The DBD Story
How It Started
Spring, 2010: Deborah runs into a gallerist friend on the sidewalk in the Pearl District of NW Portland, Oregon. Deborah happens to be carrying a box of her early fine arts photographic prints at the time.
Her friend doesn't curate photography per se. Yet she stands there quietly.
"Six foot silk panels," the friend says, out of basically nowhere. "Rippling."
Almost exactly ten years previous, before blogs and the maker's movement and slow everything began to gather power and create the great wave of artisan presence they wield today, she wrote The Knitting Goddess. It taught knitting, retold the stories of the great fiber heroines of the ancient world, and included knitting patterns inspired by each. And that book helped to spearhead a thing or two.
You might not believe it, but there weren't that very many mainstream knitting books back then in a moment that is certainly not that far away. But has already become once-upon-a-time.
Deborah's friend didn't know about any of that.
There are things that are really different about fiber and photographs. [Things of which Deborah (given where she had come from, and where she was going) was acutely aware.]
Here are just a few: unlike a photographic print, things you make by hand from wool or silk or goat are almost always at least lightly to deeply and lushly textured. Also, their fibers are round with something called twist. The end result, when made by hand, is not standardized, is always unique, and always has unpredictable features: Dye lots vary. Sheep might grow slightly different wool one year to the next. You can bend and stretch your item this way and that. As a maker, you can literally create it and take it apart at any moment. Its physical resilience (a.k.a. memory) flexibility, and slight unpredictability are part of its nature. Also, of course, one you usually wear and the other you don't.
A fine arts digital photography print is flat, smooth, completely reproducible, and a miracle of modern technology.
All other things being equal, like paper and ink, anyone could create an identical print. A series of them. And that's the point. That's how fine arts photographic prints are made. That's the point. That's the genius of it and the excitement of it.
Yet something about the feeling and texture and flow of fiber and the slight fragrance of all the history of handmade and the promise of being worn had somehow transmitted not only through the imagery of the photograph, but also through the flat, perfectly and predictably reproducible photographic print.
How and why did Deborah came to photography from fiber arts (and also from writing, of course)?
Some of it has to do with her genetics. Although she didn't know it at the time, her uncle calls photography "the family business" and he's not wrong. There are three or four generations of professional and great amateur photographers in Deborah's family. (And by the way, by all accounts, her grandmother, who was her uncle's mother, knit some pretty amazing socks during World War II.) How did this even emerge? A lot of it has to do with our moment in history. And even more has to do with loss and regeneration. You can read a little more about that [here.].
But, however it happened, what was exciting was that these two, seemingly opposite strands of her creative process had clearly twisted together.
The Creative Process
Flash forward five years: Deborah receives a small and completely unassuming white box in the mail. She opens the box and slips out a satisfying, supple package carefully wrapped in white tissue paper and taped shut.
Inside the tissue paper are a few beautifully folded lengths of silk crêpe de chine. As she separates them they feel both weightless and substantial. She unfolds each, and looks at it for a long time. Next she wraps them around herself thoughtfully but briefly in a few different ways. Then she sits down to think. Because what was in the test package was pretty good.
In those intervening five years, a lot had happened and one of the most important things that had happened was that Deborah had been busy making and printing photographic images in the Columbia River Gorge.
She went in all different conditions of weather, season, and light. She accepted the challenge of being a small woman photographing large physical power to discover its elemental qualities. To date, she has collected thousands of images. She goes in the winter when it is very quiet and in the summer when the area is full of visitors. Because there is so much weather and force in the Columbia River Gorge every trip is different, and it's impossible to predict which day or moment will render the gem. Beautiful images have emerged in the mid-summer when the entire area is full of visitors as frequently as they emerge at any other moment of the year. This creative practice is also the best sort of meditation.
Along with her editor, she rigorously and pickily processed only the very best of the images and they began to be exhibited. For instance, one is now part of the permanent collection of the Bonneville Dam, built during the WPA project of the 1930's. Deborah was outside the Visitor's Center one day photographing, and the guide at the front desk inquired if her images were going to be in a newspaper. Things developed from there. Deborah is quite honored to be part of a collection that includes precious historical artifacts including Native American artifacts and a drawing from the Lewis and Clark expedition.
She would also abstract the images as she processed them, to look for their essence or what was underneath. Part of her background is a chosen teacher of a new and unusual way of abstracting cosmology, for her this was a natural thing to do. In the previous seven years she had spent a lot of time looking at astronomical photographs taken at different frequencies of light (visible, infrared, and x-ray) she naturally interpreted the digital photographic editing process as a way of reading the energy of the force she was capturing in the moment.
A few of these images were the ones that had now moved off paper and now flowed on silk, and also the body the way they originally flowed in nature. They were at once artisan-made scarves and wraps and cutting edge, limited edition, fine arts digital photographs.
Soon after, she went to show her stuff to a local fashion maven and retailer just to get some feedback. Within about ten minutes, they had decided to do a trunk show. Deborah Bergman Designs was off and running.
Our Production Process
Again, these are actual digital photographic prints, the same files I use to print and exhibit in a gallery, except printed on silk. They are printed individually on the same large-format printer that is commonly used to print exhibition-quality fine arts photographs and fine art (painting and drawing) reproductions.
The difference is, printing on silk is more challenging than printing on paper.
As a photographic medium, silk is less predictable than photographic paper in the way it translates digital instructions into a finished image. (This is something you learn early on in fiber arts, where many dye classes offer charts with carefully laid out yarn samples of the same dye used on different fibers to illustrate color and saturation variation among them.) Silk prints lack the standardized, precise, and stable technical communications line that exists between a high-end professional photo printer and the specific paper that professional printers rely on to render their highly technical and skilled craft.
This can make printing photographs on silk a rare and specialized artisanal craft. When you order one of our pieces, you are ordering one of a very, very small print run produced by an American woman-run artisan micro-business in the farmlands of Northern California with very specific and deep expertise. It took many years of experience to make our scarves and wraps possible.
There are no "copies" in DBD Designs. Each piece is an original. Much like the nuances in weather light and season that helped create the original photographic image, each wrap is also a unique print that results from specific factors including: the weather, micro variations in the nature of the ink on that day, and the moment that the silk moves through the printer. Slight variations are possible and normal, and occasionally one occurs that inspires us to create a new colorway.
The ongoing response/feedback loop between image and origin on one end, and artisan production on the other, plus a sprinkling of the unexpected, is essential to our process. It's part of what keeps the creative process vital and fresh.
Once printed, each piece is finished with an hand-sewed, hand-rolled hem. Only 2-3 can be hemmed per day.
When one of our small runs is exhausted, we may order another of the same, or a slight variation, depending on response or availability or season. In this way, you could say that the DBD products are offered in small, repeating micro-vintages where potential small, seasonal variations in creative choices, materials or the artisan's touch are part of what makes them unique.
The bag your wrap comes in is also individually sewn with a handspun drawstring, in Portland OR. Deborah creates and spins the drawstring herself.
Elegant, Durable, Versatile
Born in the gorges of the Columbia River Gorge and first printed in the summer of 2015 in the California wildfire zone with the smell of smoke in the air, they also carry the magic of regeneration. They are a great reminder that times of change can also be times of great satisfaction and creative breakthrough.
They are also very versatile. Because most images are softly graphic and asymmetrical, depending on how you tie them and also how you place the piece before you start to tie (a quarter turn in either direction can make all the difference) you can achieve a range of looks and tones with just wrap. Since they are also lightweight and durable, this also makes them particularly lovely travel companions.
Each print should last from 75-200 years if stored away from light and shaken free of dust occasionally. Our packaging makes this possible.
And of course we hope you enjoy them for at least that long. Or longer.
Fine arts digital prints on silk, individually produced and hand-hemmed in the USA. Wearer becomes curator as the fleeting, the precious, and the regeerative are celebrated and celebrate the woman (or man) who wears them.
In the functional sense, DBD wraps and scarves are also inevitably the child of Deborah's years of travel to beautiful yet demanding places, often to execute nimble tasks. Which is to say, they weigh almost nothing and go almost everywhere.
We love to see them moving on bodies through the world.
Want to know more? Try here.