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Meet Carmen Cay: Out Of The Blue

Photographer Carmen Cay shares her unique process in creating her cyanographic photographs and her art story.

Local photographer Carmen Cay is using cyanography to add a blue-tinged and chemically-coated spin to her art. Cyanography is the use of the cyanotype process when creating photographic prints. It involves the use of specific chemicals to create a unique blue tone over the entire piece to dazzling effect.

As a relatively new resident in town and part of the local art scene, she is hoping to deepen her connection to Chattanooga on both a personal and artistic level. Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, Carmen grew up immersed in artistic pursuits. She dabbled in drawing, painting, photography, and clay while also writing, singing, dancing, and performing in play productions. Carmen said that she “always loved experimenting with and exploring various mediums,” an attribute that has remained constant throughout her life.

Carmen eventually came to a point where she needed to “start taking [her] life more seriously” and put aside her artistic pursuits to focus on school. For years, she went on with her art left shelved until the loss of a loved one brought her back to using art “as a way to process [her] emotions and heal.”

“I started working with pen and ink, and for the next years, I only drew in black and white,” Carmen said. “I started exploring color years later as my grief started lifting.”

From there, Carmen dove right back into art. She started an art therapy non-profit back home and “left [her] full-time job as a counselor” to pursue art. While she enjoyed many different mediums, Carmen’s love for photography as an artistic expression stood out. Soon after moving to Chattanooga, she discovered cyanotype and felt like she had found her true calling.

Carmen’s use of cyanotype adds a unique “alternative” element to her photography. She enjoys the history behind the process and views it as “telling a story in a way that’s different from film or digital photos.” Carmen said that “the cyanotype process is an active one.” Cyanotype involves her chemically treating the paper and using the sun’s UV light to expose the print. The combination of relying on a “cooperating” sun, letting the print dry, and applying more coats of varnish make her overall time spent on a piece variable.

“When I get inspired to create something,” Carmen said, “I try to visualize the outcome before I start working. Once I have a clear image of what I want to do, I try to manifest it.”

Like many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic left a negative impact on Carmen’s mental wellbeing. Compounded on her ADHD, moving to a new state, and buying a house, the onset of the pandemic and its social ramifications left her anxious and unable to cope while stuck at home. She found that using art to process her anxiety was a tremendous help during the past year.

Carmen said, “One day, I woke up and decided to make myself create, even if I didn’t feel like it, and that’s how I got better.”

Moving forward, Carmen hopes that she can become more involved in the local art scene, doing “more public art projects and showing [her] work regionally.” Eventually, she also wants to use her own experience “living with grief, anxiety, and ADHD and the healing powers of art” to write a book to help others struggling.

Check out Carmen’s Instagram page and website to see more of her art, or go to her online store to find pieces available for purchase!