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  • Howard Rutkowski

Past is Present:  Alternative Processes in Contemporary Photography

Demonstrations by Jackie Mathey and Sam Tischler, June 23, 2016

As part of the current exhibition, "Past is Present: Alternative Processes in Contemporary Photography", showcasing 19th century photography techniques at the David Richard Gallery, local photographers Jackie Mathey and Sam Tischler demystified the processes that go into the making of their imagery. Before a packed room, each artist, accompanied by a variety of curious handmade cameras, demonstrated the seemingly laborious steps behind their photographs.

Using cylindrical pinhole cameras of varying sizes and made from humble materials (beer cans, Quaker oatmeal boxes and the like), Tischler prints his images using the Van Dyke process, an iron-silver formula that produces brown tonalities named after the celebrated painter Antony van Dyke. As his demonstration showed, it is a surprisingly simple technique that also allows the photographer to work with a variety of papers that contribute to the lush surfaces and warm tonality of the resultant images.

Mathey brought a variety of homemade camera obscura – essentially cardboard boxes - that through a pinhole would capture light and thus a very visible image of whatever they were pointed at. This phenomenon was first observed 500 years BC, but really only became part of the artist’s toolbox during the Renaissance, where it was employed to a large degree by Flemish and German painters as a tracing and compositional device. In the 19th century, with the advent of photographic processes, it was used as a true camera in the modern sense.

Using blueprint paper and exposure times as long as 10 hours, Mathey creates mysterious, ethereal images that require no developing beyond exposure to ordinary household ammonia. Unfortunately, the process is not archival and to preserve the subtle blue tonalities, the blueprints must be scanned – old technology meets new.

As both Mathey and Tischler showed, the process is an integral part of the finished product. These images possess visual textures that digital photography can never imitate. For each, this old school, analog approach creates a true handmade work that is richly satisfying, in the way that craft beer and vinyl records appeal to true connoisseurs.

Next weekend Kathleen Bishop and Jennifer Schlesinger will present talks on their chosen printing methods – cyanotypes and albumen prints.

Howard Rutkowski

July 23, 2016

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