The pieces on display in the “Transformational Imagemaking: Handmade Photography Since 1960” exhibit fill walls from the basement to the third floor of the Market Arcade building on Main Street, home to CEPA Gallery. Even the visitor center has a few prints to show off on its walls.
Curated by Robert Hirsch, the massive, absorbing exhibit chronicles the techniques and styles that continue pushing the traditional concepts and boundaries of photography. Hirsch, the former director of CEPA and now director of Light Research, has assembled a loose tour through the history of handmade photo techniques, covered in more detail in his most recent book of the same name.
According to Hirsch in a recent interview with Photo.net, digital algorithms that manipulate photos in programs such as Adobe Photoshop are limited by their programming. Handmade photography, to Hirsch and his collected artists here, allows for a tactile exploration and experimentation that cannot be done by software and can go beyond traditional representational photographs, becoming impressionistic, expressive, subjective, cut up, torn, exploded, even bloodied.
Some techniques on display may be familiar, but Hirsch has chosen effective and alluring pieces. For example, Ted Orland’s mundane and somewhat weird landscapes are hand-colored into outrageous and colorful active vistas. In particular, his “Meteor!” adds a streaking comet hurtling toward the ground, over a reserved road sign indicating the distance to an ancient crater. The result is much more absurd and fun than the reality of a dent in the earth.
In his print “Boom,” Harold Jones captures the sound and motion of rolling thunder during a lightning strike with multiple letters spelling out the four word title spilling from left to right across a rough landscape, created with sandpaper on the print.
Rather than manipulate the image, some artists have used the materials to print their photos on as an additional source of expression. For example, Robert Flynt printed on found book pages, creating a more complex examination of his subjects.
Not all of the pieces presented take such a straightforward approach. Both Vic Muniz and Dinh Q. Le have cut up and reassembled their images, presenting different approaches to capturing a scene or a portrait. “Floor Scrapers, after Gustave Cailebotte” by Muniz, reimagines Cailebotte’s 1875 painting, made up of tiny scraps of magazines, and assembled to create an even more impressionistic composition.
Le is known best for his woven photographs, where the pattern and design of the construction matter as much as the layers of photos he use. His “Untitled (1997)” is a portrait of a person woven together over a map, which teases out the ideas of identity, loneliness and perhaps dictatorial power.
There also are pieces that come off the wall, such as Wayne Martin Belger’s work in the second-floor gallery. His “Untouchable Camera” is a contraption of metal and acrylic materials, which houses HIV-positive blood. The object is flanked by two photographs, called “Bloodworks,” which are a vibrant red, with glowing yellow and white images of a pensive if not forlorn figure at their heart.
While all of the 137 listed pieces are given their space and none of the galleries are overcrowded, there is not enough room in the building to keep the exhibit from feeling disjointed. Despite the range and wealth of creative exploration on display, the building has its restraints. This limits the amount of discovery and connections viewers can enjoy, and makes it more difficult to understand Hirsch’s broader curatorial decisions.
Each individual gallery space does allow for those surprising connections to form between the 20 or so pieces it houses. Perhaps that is the ideal way to take in this survey: one gallery at a time, piece by piece, in a personal and tactile way.
What: “Transformational Imagemaking: Handmade Photography Since 1960”
When: Extended through Dec. 13
Where: CEPA Gallery, 617 Main St. (856-2717).