Past is Present: Alternative Processes in Contemporary Photography
Past Is Present: Alternative Processes in Contemporary Photography
The introduction of the Kodak Brownie in the early 20th century was the beginning of putting the photographic process in the hands of Everyman. The complex, time-consuming and sometimes dangerous methods invented in the previous century gave way to simpler means of capturing images. Easy to carry and easy to use, the Brownie and later ‘point and shoot’ cameras like the Polaroid became ubiquitous and enabled anyone to use a tool that hitherto had been in the domain of dedicated professionals.
With the advent of the digital age, ‘analog’ photography has virtually disappeared. The use of mobile phone cameras has inundated the world with selfies, pictures of pets and food and other images ultimately destined for the visual landfill. Still, there is hope.
The ‘hand-made’ approach to photography remains the arcana of artists, where the process is as important as the resultant image. Past is Present explores not only the ‘how’, but the ‘why’. Wet plate collodion, cyanotypes, platinum palladium, tintypes, albumen prints and others are included to highlight and explain these alternative processes. Equally significant are the reasons these artists have elected to use them. Certainly, much is obvious in the richness and depth to the surfaces of these prints and different processes produce different effects. There is warmth of tonality to them as well, not unlike an audiophile’s appreciation of vinyl over digital music.
For those artists who use vintage cameras or non-lens devices such as camera obscura or pinhole, a variety of techniques and effects come into play. These tools require a deep understanding of optics and experience with the process. While a high degree of control exists, there is often a certain serendipity when it comes to the final image. As Sam Tischler says “I never see the image through a view finder so I have to really understand the mechanics of how the image is being made on the film. I also get some wonderful accidents.”
Indeed, ‘wonderful accidents’ are an intrinsic part of what draws artists to these archaic and arcane processes and what offers something unique to the viewer.