Review-Six Artists, Two Great Shows
Review – The New Pictorialists and Silver Visions
The New Pictorialists – Through May 31
Full Circle, 33 East 21st Street Baltimore Maryland 21218
33 East 21st Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
Silver Visions – Images Photographed with Large Format Cameras.
River Road Unitarian Church
What an unexpected treat to see, in one weekend, two shows with artists who each have both the vision and the skills to carry it off. Of course I liked some more than others, thought some individual pieces rose above the rest but, all in all, every work was the obvious product of careful thought and skill.
Every time I do a review, because I know nothing, I must take a steep climb up knowledge mountain. Because one of the shows was entitled 'the New Pictorialists' and the other was “Silver Visions – Images photographed with Large Format Cameras", I anticipated a re-visioning of the famous friction between the Pictorialist movement of the beginning of the last century and the Modernists most famous for the f64 group (You know big camera, everything in focus from your toes to the horizon, larger than life.)
The Pictorialists had moved away from the dull documentary style that marked the initial years of photography and emphasized a romantic kind of work that engaged the senses. Then along came WWI and social documentary photography, straight photography and the even more precise Precisionists – and the battle was on, and for some time the Modernists won.
But it wasn't all that clear cut. If you read “A World History of Photography” by Naomi Rosenblum, a tome thicker and more complex than Finnegan's Wake, you'll find that there are innumerable off-shoots and movements and groups forming and dissolving as the normal evolution of photography as an art is distorted and accelerated by the concomitant advances in the technology of photography.
I went to the show, formally titled 'The New Pictorialists' with some expectations. I had done some basic Internet research on the two artists showing on the web and was anxious to see their work in person. As it turned out, it was not for me to riddle out where these two fit in the stream of things, it was very clear – and not really very important. These two were both as far from any emotionless documentary work as one could get and still have some representational elements. Although they are both 'landscape artists', they had agreed before the show that Cathy Leacraft would show works of smaller scale and Karen Klinedinst larger more 'traditionally scoped landscapes.'
An excerpt from Cathy Leacrafts (http://www.cathyleaycraft.com/) artist statement describes her work better than I could.
“My current artistic focus is the use of reflections in glass to create layered images of landscape, thus pushing photography into the realm of abstraction.
I create these images on location, bringing reflective and refractive objects with me. I work intuitively, moving around my glass construction, looking for the view that depicts the emotion and beauty I seek to convey. The process is about letting go of labels like tree, sky, house, and allowing things to become shapes and color. By using reflections I am able to capture vivid colors and unusual abstract views of my subjects.
My goal is to give objective expression to inner experience.
Originally the photograph was intended as an aid to the artist wishing to depict the world accurately. Even as painting, and other art forms were becoming increasingly abstract, photography remained tied to pictorial realism. I am pushing photography further into the realm of abstraction.”
I am a very traditional street photographer, relatively unimaginative and thus abstractions are far from my favorite but one would have to be a stone not to enjoy these.
Leacraft uses a conventional dSLR but eschews any post-processing; she works with the specific items in the field, taking her reflective surfaces with her..The shapes and colors are well balanced, the slightly unfocussed look of most of the primary objects projects this hazy dream-like quality and I went from one to the next, not thinking anything specific but just liking what I saw.
My favorite, for no expressible reason, was this lovely image shown above, “Monhegan Gold. This and the rest of her work is visible at the Full Circle Gallery and at http://www.cathyleaycraft.com/.
I am familiar with the work of the other 'Pictorialist', Karen Klinedinst. After seeing some pieces at a previous show and enjoying the romantic emotionalism, I subscribed to her blog so I can see work as she creates it.
Romantic landscape painting, and the late nineteenth-century photography of the Pictorialists. Although my images are inspired by the romantic landscapes of the past, all of my images are created using the evolving and cutting-edge technology of the iPhone. I consider myself a present-day Pictorialist.
I use the iPhone to capture what I see, and then use many photo editing apps to process and manipulate images in the moment. I often stitch several images together, and add layers of texture and color, entirely on my iPhone.
Much like a plein air painter, my iPhone allows me to “plein air process” my emotional response to the landscape and create a neo-Romantic world of my imagination.
Her work is even more enjoyable in person where the aptness and delicacy of the textures can be seen clearly; she overlays the scenes with textures and edits that make the images look like the work of Romantic painters and the early Pictorialist photographers like Porterfield, Armer or Beck except, of course, in glorious color.
Her sense of color and image management is wonderful and, even more startling, is that she works solely with an iPhone and apps. It is easy even for an unimaginative dolt such as me to like her work; I'm a sucker for Tchaikovsky also. My favorite is 'The Red Tree'; it is excessive to describe this, just look.
OK, I had experienced and enjoyed the work at one end of the spectrum, those artists who, at least to some degree, had left behind the conventional ways of photographic art. Impressed and pleased I went home, only to find an email from a friend telling me about the last days of a show - 'Silver Visions – Images Photographed with Large Format Cameras.'
'Wow', I thought,'What a coincidence. Now I can see the other end of the spectrum, the ultimate pixel peepers, only with film.'
So the next morning we drove down to Bethesda. I have to admit there was an unresolved question in my mind. Both of the exhibitors, let's call them that, at the Full Circle exhibit were at some pains to distance themselves from typical 'photography' as we think of it and yet both of them used relatively intricate, as least compared to pen and paper, ways to create their art – and their work was very far from the reproduction that we associate with photography.
Anyway, back to the large camera show.
I expected to walk into a room, look around and see vistas of landscapes and seascapes, all in beautiful black and white, with every single millimeter in perfect focus. Over in one corner would be a bunch of serious looking people, probably guys, discussing developers and papers and the Scheimpflug principle.
Well, I didn't see that, except the photographers were all guys. The room was set up so that each exhibitor had a separate section; on the left were mostly b&ws, on the right were color. There were no landscapes, or mountains or seascapes.
Since the show was coming down later that day, you won't be able to see it in toto, but each of the exhibitors has a website. Before I mention them individually let me say that in at least one way, this show was typical of most large format work. Because just producing the exposed film requires meticulous, usually slow, attention to every single step, this care carries over into the final product; every single one of the many displayed pieces was essentially perfectly done. Composition was excellent, focus and sharpness were appropriate, even the matting and framing was top-notch.
Not an ugly color mat or a badly chosen frame in sight. Even better, there were no oversaturated, under-sharpened images being passed off as art.
I knew one of the exhibitors very slightly, but for a different kind of work. I had thought of George Smyth as doing mainly alternative processes, like bromoil prints or pinhole camera work, and that's what one can see the most of on his web site. But here he was showing a set of large format B&Ws of bridge structures in Baltimore.
He photographs not 'the bridges themselves, but the characteristics of the bridges -strength, beauty, determination, vigor, grace, constancy.' His pictures reminded me a great deal of the 'machine' images done by Schell and Bourke-White., stark and simple and almost pictographic in impact. Perhaps it is because of the relatively clean, almost stark look that I prefer his bromoil work which is inherently nostalgic and romantic.
Scott Davis specializes in night photography, also in large format, but in superb vivid color. Much of his work shown uses the vivid hues of neon signs as major design elements and he has enormous control of exposure and, with the sharpness achieved with large format, his pictures have an extraordinary real-ness to them, as if one could climb through the frame and into the scene. People and their tools, cars, appear only as semi-transparent marks during the long exposures.
His pictures, perhaps because of the vibrant colors and sharpness appear more vivid than life and almost cheery, as if the world goes along just fine without people. I could do with a little more mood, a bit more emotion but in terms of pictures to look at for the pure enjoyment of visual impact, I could stand at Scott's pictures all day, looking at every square centimeter caught and displayed for my eye to enjoy.
The next photographer's work is the reason that I've had a hard time writing this review because I had trouble coming to grips with why I liked it.. Barry Schmetter uses large format and old lenses to produce images that represent memories 'in the process of being pared away' to their essentials. The content, usually some type of landscape scene is hazy and the periphery dissolves into clouds or shadows. The actual content is not so important as much as awareness of the process of dissolution.
His pictures cannot be described well, at least by me, and must be seen; to me they represent the acme of pictorialism, where emotion and persona completely overlay the supposed subject of the image. Rather than adding textures or colors that reflect art of a specific time, Barry Schmetter uses projector lenses that soften the images and cause a dissolution or vignetting at the periphery which, at one time, refers back to early photos and also mimes the ways that dreams are recalled with vague allusions to what we think of and dissolving detail as we try to remember. While probably equally or more intense in technique than the manipulations of the pictorial artists mentioned above, his final product gives the impression of simplicity and quietude.
I liked them a lot; I fully admit I may not know why, but I like them.
D.B. Stovall is a well-known large format photographer and it is easy to see why. Much of his work is of older buildings because, 'older structures, like whiskey or cognac aging in a barrel, acquire a certain color and flavor after many years.'
His work adheres to the same very high standards as the others so it is a joy to look at from a technical perspective. What is particularly interesting is that his style changes slightly with each structure to incorporate an emotional feel that is congruent with the content. He uses both color and shape to enhance the emotional impact of the image. "He is very meticulous as well regarding time of day, always right after sunrise or just before sunset, and the sky conditions - always clear. He makes precise use of side light and long shadow." (J. Petro)
My favorite image of the show can't be shown well here because the very details that make it good are too subtle to be seen 'small.'
This image shown does represent how he adapts the view and look to reinforce the impact. The building is rectangular and blocky and sturdy and strong – and his image is square and the color is saturated and strong. Everything about the picture reinforces the same impression.
Not for him framing to include an entire door or sign; by letting the building and sign run off the screen; he gives the size of the building some emphasis, it can't be encompassed by a mere photo. Big saturated blocks of color in the sky and ground, verticals and horizontals perfect - everything adds to the impression of solidity and 'correct' construction.
All the above comments being said, clearly as I got further and further from my own area of interest, I grew less and less comfortable about making those nebulous but meaningful comments that seem the province of art critics. I can only describe my own reactions to everything I see and try to understand what there is about the work that engenders those reactions. As far as placing any artist's work in the context of modern photography, that will have to wait for someone more educated than I.
Did I enjoy these two shows, these six artists. Oh, yes. Two shows where every artist deserved to be there and where I learned and enjoyed from everything I saw. I have come to expect that kind of curating from Brian Miller of Full Circle Gallery in Baltimore who seems to have unerring taste. Whoever got the four people together for the Silver Visions large format show deserves equal praise.
This is what shows should be.
(thanks to John Petro, a sharp-eyed friend, who read this review and called many errors to my attention and saved me from looking too bad. I left a few errors in place to annoy him)
Full Circle, Ltd. 33 East 21st Street, Baltimore Maryland 21218
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