Artist Symbolically Embellishes Her Photos with Gold Leaf and Jewels

Tawny Chatmon's portraits with gold leaf and jewels

Photographer Tawny Chatmon created a series of portraits in which she uses a multi-layer approach and adorns her photos with gold and jewels, which she says signals the importance of appreciating loved ones before it’s too late.

Based in Maryland, Chatmon is a photography-based artist whose work focuses on celebrating and honoring the beauty of Black childhood, family, and culture. She turned to photography after a career in dramatic arts, and her relationship with the medium was heavily affected after she documented her father’s losing battle with cancer.

“We thought his victory over cancer would encourage other men to take prostate cancer seriously,” Chatmon tells PetaPixel. “I spent that year photographing his journey daily, which devastatingly ended with cancer taking his life. Losing my father changed me, and how I viewed life, time, and pretty much everything.”

“I began to think more about the meaning of my life and began to slowly stop solely looking to my camera as a means of making a living and began seeing it more as a way to communicate my joy, my pain, and my frustration. I also began to think more about the world I wanted my children to grow up in versus the world as it is today.”

Tawny Chatmon's portraits with gold leaf and jewels

Chatmon took this notion into her latest portrait series “If I’m No Longer Here, I Wanted You to Know…” in which she adds gold leaf to her subjects using a multi-layered approach.

Chatmon first experimented with gold leaf between 2015 and 2016.

“A broader understanding of how gold was utilized throughout history pushed me to continue this practice,” she explains. “Historically, gold was reserved for those of importance… [and] gold was a signal to the viewer that what they were looking at should be viewed as valued, meaningful, and sacred.”

Tawny Chatmon's portraits with gold leaf and jewels

With that in mind, she worked on her series throughout the lockdown, reflecting on mortality, the effects of the pandemic, and the social unrest. For the most part, her subjects are someone Chatmon is close to such as her children, godchildren, relatives, or a model that she had worked with previously.

After the portrait was taken, Chatmon enhanced them and experimented with collage, montage, or by adding her own hand-drawn elements.

Tawny Chatmon's portraits with gold leaf and jewelsTawny Chatmon's portraits with gold leaf and jewels Tawny Chatmon's portraits with gold leaf and jewels

“After refining and printing, with a lot of my work, I hand-embellish with acrylic paint, 24-karat gold leaf, and materials such as paper, semi-precious stones, glass, and other mixed media. I am also particular when framing my work, choosing gold vintage, antique, and baroque style frames that I collect from estate sales, galleries, and auctions or purpose-built contemporary baroque frames custom created for each piece.”

“I like frames with history, imperfect frames, and frames built during (or reminiscent of) an era where framing subjects like mine wasn’t a consideration. The frames play a big part in the work as I am looking to offer a counter-narrative to the typical portrait museum experience.”

Tawny Chatmon's portraits with gold leaf and jewels

Although the series has concluded, Chatmon looks to continue producing work that conveys messages that speak to her and others, including the use of materials beyond photography. “My work is ever-evolving, so the materials may evolve, as I do, but certainly, the sentiment and meaning behind the work will always be present,” Chatmon explains.

More of Chatmon’s work can be found on her website and Instagram page.

Image credits: Photos by Tawny Chatmon.