Saturday, April 8, 2017

Nolan Preece goes on national tour

Preece, High Tide, 16x20", 2016

Nolan Preece's chemigrams have acquired a new look in the past couple of years, and if you haven't been paying close attention it's time you did because they are as beautiful as they are accomplished.  We first noticed his explorations into landscape in his show at the Wickiser Gallery in 2016, and this penchant is now on full display at the New York Hall of Science in a sweeping exhibit of 30 works which runs until May 21 before continuing on a national tour.

So what is new?  Well, in a way everything.  First, he has succeeded in achieving a consistency of theme that had eluded him earlier as he pursued the many delights of the darkroom.  He has managed to mesh his newfound ecological focus with a quietly balanced imagery and a more sober palette.  Gone, for now at least, are the flashy, often wanton displays of pyrotechnics that made him a revered master in both the cameraless community and among surrealists but probably cost him points with gallerists and critics.  His long career as ecologist, teacher, backpacker, and picture-framer in the High Sierra desert of Nevada has closed on him and grown its way into his art: he has begun to feel his responsibilities and they are heavy.  In the best sense his present production is a work of engagement and resolution.

So if you can't get out immediately to Queens to see it at the NYHS, we'll try to satisfy you with a few of these superb pictures.  Here goes.

Preece, In The Thicket, 20x16", 2016

Preece, Summit, 16x20", 2016

Preece, Cavern, 16x24", 2016

Preece, Riparian, 16x16", 2016

Preece, At Forest's Edge, 16x20", 2016

Preece, Woodland, 20x16", 2016

The prints are taken from the original chemigram plates as archival pigment prints on either Epson Velvet or Epson Exhibition paper in editions of 10, using the K3 inkset.  The tour will make stops, substantially unchanged, in Gadsen, AL, Anderson, IN, Elko, NV, and Macon, GA, among other destinations.  For further information contact Nolan Preece directly through his website.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A few facts about this picture

Douglas Collins, untitled chemigram, 2016
An exhibition of chemigrams has just gone up in the project space at Manhattan Graphics Center, curation by Rich Turnbull, featuring a handful of in-house artists active in this flourishing (and doggedly frustrating) area: Edgar Hartley, Franco Marinai, Jay Judge, David Thomas, myself, and Rich.  Just local work by local folks.  Though it's only been up a few days (it runs to the end of March), it's already attracting notice around the city, not the least for the picture above.  Let me make a few technical comments about this picture, just so you don't have to keep asking and we can silence the chatterers. 

First off, it's on Foma FB, my go-to paper for chemigrams after years of experimenting with others.  To be precise - I go off precision on this quite easily - I believe it was the Foma VC FB 132 warmtone matte I was using, from an open box laying about in my chemigram shed deep in the mountains of the central California coast, but it could have been another.  It could have been the 532-II VC warmtone as well, or one of the others on baryta paper; I binge on Foma from time to time and try them all.  In this case I'm going to stick with the 132.  Or was it the 131 - but what's in a digit?

While I often can't distinguish all the subtleties in the various types of Foma, this I will say: the esteemed company's literature on what I will now call 'my paper' actually confirms my experience of it, and so I'm happy to quote them directly:

The paper is manufactured using a special silver chlorobromide emulsion that gives the silver image a brown-green to warm-brown tone that can further be influenced by the type of developer used. The paper base involved is colored in compliance with the tone of the developed silver. This accentuates a rich scale of warm halftones ranging from light cream up to saturated brown-to-green black ones. 

Note the second sentence.  It seems to say that the paper takes cues from the tone of the silver, on a shifting and certainly sliding scale friendly to brown and green; even more, it hints that secret signals are being passed for which we can only be passive spectators, that cause and effect are here incalculable or at least radically nonlinear.  Pretty amazing if true.  Those Czechs !  And I haven't even gotten to flagging the first sentence about the tone push by the type of developer, which is a job for a separate blog post altogether and perhaps a major experiment by our testing lab, the NFPTL.

I'll give you a detail that illustrates how attractive this paper can be.  Here's the bottom left corner blown up:

detail, lower left corner
When the large black area was exposed - all at once - to the action of concentrated developer, the silver halides in the emulsion were stripped of their halogens in a sudden rushed explosion of activity; now extremely dense and dark and still carrying chemical momentum, some molecules appear to have skidded off, to tarnish and embed themselves in the surrounding fringe areas previously blanched by fixer.  And I confess, this is an effect I often seek in my work, as those who know me will recognize: it doesn't happen by accident  On one level, this particular piece could be said to derive its drama from exactly this and no more.

But we should go further, we should withdraw to a larger vantage point to discuss other qualities in the picture.  How about resists, what can we say about them?  How did they fare?  There were two resists, a large flat homogeneous one in the lower part, which was Golden MSA varnish applied at full strength with a sponge brush, and a spray of Golden MSA from a pressurized can in the upper part.  The spray was applied sparingly and at an angle, so that it was least concentrated at the top and formed a penumbra at its lower border.  During the to-and-fro of the chemigram procedure, this area gradually acquired its tone, a soft mixture of lights and darks.  To get this right wasn't easy, and several attempts were discarded or confined to derivative pictures.  As for the large flat resist below it, the challenge there was to remove it in a single attack, as one piece, and keep the area beneath untouched by any chemistry until the last moment, when it was finally plunged into developer and submerged uniformly.  Again, not especially easy.

detail, interface
A final word: it was printed in an edition of 4 as a pigment print on Hahnemuhle Rag using the extended UltraChrome inkset for the Epson Stylus Pro 11880 printer.  The original plate, slightly smaller but otherwise identical, remains on display at Art Intersection in Gilbert, Arizona, through April 15. 

* * * * *

other current chemigram shows in New York City

Mille Falcaro, Soho Photo, February 8 - March 4
Eva Nikolova, Columbia University, Wallach Art Gallery, Feb 18-May 13
Nolan Preece, New York Hall of Science, March 4 - May 21

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Martha's tears, on view in Arizona

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 932. 2016

Martha Casanave has been a friend and colleague for many years and today occupies a distinguished place in the community of the cameraless.  What we didn't know about her was that some while ago she had conceived a most peculiar and private project: she'd been collecting her own tears in little vials, day in and day out, and storing them on microscope slides.  No one knew!  Nor can we even begin to guess at the cause of these tears, whether grief, sorrow, loneliness, disappointment, the lightness of being, existential joy - or all of that and possibly more, thrown in together.  According to those who know her best, never over this period did she make any outward display of heightened agitation or exaltation, bereavement or crush: nothing worthy of a tear.  If we'd known of her true state, we might have considered intervening.  In public she has always seemed fairly normal and unruffled - outspoken, yes, but that's no reason for choking up.  Yet here we are.  Her private life was deeper that we thought.

the artist collects a tear

Happily for us, she recently chose to shed the veil of secrecy and offer her tears to the world.  She has printed a selection of them, using a special microscope devised by her friend Chris, an equipment guru, and are on display at Art Intersection outside Phoenix until February 25, within a larger show called Independent Presence that features current work by a band of woman photographers from Monterey, California.  With a nod to the pioneers of microphotography of the Victorian Age - several of them it turns out were women - Martha's contribution is entitled Explorations through a Fabricated Microscope: A Compendium of Tears.

In looking at these beautiful images, we tread carefully: we feel we are somehow going where we are not allowed, but we can't help ourselves, we are powerless, we are drawn in.  It feels a bit obscene.  And yet there is a curious properness to everything too, a modesty, a primness, even though she is baring intimate recesses of her soul.  Very nineteenth century you could say.  She'll reply by telling you that's her favorite place in time because that's when photography was invented - it's her crowd.

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 1012, 2016
A whiff of victoriana in fact is everywhere in the presentation: in the vignetting of the images, in the cursive script of the identifications, adding further to the charm.  Has she decorated her work in this way to distance herself from the intensity of the emotions behind the tears, enabling her at last to go public with them?  We cannot say, but it's plausible.  The separation in time to now from the underlying events can be seen as an additional buffer.  Despite this, she reports that in printing them finally, last year, after so long a wait, the emotions often came flooding back and the experience of doing it was stressful and upsetting in the extreme.

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 908, 2016

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 1005. 2016

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 980. 2016

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 957. 2016

Casanave, Anatomy of a Tear, No. 942. 2016

For the poets, the tear has long held a special position as poetic object, helped by its pearl shape and its unexpected appearance in the eye of the beloved.  John Donne, writing in 1601 in A Valediction: Of Weeping to the lady he would marry, gets right into it: 'Let me pour forth my tears before thy face.'  Tears are as metaphors for the round globe of the earth, everything is reflected in their concave surface - you, your face, your world, and my tears are a part of you because they come from you, as yours do from me; and when they join, 'heaven is dissolved'.  Tears lead to a rapturous dissolution, all tears do.  You stagger, you have grown suddenly weak, you fall down, but in bliss.

When Martha was asked which tears she found the most beautiful she said the saddest ones.  She didn't hesitate.

Of her books, Explorations along an Imaginary Coastline (2006) is the one closest in feeling to this new work, and should be added to your collection.