A mythical species of horse that is extremely hard, if not impossible to catch. If you manage to capture the unicorn, you will obtain immortality. Don’t cage in a unicorn when you keep it. It will run away.
The Silver Unicorns Project is a grassroots art series by artist Allison Cordner aimed at empowering & inspiring women to break boundaries by going against their fears and societal ‘norms’. Allison wants to bring to light the full range of women who are pushing the limits by learning to ride motorcycles.
All the portraits taken are of women of many backgrounds, looks, sizes and motorcycles. Allison does not believe in rules or limits. The images themselves are made using a highly specialised historic photographic process of making images on glass or metal, called Ambrotypes (tintypes). The pieces are fragile, one-of-a-kind and hauntingly beautiful in their imperfections and Allison truly believes that the fragility, freedom, spontaneity and soulful aesthetic of this medium lends itself perfectly to the theme of women who ride motorcycles.
An Interview Excerpt about the Silver Unicorn Project
For how long have you been a photographer? Tell us a little bit about you, your background, your history.
I have been a professional photographer since 2005 when I applied on a whim into a Commercial Photography Program at Dawson College. I had been previously really passionate about taking portraits of dancers as I was a choreographer in the modern dance realm. People kept telling me how good the images were so I made a career move at age 23, the same day I got my acceptance letter, and an hour before I was going to visit her with the big news, my mother died from complications after a surgery. It was a bittersweet day.
Where did you discover Tintype photography? Why was it so inspiring for you, why did you want to learn and master this technique?
Like most projects I begin in my life, the tintype journey started with an early morning dream. A lot of the things I do come through dreams and intuition. The spiritual elements of the unkown play a big part of my artistic process. I had been working seriously for about a year using BW film and a Hasselblad I bought second hand, I was photographing high end portrait clients using this technique. I was growing tired of the waiting for the film to be processed then all the scanning I wanted a new challenge. The image I found was a simple portrait of a beautiful woman on metal using the tintype process. This image, quite serendipitously was by a photographer Ed Ross in California who also was passionate about motorcycles. At the time I had not even started riding. I immediately researched how to do this process and figured out that it entailed a trip to New York city to study at the Penumbra Foundation’s Centre for Alternative and Historic Process’. My first attempt got cut short as halfway though New York State on the train I got the phone call that my step father was about to die due to a medical error before a transplant surgery in Halifax- I immediately jumped off the train in the middle of the state and spoke my last words to him as his husband, my father, held the phone to his ear. He died within seconds of me wishing him my love and blessing to pass on. The following spring in 2005 I finally got to return to do the full training in NY. I came back home with my new skills and found that it was harder than I thought so booked another training through the same institute that was happening in an authentic way out in an isolated Appalachian field with a cabin in West Virginia. I packed up my gear, my brand new hand made 8×10 camera and some camping equipment and made the journey to Paw Paw. The trip was incredible. It was the first time I had journeyed all by myself that far. My marriage had just broken up in the Fall and so this was very much a part of finding myself. When I arrived back home having experience so many beautiful stops along the ocean and through the woods even stopping in Rochester to see the historic Kodak Museum, I parked my car on the corner of my downtown home, only to wake up the next morning to my entire vehicle ransacked and robbed of all my professional equipment except my prized 8×10 camera and chemicals. The vandal even took off with my wet plates! (portrait). I took this as a spiritual sign to start all over and focus on Wetplate photography. It wasn’t easy and there were many reasons to think I should quit, but I just dusted myself back off again and rebuilt my life and career.
How did the Silver Unicorn project start? What inspired you to create it?
Back in 2016 I got approached by REVOLUTION magazine to have an article written up in their Summer edition about mw and my tintype portraits after an image I had taken of my boyfriend at the time and his daughter sitting on his Harley Night train. The image which I made on a creative whim in my back yard became viral and quickly people became enamoured and in awe of this moody, raw and unfamiliar type of portrait. To add a little spin to the article, the reporter, Catherine David suggested I talk about a series or a future project. We came up with the idea of me documenting women who ride motorcycles; something I had just began myself the year before. It slowly snowballed into a full self funded grassroots project. I often get asked how I chose the women in my portraits, the truth is they chose me. I just post a date, time and place and photograph everyone who took the time to come. I even got a lady who thought bike meant bicycle! I still included her and made her promise she would take her motorcycle classes. The rest is history and if I have my way it will continue on and be part of Canadian photographic and motorcycle history.
What’s your goal with that project?
My hope for the project is that it will generate a lot of curiosity, dreaming and inspiration for girls and women of all ages to ride motorcycles. My aim is to show a a variety of women of all backgrounds, sizes and ages with the aim of breaking the stereotypes about women bikers and to encourage women to try things that may scare them at first or seem hard. Women have a habit of not taking risks because that is how we are raised; I want to show them that it is really worth trying, and that through every struggle there is a victory. I really hope that people will one day remember me for having done something special. I won’t be happy until I have a minimum of 100-500 portraits taken. I anticipate working on this project for the next 5 years or more and producing a book full of images and stories as well as video and audio footage of every woman to share on my social media feeds.
Why did you choose the name Silver Unicorn, what does it mean to you?
The name Silver Unicorn came to me suddenly as I was brainstorming what I could name the series. The process of making each portrait involves dipping my glass or metal plate in a solution of silver nitrate, this soaking of the plate creates a chemical reaction rendering the solution I poured onto it prior to soaking, light sensitive. Silver also makes me think of chrome which is synonymous with motorcycles. Unicorn came from the idea of something or someone rare and hard to find. The number of women riders are increasing but still remain fairly low in comparison to men. Every time I see a woman rider my heart flutters and I feel like I have just seen something almost mystical and mysterious. I loved the idea that the unicorn is spiritual, it is positive, it s unisex, beautiful, powerful, and untrappable. The tintype / wet plate process that I practice is also fairly uncommon due to the advent of digital cameras, and even more rare is a woman Wetplate photographer. It just seemed like a perfect combination of words and so it stuck.
If we want to see your art, where can we see it? Any Exposition, any book, website?
If you want to see my series and missed It at the big Roll the Bones show in Montreal, you will be able to go to my website silverunicorn.ca to check out where the growing collection of handmade portraits is travelling to next. I can tell you that the next stop is in the ghost town of Durham, Ontario for the 1 day Freedom Machine motorcycle event. I have made a fund-raising art book and a whole biker fashion line that will help me feed the projects and my family. A lot of work and planning has gone into the apparel and it is made for the bodies of all women, there are sizes from xs all the way up to xxl, I also designed unisex pieces, hats, beanies, bombers and will be expanding and improving along the way. Anyone can order from the shop and I will ship out to your location even outside the country! Like the unicorn, who knows where I will be spotted next! Please go to my website and like me on instagram and or facebook under the username silverunicornproject..
If we want to support you with the Silver Unicorn Projet, is there a way we can help?
The way I could use support is by ladies hash tagging and tagging me with @silverunicornproject on social media to help the series expand. Any orders of products at shows or through my website will help me buy the materials and cover the travelling necessary for me to get to your city. My casting calls are always open to everyone and I always thank my unicorns by sending them a signed version of their portrait for their social media and safekeeping. Please share any stories, experience or impressions about the Silver Unicorn Project throughout the world and make this project go viral. #silverunicornproject #silverunicornapparel