During an age when some think the best bit of photo technology is a selfie stick, it's refreshing to spend time surrounded by fine art photography created with old-school tools and techniques — many created during the mid-19th century.
The fourth annual "Light Sensitive" show at Art Intersection in Gilbert features 105 works created by 100 artists who use more than 20 different methods for creating handmade photographic images to produce nuanced pieces rich in detail and emotional depth.
Wayne Got Me a Cake and a Balloon, a cyanotype, acrylic paint, and thread piece by Deedra Baker, beckons viewers back to childhood days of innocence and simple joys. Cyanotypes are made by coating paper with particular chemicals, then exposing the light sensitive paper to ultraviolet light under a photographic negative. Resulting images are a characteristic type of blue, making them easy to spot.
Five Guys, a gum bichromate print by Barbara Eberhard, has a similar vintage vibe — but exudes humor as the artist toys with the name of a popular burger chain with her capture of models for five male heads lined up in a row atop a table. Such prints are created by depositing bichromated salt onto a paper substrate before exposing them to ultraviolet light under a photographic negative.
Blues of the Heart, a cyanotype by Neil A. Miller, calls onlookers to consider the ways modern life puts wear and tear on both the physical heart and the personhood it has long signified. Its graffiti-like feel demonstrates of the effectiveness of traditional techniques for conveying properties of contemporary life — and suggests the timelessness of common human experiences such as heartache.
The exhibition was juried by Robert Hirsch, a New York-based artist, curator, and author. Selected works include not only a wide range of techniques, but also a broad sampling of subject matter and artistic sensibility. Photographs span the spectrum from realism to abstraction. There's a little something for everyone here.
Most of the photographic techniques used by these artists aren't familiar to the smart phone generation, but Art Intersection ups the exhibition's accessibility factor by providing gallery-goers with a booklet that explains various processes such as photogravure, which involves etching a copper plate.
Several of these processes are especially well suited to capturing the exquisite details of human anatomy, including hair and skin.
Marilyn Carren's Big Belly Corona, a gelatin silver print showing the smooth skin of a belly rounded like a ripe cantaloupe, reveals soft layers of fine hair barely visible to the naked eye. Gelatin silver prints, which comprise about one third of "Light Sensitive" works, are what we typically think of as black and white photographs made from negatives.
Christian Klant's Channel, a wet plate collodion tintype of a man's face, reveals a rich landscape of pores punctuated by stubble and the variations within the irises of his subject's eyes. Wet plate collodion tintypes, which were especially popular during Civil Wars times, are created with a chemical process on thin iron plates rather than paper.
Some of the exhibition's most beautiful works highlight the infinite variety of line and texture within plants and other biological materials — including palm trees, hay bales, and bamboo stalks. Best among them is Timothy H. McCoy's Swamp Fever (Parrish Pond, George L. Smith State Park, Georgia), a gold toned albumin print that couples overgrown trees crowded together with their reflection in the water.
Several works stand out by virtue of implied social commentary. Gwen Arkin's Requiem for a Forest (chromoskedasic gelatin silver print) invites viewers to consider rampant deforestation undertaken in the name of progress. Wendy Catling's Constant Upheaval (cyanotype) — in which a house sits atop of mound of earth concealing guns, locks, scissors, keys, and screws — hints at traumas hidden behind closed doors.
It's hard to fathom most people looking carefully at 105 photographs unless they're admiring their own social media feeds, but this exhibition creates an engaging experience — in part because Hirsch selected several works that demonstrate the intersection of photography with other visual arts.
William Fenn's Hive #2 features a trio of six-sided ambrotype photographs with hive, honey, and teapot connected and framed by wood. Brandy Sebastian's Weed Garden has cyanotypes that look like seed packets arranged to look like a miniature garden. Martha Casanova's Season's Greetings couples gelatin silver print with oil pastel. Deborah Silvis handpainted her gelatin silver print of a Dia de los Muertos celebration in Mexico. Several artists work with a combination of photography and painting that's called chemigram, and Ryan Zoghlin's two orotone prints are backed with 23.5 karat gold powder. Other intriguing materials include walnut dye and canned beets.
Those who've made the rounds within the Phoenix metro arts scene will appreciate seeing works by familiar artists, including Luis Salazar, whose "Fugue in Light and Dark" exhibition at Modified Arts earlier this year explored light and darkness through a series of dance movements. Locally, his works have also been exhibited at Gebert Contemporary Art, Method Art, and monOrchid. "Light Sensitive" includes his gelatin silver print titled Touch Me With Fingers That Heal, Broken Hearts, which shows the shrouded figure of a nude body.
About one-third of the artists featured in this exhibition live in Arizona. Twenty-eight additional states, from California to New York, are represented. So too are Australia, Canada, Germany, and Lithuania. Collectively these artists' works offer an intriguing mash-up of chemistry with creativity.
"Light Sensitive" continues through April 18 in the North and South Galleries at Art Intersection. For more information, visit the Art Intersection website.