Trailblazing Photography Explores Alternatives: Some of Today's Most Creative Fine Art Photographers Are Turning to Alternative Processes and Techniques
Meyers, Laura, Art Business News
From its beginnings, the art of photography has been driven by scientific and technological innovation, while its practitioners have sought to record and transform the world. But as our world itself is increasingly high-tech, and as photography has turned digital, a growing number of fine art photographers have adopted imaginative approaches to image-making.
These artists are experimenting with pinhole cameras to capture mysterious scenes; X-rays to pierce through to the elemental core of objects; and, reviving the very earliest of photography techniques--photograms to make pictures pared down to the most basic infrastructure of the medium: light, objects and paper.
"There are many, many ways to produce photographic imagery, and I would imagine that a lot of them have yet to be explored," says New York-based artist Adam Fuss, who is best known for his contemporary, cameraless photograms inspired by the "sun prints" of early 19th-century photographers William Henry Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins. Fuss' photograms have reproduced water droplets, birds in flight, moving light and even a trail of snakes moving across light-sensitive paper, dusted with talcum powder.
Fuss is not the only contemporary artist who has abandoned mechanical and digital cameras. "I love the photography but I don't love the cam era," explains Martha Casanave, a fine art photographer specializing in pinhole photography and photograms in Monterey, CA. "For me, the simpler the better. Pinhole is about as simple as you can get--and photograms eliminate the camera altogether."
Boston artist Jesseca Ferguson also favors "primitive photography, handmade cameras and handmade images" for her experiments making pinhole photographs as ambrotypes on glass and on Polaroid film. Southern California photographer Jerry Burchfield makes his "lumen prints" photograms by placing plant specimens from the Amazon onto outdated photographic paper and leaving them to bake in the tropical sun, resulting in an image influenced in part by the plant juices.
Reeve simplifies his pinhole cameras to bare essence: photographic paper itself, folded and constructed into a box that is kept in the dark until the moment of exposure.
Today, says Tom Vogel, director of the Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York, many photographers like Fuss, Casanave, Reeve, Burchfield, and Ferguson "are trying to express their creativity in a different way other than just by snapping a picture."
"Indeed" adds Susan Spiritus, owner of the Susan Spiritus Gallery in Newport Beach, CA, "artists do try to do something unique and different, not standing in the footprint of someone who came before."
Mimicking the Ancients
Of course, many of these experiments actually mimic, technically, the footprints of many who came before--some in ancient times. Photographer Abelardo Morell's just-released book, "Camera Obscura" (Bullfinch Press, September 2004), celebrates a phenomenon known since ancient times. In 300 B.C., the Chinese philosopher Mo Ti used a camera obscura--literally, Latin for darkened room--to record an inverted image. Aristotle, Euclid and the 10th-century Arabian scholar Hassan ibn Hassan (also known as Ibn al Haitam) utilized camera obscura, as did artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Jan Vermeer, Carravagio and Canaletto. This marvel is really a simple law of optics: if you blacken a box, whether it is matchbox-size or an entire room, and then pierce the wall covering with a tiny hole, the image of the outside world will appear on the opposite wall, upside down.
Camera obscura technology has been used in astronomy to study solar eclipses and in spy work to make surreptitious surveillance cameras. In the Middle Ages, pinholes in the ceiling of many early European cathedrals were used to tell time.
In the art world, pinhole photographers today are making all kinds of pinhole cameras and using them to create all types of imagery. …