Photography’s power couple

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Jerry Uelsmann, untitled, 2003

Boston gallery Lanoue Fine Art is having an exhibition by a husband and wife who work seperately but with a special serendipity.

Jerry Uelsmann has worked for many decades with his unique photomontage technique. The word photomontage may be inaccurate since he doesn’t cut his prints, he exposes several negatives onto the same sheet of darkroom paper, moving from enlarger to enlarger. The image above is made from at least three negatives, one featuring the hands of his wife Maggie Taylor.

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Maggie Taylor, Southern Gothic, nd

Taylor’s whimsical illustrations are very popular and make a neat counterpart to her husband’s work. Always in colour, they express strange little daydreams and surreal fairytales. I envy her for the consistency of her vision which incorporates 19th century photographs with found and painted elements. Her main tool is not a camera or an enlarger but a digital scanner:

I frequent flea markets and search on eBay for old tintypes and toys that seem to have a story to tell. Then in my studio I make small pastel drawings as backgrounds and scan each element into my computer separately. Using Photoshop I am able to arrange and play with these layers in much the same way that I worked with objects in my studio for a still life photograph.

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Wall Folds

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Greg Neville, Wall Fold 1, 2013

This is one of the new works I’m showing in the group show at Tacit gallery in Abbottsford. The theme is the word Folded and my part is the corrugations, or folds, of old tin sheds in Central Victoria. Not a new idea, in fact teetering on the edge of cliché, but the way sunlight plays across these weathered surfaces is very photogenic and it’s part of my continuing interest in decay and entropy . They were shot on film with my Bronica SQ-B and I have 25 more rolls of film waiting for development. Cliché or not, there’s plenty more of it coming.

Click here for details at Tacit Contemporary Art

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Folded

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Bernadette Boundy, Final Folds #5, 2013

This image is from the new exhibition I’m in called Folded at Tacit Contemporary Art, August 21-September 9.

The exhibition is a group show with five of my former students at NMIT Photo Media: Bernadette Boundy, Sally D’Orsogna, Cathy Hayward, Sue Lock & Margot Sharman. This is our second exhibition together after last year’s Bound by the Book at 69 Smith Street. I hope it will become an annual event. Sue Lock came up with the word-theme, which everyone has interpreted in their own way.

This is the text I wrote for the show:

What a gentle word ‘fold’ is. It brings arms together in embrace, makes curves out of straight lines and brings people together into the fold of a common belief.

The artists in this exhibition have made a fold of their own. They are former photography students and their teacher who hold an exhibition each year to maintain their creative alliance. The benefit of this association is the continuance of a friendship with the purpose of a common goal. This year the goal is to interpret the word ‘folded’ and bring some individual perspective to a word that is both a physical phenomenon and metaphorical idea.

The theme is interpreted with varied subjects and different intentions. Bodies, clothes, metal and other materials are examined to reveal the beauty or wonder of each thing. That alone can be enough in the medium of photography that looks at the world of objects with such an intense gaze. But these photographs reveal more: layers, inversions and suggestions and such disparate ideas as the distortions of memory, the abstractions of flesh and the artful domesticity of folded clothes.

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The Rückenfigur

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Caspar David Friedrich, The Wanderer above the Sea of Mist, 1818

Looking at paintings by Caspar David Friedrich and others, I always thought there must be a term that describes that figure with his back to us, contemplating the natural scene before him. And I was right, there is such a term, the German word Rückenfigur, or back figure (clearly the German word is better).

A Rückenfigur is ‘a person seen from behind, contemplating the view. The viewer is encouraged to place himself in the position of the Rückenfigur, by which means he experiences the sublime potential of nature, understanding that the scene is as perceived and idealised by a human.‘ (Elizabeth Prettejohn).

In Friedrich’s Romanticist work from the early 19th century, the new idea of Nature is the subject. Nature as a primal wilderness separate from Man was a concept that barely existed before that time, so Friedrich’s paintings were significant, depicting a sublime otherness which human beings must negotiate. See how the figure in his painting above is conspicuously clothed and even carries a walking stick. The two realms of Nature and Culture are confronted within the painting.

Nature ain’t what it used to be, so when Stephen Shore in the 1970s and Louis Porter in the 2000s focussed on the same topic (Porters’s image pays homage to Shore’s) nature is still the subject, but present only through its absence. And both photographers capture resignation and defeat in their rückenfigur figures.

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Stephen Shore, El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas, July 5, 1975

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Louis Porter, from Unknown Land, 2010