Photography was only a fledgling art form in the early 1850s when it became a vital source for documenting otherwise unseen corners of the American West. Many of its first practitioners were using a method known as the wet-plate collodion process, a predecessor to the daguerreotype that required bulky and easily breakable glass plates, clunky horse-drawn darkrooms and minutes-long exposure times. Despite the technical difficulties, the resulting images — sweeping, magisterial views of plains and cliff sides — are unforgettable.
That process has found new life in Objects in Perspective, an invigorating collaborative exhibition by Charlotte-based photographer Aspen Hochhalter and Charleston-based sculpture artist Natalie Abrams, which opens Friday, April 3 at Castell Photography.
Objects in Perspective features two separate bodies of work each drawn from one sculptural source: wax. Hochhalter’s and Abrams’ works are every bit as fresh and exploratory as that of their manifest-destined predecessors. Only here the landscapes they’re documenting are just a few feet wide and a few inches tall.
Abrams’ work is built from layer upon layer of wax. Blood-red, minty green and opaque white waxes are dripped and folded onto a series of wood panels and white backdrops. Each collection forms small ecological terrains. Some are floral or coral; several of the pieces come from her “Reef Series.” Others take the form of tight organic bouquets and spontaneous growths akin to lichens or shelf mushrooms.
Hochhalter’s images, meanwhile, employ an updated form of that 165-year-old collodion process to depict abstract views of Abrams’ wax sculptures. The photographs harness the method’s antiquated nature, revealing sharp contrasts in depth and distance and the scratchy, imperfect borders created by applying the photo emulsion by hand. With each photograph, she explores these waxy terrestrial surfaces, offering up-close glimpses that simulate seascapes, turn small folds into cliffs and make inches seem like miles.
By including these sculptural works, the exhibition marks a slight departure from Castell’s photography-only format. “We are constantly trying to stretch people’s perception of what a photography is and can be,” says gallery director Heidi Gruner. “For us, the opportunity to have this project, which includes a mix of both photo based and sculptural works, was a perfect fit.”
The collaborative nature of the show came to fruition while both Abrams and Hochhalter were residents at the McCroll Center for Art and Innovation in Charlotte. “I was interested in taking close up photos of the work to distort the perspective,” says Abrams. “The project spun out of that conversation.”
Objects in Perspective opens Friday, April 3, 6-8 p.m. and runs through April 30. Castell Photography is located at 2c Wilson Alley in downtown Asheville. For more information, visit castellphotography.com.