Carla Alexandra Rodriguez is the visual artist behind Blkk Hand, a photography studio focused on tintype portraiture. Known as the "Black Arts" for the stains left on the ungloved hands of early photographers, Blkk Hand takes it name from the effects that silver nitrate has on skin (typically accidentally) when exposed to light. Blkk Hand began in 2015 as a project in studio, but has since grown to include a mobile photobooth setup that can make appearances at various events and markets.
Stop by Carla’s booth at Junk Bonanza for ongoing demos or to purchase your keepsake portrait! This interview was happily conducted in collaboration with Junk Bonanza, an event at Canterbury Park from September 26-28 for purveyors and shoppers of vintage finds, beautiful antiques, and artisan-repurposed pieces. More info and tickets to Junk Bonanza available here!
I had never heard of tintype portraiture before seeing your work—what an interesting style and method of photography. How did you first become interested in tintype portraits?
I was introduced to it in a class while attending the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. It was essentially demonstrated for us, and I remember seeing the image clear in the fix for the first time and being utterly spellbound by it. I decided to pursue learning the process after I graduated. My teacher at the time made sure to let us know how hard and expensive it was to do this process, but I was up for the challenge!
Have you always been creative? What forms or channels have you explored in your creative journey?
I thought myself a dancer and singer when I was really little, and then got into visual art (painting and drawing) in middle school and high school. I really found my love for photography late in high school and carried it with me ever since.
Coming from Houston, what prompted your eventual shift to living and working here in Saint Paul?
Real talk? I fell in love! I've been with my husband for 10 years, married for 2. I love the Twin Cities though and am super happy to call it home now.
Where do you situate yourself in your work? In other words, how do you think your voice + values shine through your photography?
I'm really interested in people and their stories, as well as the hyper personal. I love learning about people on a deep level and making pictures this way has afforded me the opportunity to get in peoples business without being creepy! I hope through my portrait work I get at the pieces of people you don't normally get to experience. As far as my personal artwork goes, being really vulnerable and open is important to me.
There’s so much to learn along a path like this. What advice could you pass along to someone who is struggling with their creative path that you wish someone had given to you?
It’s tempting to let social media dictate your creative process...I struggle with this heavily. Make things for YOU, even if they aren't objectively good. You don't have to share everything you make. Following the themes and ideas that interest you despite what may or may not be popular online is integral.
Do you feel like making and creating through your business allows you to contribute to something larger than yourself?
I really hope so! There are these really special moments I get to experience where I see someone seeing themselves authentically for the first time. Finding themselves beautiful when most of the time there is a negative self talk that happens around photographs. Even on my worst days when I feel like no one cares about the things I make, or that I'm not contributing in anyway, I think of those moments and it helps inspire me to keep going.