Saturday, June 30, 2007

More art & accident and black suns

Speaking of "black suns" and "art and accident" in the last post, I wanted to share the work of Chris McCaw of San Francisco. I saw his work at Photolucida and have been coveting it ever since (don't be surprised if it shows up in a PRC show in the future). As Chris explains on his website, his Sunburn photographs are his "new experiments in starting fires in my camera." Not only are these aesthetically and conceptually gorgeous, but Chris is a very nice person to boot (always a good thing for a curator!). Before packing a picnic to go hear a live taping of Prairie Home Companion on the lawn at Tanglewood, I share with you a few images and part of his artist statement:

This new project initially began completely by accident. In 2003 an all night exposure of the stars made during a camping trip was lost due to the effects of whiskey. Unable to wake up to close the shutter before sunrise, all the information of the night’s exposure was destroyed. The intense light of the rising sun was so focused and intense that it physically changed the film, creating a new way for me to think about photography.

In this process the sun burns its path onto the film base. The sky as a result of the intense light exposure reacts in an effect called solarization. The resulting negative literally has a burnt hole in it with the subject in complete reversal. ... After experimenting with burning film and working with this minimalist aesthetic, I wanted to see what else could be done with different media. I chose to use fiberbased gelatin silver black & white photographic paper. By putting the paper in my film holder, in place of film, I create a one of a kind paper negative. Each negative due to varying sky conditions and length of exposure is scorched by the sun to differing degrees, sometimes burning completely through the paper base. I used both an 8”x10” view camera and a home made 16”x20” camera to create the paper negatives.

Not only is the resulting image a representation of the subject photographed, but part of the subject (the sun) is an active participant in the printmaking. This is just the beginning of this new body of work. I plan to continue to investigate the possibilities of this method of printmaking. My favorite part is watching smoke come out of the camera during the exposure. Thank you for looking.

All images from

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Seldom Seen or Aberrant Photo

While in Rochester, we made the mandatory stop at the Eastman House and saw the Ansel Adams exhibition. This proved an interesting comparison with another collection-based exhibition from the Museum of Fine Art, Boston. The GEH offering was a wonderfully comprehensive exhibition that also included photographs taken in and around the University of Rochester, which I had never seen before. This grouping as well as "The Black Sun," a long exposure of landscape of a stream and tree, leads me to ponder the issues surrounding the seldom seen and the aberrant photograph - images that don't quite fit neatly into a series or haven't seen as much exposure.

Interestingly enough, an extensive internet search did not reveal an image of Adams's THE BLACK SUN, TUNGSTEN HILLS, OWENS VALLEY, CALIFORNIA, 1939/print ca. 1970. I could find a few references here and there in terms of solarization and Sabatier effects, but no image - not on GEH's online collections not Ansel Adams gallery's website and not on yahoo or google images. It seems this photograph is reproduced in his book, The Negative, likely as a teaching tool, but are such images deemed too aberrant to showcase online?

Over on his See, Hear, and Remember blog, Christian Patterson recently discussed the idea of "difference vs. sameness" within constructing a series and Shane Lavalette followed up with a post that garnered many comments and another on repetition. I'd like to take up another angle on this discussion: Is the aberrant image within a body of work or portfolio perhaps not one of intentional variety, but an issue of quality, editing, or maybe style, or rather, is it not understanding the role of this particular image at that particular time? Or, is it simply blind luck to capture something so disparate from one's style? (Is the latter even possible?) Further, are such images deemed unfitting by the photographer, the curator, the collector, or the museum, and thus put away and then overlooked? Are the images that are taken for a different reason or as an experiment, relegated to the metaphorical and physical shelf to be "discovered" later? Conversely, do such square pegs simply need to gestate, find their mates, and thus make sense later in one's life, oeuvre, or even decades later from the perspective of a third party? As a juror and reviewer, I must admit some guilt, as often I recommend that photographers build and submit a series that holds together in a juried situation. In such a quick fire method, straight-up aberrant images simply don't hold up and thus often result in the elimination of the whole series. This is not to say that an image cannot be different from others, it can and still fit, but it is the "fittingness" that is hard to explain and a definition of "style" not easy to teach or communicate. As an art historian, we often benefit from looking through the long lens of history when analyzing such groupings (or creating them?).

On the other hand, do such seldom seen images or those created for other purposes lead to new avenues and series? Do these transitional images sow the seeds of a later style shift or are simply accidents? Robin Kelsey, photohistorian at Harvard, gave us a sneak peak at his musings on photography and chance as well as art and accident at the Clark symposium and Boston's CAA respectively. I look forward to what hopes to be a pending book!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Off to Rachacha, Land of Photo

My oh my! It's been a long time since I've written. I've been really concentrating on summer, or at least trying. Since my last post, I went to another wedding, explored the Cambridge arts festival, hiked around Mt. Misery (mentioned in Thoreau's writings), moved my car twice for street cleaning, and sat and then got dismissed from jury duty. Needing a little more head clearing, Bruce and I are now off to Rochester to visit friends and family. Interestingly enough, in the last few weeks, I've corresponded or met with 4 photographers that had ties to Rochester. Usually, it's through school, be it RIT or VSW, and at least 2 of them repeated the nickname above, Rachacha. I don't know where this epithet came from; I thought I was the only one who said it, but apparently not!

While in Rochester, we will go to the Keuka Lake winery Dr. Konstantin Frank, have a barbecue with friends, check out the Rochester Criterium (a fast-paced short bike race held downtown), pop in the Eastman House to see the Steichen autochromes, and maybe hit MassMoca on the way back to witness the Christoph Büchel spectacle/debacle. You can read the whole back story on the massive installation here, and read an archive of his demands here. When we were there last time, we could only see the theatre entrance and it was completely closed. Either way, neither no one wins in this situation. I am sure that it will fuel many dissertations for a long time to come.

Addendum: the real autochromes weren't on display, reproductions were. Although I understand why from a conservation perspective, it was slightly disappointing not to see the real things. I think I'll post on the Ansel Adams exhibition soon.

Image: Edward Steichen, (American, 1879–1973). [Charlotte Spaulding Albright with flowers], ca. 1908. Color plate screen (autochrome) process. George Eastman House collections.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Oldest Darkoom

From a recent list-serv posting about the newly-discovered "oldest darkroom" in the world:
"The darkroom was owned by Joseph Fortuné Petiot-Groffier who died in 1855. The lab was left untouched by children, grand-children,... after his death until today when a great-great... decided to open the doors to the director of la Maison Nicéphore Niepce in Chalon-sur-Saone in France. The lab was full of ancient chemicals (many still in sealed containers), photo equipment, and over 400 books dating prior to 1830 covering the full knowledge on photography as of that time. It will be recreated at the Maison Nicéphore Niepce." - (translated?) by Guy Glorieux
From my dad's email reply:
"Pierre-Yves Mahe, is the founder of SPEOS photographic school in Paris, and he rents the part of the house where Niépce had his laboratory-workshop in Saint-Loup de Varennes, on the Gras estate. Pierre-Yves was the first photographer to occupy the place since the inventor’s death...The historical residence had remained unexplored until then, just gazed at from outside by some curious people. Pierre-Yves, along with Dr. Zakia and I, wrote the book, The Stop System which was published in French and in English in 1999. The Stop System is still being taught at Speos.

Pierre-Yves visits Rochester from time to time and was here recently when he showed me numerous pictures of the Petiot-Groffier darkroom. It was amazing to hear his recounting of the story of being the first person to enter this historic darkroom in approximately 150 years! The lab was frozen in time as if it were a time capsule, which, undoubtedly, it was. Pierre-Yves showed many pictures of the investigation of the lab with full-time chemists in masks checking over the curious, centuries-old bottles to make sure that they were not dangerous (some were!) and arranging and cataloging them. Eventually, the darkroom will become part of the Niépce house for all to see! What a great find to discover the darkroom, chemicals, cameras, books, and processing apparatus that were exactly contemporaneous with Niépce, many of which were used in his investigations!"
Here are some more articles on this discovery: one in French and one in English.