SAN FRANCISCO— In a world viewed through a digital lens, photography can manipulate memory, subvert the senses and enhance the present beyond all reasonable recognition. How much is too much? The search for fact over fiction muddled by the powerful tools of the moment has encouraged a review of the tenants of this medium, and as the pendulum swings, artists have begun to reconsider the basic tools and processes of this expression.
Haines Gallery’s Science of Sight: Alternative Photography brings together an international roster of practitioners who mine the past. Their control of light and their physical manipulation of photographic paper investigate the difference between making and taking, image and object.
Science of Sight: Alternative Photography includes work by MarieAnge, Jo Babcock, Marco Breuer, John Chiara, Pierre Cordier, Binh Danh, Susan Derges, Michelle Kloehn, Klea McKenna, Abelardo Morell, Bettina Samson, Shi Guorui and Wendy Small. These artists’ methodologies illustrate the pliability of light with processes as diverse as chemigram, daguerreotype and wet plate collodion process to camera-less photography, camera obscuras and pinhole cameras.
Through their varied approaches, Shi Guorui, Wendy Small and Bettina Samson, investigate the most analogue photographic tool, the photogram, first invented by William Fox Talbot in 1834. Shi Guorui, primarily recognized for his large-scale camera obscura works of iconic Chinese landscapes, presents here images of objects from the permanent collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. These life-size photograms made during a residency in the Bay Area resulted in an exhibition at the de Young Museum in 2007. Wendy Small works on a more intimate scale, utilizing everyday objects from her personal holdings to construct delicate, lace-like mandalas of light and shadow. Bettina Samson achieves her photograms by exposing photographic paper to the intrinsic glow of the mineral uraninite. By displaying these seemingly alchemic images alongside replicas of the objects from which they are derived, Samson explores notions of the unseen and unexplained in tandem with the scientific and proven.
Jo Babcock creates pinhole cameras from found objects to produce images that reflect the original object’s function. At Haines, Babcock exhibits one such device made from a Bell & Howell projector case with its corresponding photograph of the Roxie movie theater.
Abelardo Morell converts full-sized rooms into camera obscuras that project spectacular views of the outside world across interior spaces, joining inside and out. John Chiara transports his hand-built 50” x 80” field camera mounted on a flatbed trailer, thereby allowing him to simultaneously shoot and develop large-scale positive exposures. His long exposures are part photography, part event and part sculpture – an undertaking in apparatus and patience.
For Marco Breuer and Pierre Cordier, the power of the image lies in the manipulation of the photographic paper itself. Through burning, scratching, and slicing the paper’s surface, Breuer transcends the medium, his work more reminiscent of abstract painting than photography. Cordier, father of the chemigram, truly paints his work using photographic chemicals alongside varnish, wax, glue and eggs to create enigmatic images that are impossible to realize by any other means. The physicality of these works is beyond compare.