For her newest photographic project, Kitty Leaken is using a thoroughly organic toning process for a series of still lifes. She soaks the images, which she prints on photo canvas, in tea. “I’m working on this right now,” she said on a recent afternoon. “I’m steeping these prints in tea. It’s so cool. I’m using different teas for different prints. I did the first piece in Tibetan lavender. And I’m using the same dose and the same steeping time that I drink.”
A selection of these prints, which may be rolled up like scrolls or hung on a wall, is featured in Tea Scrolls & Ceremony at Natasha Santa Fe (403 S. Guadalupe St., 505-913-9236). Leaken is a photojournalist who, among many other things, has photographed the Mariage Frères Tea Room in Paris, the drinking of yak-butter tea in Tibet, and the afternoon tea ritual at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Tea Scrolls differs significantly from another recent project’s subject: dragonflies in Native American art. According to Leaken, the dragonfly is the second most commonly featured creature in the sand paintings made by the Navajo, who consider it to be the guardian of water and the symbol of pure water. She wrote a piece called “Navajo Dragonfly,” which was published in an online scholarly magazine, and the director of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas flew her to Stanton, Virginia, to present it in a talk.
Her new tea prints are photographic still lifes of dead articles, such as flowers that have faded, seeds, and small skulls. The lightly detailed objects and the pale tea colors give the prints an old-fashioned look. “I’m making this all up,” Leaken said about the process. “It’s a good assignment I gave myself. It’s a contemplation. You can roll them up and then when you’re having a cup of tea you can unroll them or you can take them with you. I was thinking about photographs and art prints and I’m just trying to get away from all the old rules — prints as framed and precious. You can have a cup of tea and meditate on them. That’s kind of what I’m thinking about.”
Karen Gardiner, owner of Artful Tea, will serve tea at the opening, 5 p.m. Friday, July 14. The prints hang at Natasha through August.