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.
About the Artists
Kathleen Bishop is an adjunct member of the Photography Faculty at the Santa Fe Community College. She received her BFA in Photography from Maryland Institute College of Art and her MFA from the National University of Ireland in Galway.
“These images are studies of ordinary places that are representative of collective ideas about transcending and failing to transcend the quotidian existence of daily life. Apparently prosaic scenes contain cultural signifiers of transcendence from the temporal to the spiritual. Each image is a singular photograph that suggests varying degrees of success or failure to permeate this threshold. They are taken in the documentary tradition, with only minor adjustments in post-production, but their subject matter is suggestive of a borderland that exists between mundane and spiritual spaces. The empirical reality of a single recorded moment must necessarily fail to transcend the temporal, just as our outward existence in everyday life must occur in the mundane. Both the camera and our eyes have an inherent limitation to see only the concrete objects before them. This impenetrable threshold is sometimes idyllic and at other times unsettling. These images are representations of ordinary miracles hidden in the landscape of everyday life.”
Luther Gerlach discovered his fascination for photography at an early age while traveling around the world with his anthropologist father. Over the last 30 years he has explored early photographic processes, concentrating on the processes used in the first fifty years of photography. Gerlach uses his extensive collection of antique cameras and lenses for his work, with a special focus on mammoth plate cameras. His passion for the last 15 years has been the wet plate collodion positive, ambrotypes and tintypes. Gerlach builds his own large format cameras, most recently The Griffiness 24” by 26”, in 2013.
Gerlach has done over 200 on site demonstrations, lectures and workshops since 2001 in photographic history, including wet plate collodion, albumen, platinum and photo gravure processes at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu. He has also given demonstrations and lectures at Denver Museum of Art, Natural History Museum in Santa Barbara, Carne Santa Paula Museum, Palace of the Governor in Santa Fe, and Seattle Art Museum. He has appeared multiple times in the “Meet the Artist” Program at the Carnegie Museum. Gerlach has taught and lectured at Art Center, Pasadena, CA and Brooks Institute of Photography. He was the keynote speaker for Photo Arts Santa Fe 2003. Gerlach was invited to be a featured artist at the Alternative Photographic International Symposium in Santa Fe 2009.
Gerlach’s work has been featured in numerous publications including View Camera, American Photographer, Shutterbug and Architectural Digest. His work is collected and shown internationally and included in numerous corporate and private museum collections including Michael Wilson Center of Photography, Denver Museum of Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, Prague National Museum, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Minnesota Institute of Art Schacknow Museum of Fine Arts. Gerlach’s work is hanging in the White House as part of President and Mrs. Obama’s art collection. He is currently chief consultant on a feature film depicting Eadweard Muybridge’s life and work, written and directed by Gary Oldman.
“Quite often, I feel as if my soul is in the past and my mind is in the future. The vintage cameras and processes I use have a magical quality, which helps me to bring forth an indefinable depth of feeling and poetic structure in my photographs. My primary concern is that my art communicates both on a factual level, as well as on one of beauty and emotion.”
Jackie Mathey studied at the University of South Florida, Ringling College of Art and Design and the Santa Fe Community College where she studied Alternative Processes under Kevin Sullivan. A professional photographer based in Santa Fe, her work was included in the major 2015 exhibition on pinhole photography Poetics of Light at the New Mexico History Museum. Since 2005 she has conducted Camp Obscura, pinhole photography workshops in Santa Fe and beyond.
“Pinhole photography and other alternative methods offer me a simplified process where I can feel it’s connectedness to the arts and my very being. The farther back I go in the history of image-making, the more intimate the experience and deep the knowledge. In the end it was made by my hands and I know more for it. I took control of things that mattered and gave into the beautiful mysteries inherent in the process. All those qualities seem to translate in the dark as the page becomes heavy with time and feeling.”
Jennifer Schlesinger is an artist, curator, and educator based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For the past 5 years her artistic medium of choice has been the 19th Century albumen process and her work mostly focuses on the landscape and how humans philosophically interact with the natural world around them.
“Albumen, as a medium, helps to convince the viewer that the work in my Utopia and Here nor There series do exist, as our societal association with the 19th Century albumen prints were deemed true renditions of the time and place in which they were taken. This way, the landscapes I construct become believable places and spaces, and the viewer can get lost in their ‘truth’ through the medium – regardless if they are true, actual places or not.”
Schlesinger graduated from the College of Santa Fe in 1998 with a B.A. in Photography and Journalism. She has exhibited widely at Southwest regional institutions such as the Marion Center for Photographic Arts (SFUAD), Santa Fe Art Institute and the New Mexico Museum of Art, as well as national institutions such as the Southeast Museum of Photography and the Chelsea Art Museum. Her work has been published online and in print with international publications such as Black and White Magazine (U.S and UK), the cover article for Diffusion Magazine Volume III, and Fotoritim in Turkey. Schlesinger is represented in many public collections, including the Southeast Museum of Photography, FL; The New Mexico Museum of Art, and the New Mexico History Museum / Palace of the Governors Photo Archives.
She has received several honors in recognition of her work including a Golden Light Award in Landscape Photography from the Maine Photographic Workshops and the Center for Contemporary Arts Photography Award in Santa Fe, New Mexico, both in 2005. She has been awarded many distinctive nominations, such as the Santa Fe Prize for Photography by the Center and the Eliot Porter Fellowship by the New Mexico Council for Photography. In 2015, she was a Finalist in the Julia Margaret Cameron Award Alternative Process category. In addition to her artistic career she was also the Assistant Director of Santa Fe Art Institute from 2003-2005 and has been the Director of VERVE Gallery of Photography since 2005.
“I have been fascinated by the photographic process since I was very young. The magic of watching that first print come up in the developer has stuck with me. I work in alternative processes because it really brings me into the raw fundamentals of photography. I mix the photosensitive emulsion by hand and coat it with a brush onto paper that I hand select. The papers that I work with feel good to hold and don’t feel as though they were made in some kind of sterile environment in a factory somewhere. The pinhole photographs are especially fun to make as it challenges me to expand the way I see things photographically. I never see the image through a viewfinder so I have to really understand the mechanics of how the image is being made on the film. I also get some wonderful accidents. The primitive nature of it is part of what makes it appealing.”
Tischler is a Santa Fe-based photographer and filmmaker. He studied commercial photographer at the Art Institute of Seattle.