As a photo educator, I want to make sure I have the best information to pass along to students when it comes to troubleshooting processes. A friend of mine and one of the best platinum printers out there today wrote this excellent pair of articles on a common problem – the dreaded “black spots”.
If you’ve never curated a group show before, especially one with international reach, it’s hard to imagine the level of effort that goes into putting on an art exhibit. You have to put out the call for entries, manage the publicity to make sure you get enough work submitted to fill the walls even after reviewing and editing, and then handle the acceptance emails and collect the accepted work.
Oh, and be prepared for things not working out as planned. I feel extremely lucky we had only two hiccups with submitted work. One was minor – one piece of work came off its mounting in transit. With a quick email to the artist, I got his permission to open the frame and re-mount the work properly so it would present well on the wall. In the process, I also replaced the source of the problem (gummy adhesive squares that were NOT archival) with water-activated linen tape loops using acid-free wheat paste for adhesive. No artist’s work is going to be damaged by me on my watch!
The second hiccup was totally beyond anyone’s control, which is what made it so maddening. Yugo Ito’s photograph coming from Japan was shipped in plenty of time to arrive at the gallery. However, it got stuck in customs in New York for almost two weeks. There was nothing to be done but to wait, as customs is a black hole into which things enter and exit at their own pace and there is no transparency or communications possible beyond checking the tracking number on the USPS website. Creativity saved the day, though – since the actual work was not in the gallery for the opening, I took the JPEG of the work from the submission and printed it, mounting it to the wall with a sheet of glass and some L-pins. It would be represented in spirit even if not in actuality.
Once all the work has arrived, you have to plan how you’re going to hang it. You can look at JPEGs all you want, and generally gauge which artist’s works should hang next to which other artist, but the actual sequencing and spacing can’t really be figured out until you have the actual framed work in hand at the gallery. Next it’s measure, measure, measure, and then plan, and re-measure, before driving the first nail into the wall. Having gallery interns to help with the hanging makes life so much easier (Shout-out to my interns! Thank you!!).
Now the work is all hung, you can relax, right? NO. Then it’s plan the reception, send out the invites, send out the press releases, buy too much cheese and crackers at Costco, and then throw a party. There’s the curator’s remarks to prepare, and handouts about the work to write. Oh, and blogging about it all the while!
At some point during the show, ideally right after you’ve hung the work but before the public comes in to see it, you document the exhibit. Below are a few excerpts from the show as hung. One of the great challenges of curating a show is that once you have it up on the wall, what might look good in the space presents a wicked challenge to document. Trying to photograph pieces in corners where you can’t get a light on them from the other side means that you’ll either have dramatic falloff in the scene from one side to the other, or you’ll have a hideous reflection of your umbrella or other diffuser in the picture glass. I opted for a bit of falloff rather than reflections where possible because the falloff can be compensated for to a degree in Photoshop – a big blinding white reflection of an umbrella cannot.
You’re not done until the show is over, the work taken down, and the artists have picked up their work or you’ve shipped it off to hither and yon. Then you get to relax for a day or two, and if you’re a busy curator, it’s back to the process all over again!
Nowadays I live in Switzerland, but I am originally from England.
How did you get into photography as an art medium (as opposed to casual or professional use)?
I discovered Charlie Waite’s landscapes. These showed me that photography could be a personal statement as much as a documentary record. Charlie opened my eyes and changed my life.
Which alternative processes do you practice?
Platinum/palladium printing. I occasionally dabble with other alt processes, but not for serious work.
What attracted you to alternative processes in general?
As an artist I feel it is important to be involved throughout the creative process. I want what I make to be my creation. You can only truly achieve this when working by hand.
What drew you to the specific media you practice?
I made my first platinum/palladium print in 2005: a close-up of some flowers on a slate embankment. I still have it somewhere. I had seen pictures of platinum/palladium prints online, but the first one I saw in the real-world was that first print I made. It was an epiphany, and I very quickly realised that there was nothing else I wanted to make. Platinum/palladium allows me a depth of emotional engagement that I don’t have with traditional silver gelatin or digital machine-made prints. This emotional engagement is really important. I want what I feel in my studio when working with the model to be conveyed in my finished work. Platinum/palladium allows this.
How does the choice of media influence your choice of subject matter (or vice versa)?
I find platinum/palladium to be the perfect medium for nudes. It renders soft, graceful and beautiful images that are far more subtle than the shouty, high contrast stuff we are routinely bombarded with.
In today’s mobile, electronic world of instant communication and virtual sharing of images, how important is it to you to create hand-made images?
I can’t really see the point in churning out machine-made images. Anyone can do this.
Is your choice to practice alternative, hand-made photography a reaction to, a complement to, or not influenced by the world of digital media?
I was making platinum/palladium before the digital revolution really took off. I use digital cameras, of course, but not for serious work. The workflow is so different and feels so shallow to me.
Do you incorporate digital media into your alternative process work?
In general, I would say no. I do use digital negatives from time to time, but this isn’t a significant part of my creative life.
What role do you see for hand-made/alternative process work in the art world of today? Where do you see yourself in that world?
Most photography collectors want distinctive, exclusive and personal artwork. Small limited editions of hand-made prints made using the finest of materials by a master of the creative process all contribute to this. And of course the enormous lifespan of platinum/palladium prints ensures that these photographs will pass the test of time. A well made platinum/palladium print will last as long as the paper it is printed upon. Many collectors like the fact that their investments will be there to be enjoyed by their grandchildren’s grandchildren.
I’m very pleased and thrilled to announce the entrants whose work has been accepted into the Rendering The Spirit: The Personal Image in Alternative Media exhibition at Glen Echo Photoworks. We accepted twelve artists showing a very diverse range of subject matter and technique, from wet plate collodion to photogravure to lumen prints. The exhibit is also very geographically diverse – works are coming from Texas, the Washington DC area, Switzerland, Germany and Japan.
The honored artists are:
Atalie Day Brown (Maryland)
Barbara Maloney (Maryland)
Bruce Schultz (Louisiana)
Dan Schlapbach (Maryland)
Erik Larsen (Colorado)
Eddie Hirschfield (Virginia)
Hendrik Faure (Germany)
Ian Leake (Switzerland)
John Sarsgard (New York)
Leena Jayaswal (Maryland)
Marek Matusz (Texas)
Yugo Ito (Japan)
A few featured works from the exhibition:
14×17 inches, digital relievo wet plate collodion ambrotype. There is a digital print behind the glass ambrotype image, creating a relief like a traditional relievo ambrotype
8×10 inch tintype (direct-positive, wet-collodion on aluminum plate)