Alyssha Eve Csük is a fine art photographer, fascinated by places of bygone industry – places that are “suspended in time – a suspension that disorients, that accentuates the visual.” Her photographs in the Slate as Muse exhibition at the Slate Valley Museum surprised most visitors used to seeing slate’s muted tones on rooftops and sidewalks. Csük’s vibrant images seem almost surreal in comparison.
Csük grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, home of what was once the second largest steel company in the world, Bethlehem Steel. Many years later, she would be drawn to the dormant black mammoth-like beast. It was at the Bethlehem Steel where she would capture her first abstract photographs.
Csük’s inspiration for her slate abstracts series was an evolution from her years spent photographing at the mills. A friend at the National Museum of Industrial History invited her to visit a slate quarry in the Slate Belt of Pennsylvania. “The patterns caused by the flaking, fracturing and cleavage of slate caught my eye,” says the artist.
Slate Abstract V (above) is one of Csük’s earliest shots of slate and it’s not what it seems at first glance. “Slate Abstract V is actually two pieces of cut slate that have been left to the elements, which over time have leached the minerals out of the slate block over many, many years, creating what one could say looks like a painting,” says the artist. “I instantly noticed how the bottom slab looked like a reflection of the top slab, so when I took the photo I set my focusing to only the top slab which helped to further create the illusion of it being water. The white shape close to the center of the frame looks like a sailboat. It’s fascinating how many people of all ages are captivated by this image. Many have drawn reference to Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.”
The photograph was shot at Dally Quarry in Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania, the first slate quarry that Csük visited. “Interestingly, I have never spoken with the slate quarry owner of Dally Quarry although I have been there many times,” Csük says. “I have spoken with many more quarry owners in Vermont and New York than Pennsylvania as many of the quarries in Pennsylvania are no longer in operation.”
A quarry owner in Pennsylvania, Pete Papay of Penn Big Bed told her about the slate quarries in New York and Vermont and connected Csük with the owner of Greenstone Quarry. “Slate Abstract XXXII was shot at Greenstone Quarry,” says the artist, “and it was one of the first images I captured in Vermont, a powerful enough image to make me thirsty for more and to push me through the rough terrain and sweltering heat or the freezing cold and wind. The creative process for me at the quarries is very much guided by feeling. My plans for the day are never set in stone – slate. Coming upon a great slate abstract is like searching for not one but two needles in a haystack. I often find myself drawn to something that may look good from a distance, only to find that it is not as it appeared or hoped when I got closer. Many times when I find a shot, the guidance comes from a feeling to go explore in a certain direction coupled with an almost meditative stillness to intensely observe the unearthed slate every few steps. It requires a lot of patience. When I do come upon something amazing, if the light is right, then the challenge always is getting my tripod stable in often precarious and unstable conditions.”
“In Slate Abstract XXXII, right at the time of capture I saw the semblance of a mountain range. In print, I saw even more, not just a mountain range, but a crystal mountain awash with all the seasons.”
“I have always had an interest in geology,” Csük continues. “As an artist with an eye for detail and abstraction, I find slate to be endlessly intriguing. It is like searching for fossils – you never know what you will find. The colors, iron pyrites, and minerals in the slate quarries of New York and Vermont are particularly exquisite. Many times I will stop and enjoy the glistening beauty when the light illuminates a pile of slate. How it dazzles and sparkles when it hits at just the right angle and although it is often not ideal lighting for me to capture an abstract, it is refreshing and magical to stop and stare at, especially on a hot and dusty afternoon. I enjoy the gray slate too, it has its own myriad of characteristics that fascinate me. What I feel most when exploring and photographing slate is the passage of time. I am astounded to explore, what is in abstract compressed time, unearthed and roughed by the hands and tools of slate men… certainly, of noble quality.”
“A common misconception about my work is that it is macro and intensely zoomed in,” the artist says. “A number of my abstracts are in actuality many feet high by many feet wide, but the slate is always slate to me. I am just lucky enough to be there at the right moment to capture a unique facet as it emerges through time.”
For more information on Alyssha Eve Csük’s work, visit her website: Alyssha Eve Csük
Slate as Muse was a 5-month national exhibition at the Slate Valley Museum, curated and produced by Serena Kovalosky and Artful Vagabond Productions. The exhibition challenged artists from throughout the United States to push the boundaries of how slate is perceived today. Nineteen artists present twenty-seven works of art not only in sculpture, but in painting, photography and mixed media.