Words and photos by Olivia Bauso
Sometimes life leads us to places with an unknown motivation. If we’re smart, we will follow suit and see how the journey plays out. For Alyssa M DeWitt, this tactic proved to be beneficial.
As a child, Alyssa gravitated towards the arts, and found a comfort in drawing and illustration. She expanded her creative bounds in high school, absorbing as much as she could from her suburban Buffalo teachers. She says, “I don’t have any artists in my family, so I was kind of on my own in terms of navigating the art world. I knew that even if my time spent in the art room didn’t amount to anything, at least I was doing what I loved-- it didn’t feel like work.”
Without a direction for her career as an artist, Alyssa applied solely to RIT. She fell in love with the school during a tenth grade field trip and knew that regardless of her major, that was the environment she wanted to be in. After applying to the Graphic Design, Illustration and Photography programs, Alyssa was accepted for Photography, and took that as a sign for her future direction. “I had only taken a basic darkroom class in high school, so I was lost at first,” Alyssa admits. She continues, “I really had no idea what I was doing, but I stuck with it and eventually grew to love and find my passion for it.” Her passion grew so deeply that she continued on to receive her masters in photography at Columbia College Chicago.
During her time in Chicago, Alyssa experimented with where to take her career as a photographer next. She recognized after a summer of working as a wedding photographer that the wedding industry was not her calling. She laughs, “It’s like the most stressful, longest photo shoot you could possibly go on.” Alyssa found her niche in fine art film photography, and says that most of what she makes is with the intent of eventually displaying it in a book. Since most of her projects are created over the course of several shoots (which may amount to several years!), sharing just a few pieces on a wall may not alway the best format for display. Alyssa would rather showcase a lot of images, allowing viewers to flip through and experience them all together.
Creating books allows Alyssa to engage in tactile work that photography does not always allow artists. She explains, “Photography is very separate from your body in a lot of ways. I think I compensate for the void of being able to make something with my hands with making books and practicing my illustrations.” Alyssa’s fascination with books-- rare books, specifically-- began during her time working in the library at RIT.
For the first time in her career, Alyssa is showing illustration works in public. Inspired by images of gemstones online, she began sketching interpretations of beautiful minerals to exercise her drawing skills. After diving deeper into her fascination with the photos, Alyssa created a series of gemstone illustrations with black line on white paper. She describes the pieces as “geometric and simple, yet complicated.”
Hanging alongside the gemstone project is Alyssa’s study of plant-life from Centralia, Pennsylvania. Centralia is a near-ghost town that has been evacuated as a result of a coal-mine fire, which has been burning since 1962. As an avid clean-energy advocate and environmentalist, Alyssa was first interested in the town after researching the disaster, and visited several times over the course of a few years. She was inspired to photograph the affected plant-life by recalling early plant photograms. Instead of mimicking the prints, Alyssa pressed plants from Centralia in books and photographed them on paper. Those prints are now displayed together. Alyssa encourages everyone to dive into the history of Centralia’s demise.
Alyssa hopes to continue pushing herself beyond her creative comfort zone, and feels encouraged to expand her illustration work. She has several projects in the works, including a new kind of art-making: podcasting. Alyssa’s brand new podcast, Untitled1.jpg will explore the creative process, and how to move through artistic blocks. Her first episode will be available online soon. Alyssa’s next exhibition, “The Walkers” will be on display May 11th- June 23th at the Flower City Arts Center.