, orthopedics, physical therapy, water and sanitation.) “I love this kind of work and for the past three years have seen my focus lean from fine art more toward the documentary philanthropic phase of my life.  I have gone to the Amazon with MMI and back to Bocachica, Colombia to visit the villagers from the original project.” She lives in Oakland, California with her former student and husband Enrique Martinez.

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