John Opera: Andrew Rafacz Gallery

By Grabner, Michelle | Artforum International, December 2012 | Go to article overview

John Opera: Andrew Rafacz Gallery


Grabner, Michelle, Artforum International


Whether as an architectural blueprint or a photogram, the cyanotype is infinitely alluring. Articulated by or within a field of deep Persian blue, images produced by this rudimentary two-chemical photographic process can be more graphically beguiling than even the most richly toned silver gelatin print. John Opera knows this. "People, Places, and Things," his exhibition of eleven modestly sized works (all 2012), dispassionately indexed six seemingly unremarkable image types--bottles, ropes, chains, hands, fossils, and the portrait of a young woman. Yet the blue splendor saturating the stretched linen support of each piece makes these works fascinating. Opera's no-frills taxonomic aesthetic calls to mind cyanotype's mid-nineteenth-century beginnings: British botanist Anna Atkins's pioneering use of the process to record impressions of algae and seaweed. On first glance "People, Places, and Things" might have been considered an homage as much to the utility of this early photographic medium as to its telltale visual splendor.

Of the various compositions Opera put into play here, his glass-bottle still lifes were of particular note, given the degree to which they foreground the light-recording phenomena intrinsic to the cyanotype process itself. In these works, the transparency of the vessels amplifies the value range of each print's hue, while the harmonious groupings of objects concentrated at the center of the picture open up a region of shallow, illusionary depth. Suspended in the composition with no indication of a horizontal plane or grounding coordinates, the bottles seem almost to hover above their densely saturated, tautly stretched linen support. Bottles II, for example, which incorporates a cluster of five vessels, including a bulbous-bottom lab flask, a vase, and a few wine or liquor bottles, in effect satisfies as both genre "painting" and an exercise in the surprising visual qualities cyanotype is able to yield. These prints are not, however, "experiments" per se. As with all of the work Opera made for this exhibition, these images are the carefully executed result of a photographic image made into a transparency placed directly on top of a chemically treated piece of fabric and then exposed to light. In other words, these photograms are not indexes of primary objects but rather indexes of their photographic capture. …

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