Image-making as a human endeavor has altered little over most of recorded history. Perhaps because implements for making marks on a surface — sticks, charcoal, graphite, pigments and brushes — have, themselves, hardly changed.
But depiction took a big leap in the 19th century with the discovery that images could be created using light-sensitive materials. Hand-Made Pictures: Historical Processes in Contemporary Photography at Asheville Art Museum is a show exploring the use by today’s photographers of some of the medium’s oldest methods.
The show features six photographers using at least six different techniques. Cyanotype is the process used by Zeva Oelbaum to create her series of animal and plant “specimens.” An intense blue on a stark white background, the lovely grasses in her works seem prepared to quiver in the slightest breeze. Robert Rauschenberg and his wife Susan Weil used this technique in 1948 at Black Mountain College to produce life-sized portraits.
Diana Hooper prints from a pinhole negative to fashion her Annalee series. These dreamy photographs of her daughter in a wispy dress have an intimate, otherworldly quality.
Christine Patterson’s work may be the exhibit’s riskiest: She uses liquid emulsion on nontraditional surfaces such as marble, glass and sand. Her subjects are varied, her presentation skirting kitsch — Patterson makes it work, though — and the resulting images all come off undeniably rich.
The wonderful daguerreotypes of Robin Dreyer are very difficult to see; the artist’s mirrored-surface medium is too reflective. And so it’s tempting to hold the 2″ by 3″ works — especially the bridge and the sliced pear — to get a better look.
Strong content is expressed by Katherine Kenny in her Archeology of the Body series — she uses multiple images representing mythological characters combined with bits of genetic material from other species possessing the extraordinary attributes of that particular god; e.g., “Pan’s Head,” “Chiron’s Ass.”
Deborah Luster also shoots for a long look from the viewer. She poses Louisiana prisoners against an old-timey black backdrop, sometimes in the fields of the prison farms where many of them work. Questions immediately arise. Why are they here? Why are they so young? Can anything be changed?
Across the street at the Asheville Area Arts Council’s Front Gallery is an exhibit celebrating the 11th anniversary of the local f/32 Camera Club. In stark contrast to the old processes on parade at the Art Museum, the members show for f/32 showcases newer methods of image-making, in particular digital photography.
Tim Lewis in his “Mushroom Sporing” demonstrates the seamless manipulation made possible by the medium. Werner Bonitz’s digital photos of red poppies make the petals look like patent leather.
f/32 founder Terry Ogilvie exhibits two copper-toned gelatin silver prints of decaying buildings in Madison County. Todd Groskopf’s pigmented ink prints, “The French Broad River at Flood” and “Gulf of Mexico,” are standouts — soft, peaceful and contemplative.
The other star of this show is “Into the Woods” — a beautifully composed gelatin silver print of a winter scene — by Gus Napier.
Since “anyone” can take pictures, photography is generally considered the least intimidating of all art forms. But these shots don’t show it.
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based artist and writer.]
Hand-Made Pictures: Historical Processes in Contemporary Photography runs at Asheville Art Museum (2 S. Pack Square) through Sunday, March 6. The f/32 Camera Club of Asheville shows members’ works at the Asheville Area Arts Council’s Front Gallery (11 Biltmore Ave.) through Friday, Feb. 11.