Exhibit redefines photography

Jason Salavon uses computer programming to create work that resembles 1960’s Op art. (credit: Tommy Hofman | Assistant Photo Editor) Jason Salavon uses computer programming to create work that resembles 1960’s Op art. (credit: Tommy Hofman | Assistant Photo Editor)

While our usual perception of photography involves a camera and sometimes a flash, Spectra, an abstract photography exhibit at the Silver Eye Center for Photography, displays something radically different. Creating a variety of unique work, artists Ellen Carey, Mariah Robertson, Christopher Bucklow, Jonathan Lewis, and Jason Salavon move away from the traditional photographic processes and experiment with camera-less prints, computer programming, rudimentary pinhole cameras, and much more.

“Experimental photography played a crucial role in how artists tried to break free of convention — sociologically, politically, formally — at the end of World War I,” Liza Kurzner, guest curator of the exhibit, wrote in an e-mail. “Today, there’s been a resurgence in artists adapting some of these techniques and ideas in many forms.”

Spectra displays many of the traditional and modern ways to bend the rules of conventional photography. Each of the artists uses distinct and complex techniques to create pieces of art that are not quite photography, and yet not quite anything else.

“The five artists represent a range of abstract techniques and ideas,” Kurzner wrote. “I wanted the prints to reflect many different examples of photographic color and materials. Polaroid paper and color (Ellen Carey’s long ‘Pulls’) is very different from Mariah Robertson’s metallic ‘C print’ color and paper. Chris Bucklow uses a third material, best known as ‘Cibachrome,’ with more saturated, higher keyed color range. Salavon and Lewis both make digital prints, but Salavon creates his ‘photographs’ exclusively from images in the computer, while Lewis scans his own photographic negatives into the computer, transforms them, and then prints them on top quality photographic computer paper.”

Lewis and Salavon use computer techniques to create their pieces. Salavon’s work uses computer software to create a large piece of concentric squares, colored in pastel shades and resembling Op art from the 1960s. Lewis’ work, on the other hand, is all a blur. He transforms everyday images into something strange, such as taking pictures of a Fendi store at night and blurring the images to give them a highly pixelated look.

Robertson’s work is reminiscent of paintings. The pieces have splatters of photographic chemicals on them that resemble drips of oil paint. But while her work can be compared to paintings, it still holds its own. She creates many of her pieces by sandwiching negatives and using photograms — the results of placing objects on photosensitive paper and then exposing the paper to light. Among the artists, Robertson’s work is the only one that includes distinct images from everyday life — dark silhouettes of palm trees that mingle with vivid colors and a photograph of a male nude that seems a little out of place with the rest of her work. Her pieces have the ability to look three-dimensional, the brightly-colored shapes appearing to bend and twist almost off the surface of the pictures.

Bucklow’s work, titled “The Beauty of the World,” romanticizes light and its primary source — the sun. His work is a collection of five different pieces that are similar in form — square with a glowing circle in the center — but differ in their vivid shades. Bucklow created these luminous images by making perforations on a sheet of aluminum foil, turning it into a very basic pinhole camera. He then captured images of the sun and the surrounding sky at five different times within two days, producing the brilliantly colored images on display.

Carey uses Polaroid chemistry to create large works of art that hang down the walls. Her work contrasts positive and negative images by placing them side by side.

“I was amazed how artists from a few generations could ‘speak’ to each other, as in the case of Robertson hanging across from Carey, who was one of the first to create oversize abstract color images,” Kurzen wrote.

Spectra is as unconventional as a photography exhibit gets. These artists truly redefine the word “photography” with their fascinating work.