Exhibition dates: 19th September – 13rd December 2014
Artists: Thomas Barrow, Wayne Belger, Stephen Berkman, Matthew Brandt, Dan Burkholder, Darryl Curran, Binh Danh, Rick Dingus, Dan Estabrook, Robert Fichter, Robert Flynt, Judith Golden, Betty Hahn, Robert Heinecken, Robert Hirsch, Catherine Jansen, Harold Jones, Tantana Kellner, Les Krims, William Larson, Dinh Q. Lê, David Lebe, Martha Madigan, Curtis Mann, Stephen Marc, Scott McCarney, Chris McCaw, John Metoyer, Duane Michals, Vik Muniz, Joyce Neimanas, Bea Nettles, Ted Orland, Douglas Prince, Holly Roberts, Clarissa Sligh, Keith Smith, Jerry Spagnoli, Mike & Doug Starn, Brian Taylor, Maggie Taylor, Jerry Uelsmann, Todd Walker, Joel-Peter Witkin, John Wood.
Curator: Robert Hirsch
“The resurgence of handmade photography in the 1960s had several sources and influences. It looked back to the “anti-tradition” of nineteenth-century romanticism, which accentuated the importance of making a highly personal response to experience and a critical response to society. It drew on contemporary popular culture. Many of the artists engaged in this movement were baby-boomers brought up on television and film, media that often portrayed photography as hip and sexy – eg. the film Blow-Up (1966) – and which drove home the significance of constructed photographic images. In addition, the widespread atmosphere of rebellion against social norms propelled the move toward handwork. The rejection of artistic standards in photography was consistent with the much broader exploration of sexual mores and gender roles that took place in the sixties. It was also consistent with the exploration of consciousness. The latter was encouraged by such counter-culture figures as Ken Kesey who, with his band of Merry Pranksters, boarded a Day-Glo bus called “Further” and took an LSD-fueled trip across the country that echoed Dr. Timothy Leary’s decree “to tune in, turn on, and drop out.” On a broader level, the society-at-large was exposed to psychedelic exploration through Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which youthful audiences saw as a mysterious consciousness-expanding trip into humanity’s future. Finally, handmade photography was supported by the general growth of photographic education in the university. The ubiquity and importance of the medium in the culture at large, as well as pressure from those who championed photography from within art institutions gave credence in the post-war decades to the idea that people could study photography seriously. As new photography programs mushroomed in the universities, they produced graduates who took teaching positions in even newer programs. Many of these young teachers, who had grown up to the adage of “do your own thing,” were responsive to unconventional ways of seeing and working, and they encouraged these attitudes in their students, many of whom turned to handmade photography.
Despite the attractions of handmade photography there were in the sixties, and still are to some degree, emphatic objections to the open engagement of the hand in photographic art. One common objection is that such art constitutes a dishonest method to cover up aesthetic and technical inadequacies. Another comes from those who believe strongly in the Western tradition of positivism. These people tend to reject handmade photography on the grounds that it is unnecessarily ambiguous or irrational in its meanings. Nevertheless, more artists than ever are currently using the flexible, experiential methods of handwork. In addition to opening up an avenue to inner experience, artists find handwork attractive because it promotes inventiveness, allows for the free play of intuition beyond the control of the intellect, extends the time of interaction with an image (on the part of both the maker and the viewer), and allows for the inclusion of a wide range of materials and processes within the boundaries of photography…
[Curator] Peter C. Bunnell’s innovative exhibitions [MoMA: Photography as Printmaking (1968) and Photography Into Sculpture (1970)] demonstrated that in essence photography is nothing more than light sensitive material on a surface. The exhibitions also recognized that the way a photograph is perceived and interpreted is established by artistic and societal preconceptions about how a photographic subject is supposed to look and what is accepted as truthful. The work in the Bunnell exhibitions was indicative of a larger zeitgeist of the late 1960s that involved leaving the safety net of custom, exploring how to be more aware of and physically connected to the world, and critically examining expectations with regard to lifestyles…
In spite of post-modernism’s assault on the myth of authorship and its sardonic outlook regarding the human spirit, artists who produce handmade photography continue to believe that individuals can make a difference, that originality matters, and that we learn and understand by doing. They think that a flexible image is a human image, an imperfect and physically crafted one that possesses its own idiosyncratic sense of essence, time, and wonder. Their work can be aesthetically difficult, as it may not provide the audience-friendly narratives and well-mannered compositions some people expect. But sometimes this is necessary to get us to set aside the ordained answers to the question: “What is a photograph?” and allow us to recognize photography’s remarkable diversity in form, structure, representational content, and meaning. This acknowledgment grants artists the freedom and respect to explore the full photographic terrain, to engage the medium’s broad power of inquiry, and to present the wide-ranging complexity of our experiences, beliefs, and feelings for others to see and contemplate.”
Extract from Flexible Images: Handmade American Photography, 1969 – 2002 by Robert Hirsch (2003) on the Light Research website [Online] Cited 14/11/2014. First published in The Society for Photographic Education’s exposure, Volume 36: 1, 2003, cover and pages 23 – 42. © Robert Hirsch 2003
Many thankx to CEPA Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.
Picture of Dust (Barry Le Va, Continuous and Related Activities; Discontinued by the Act of Dropping, 1967, Installed at the Whitney Museum in New Sculpture 1965-75: Between Geometry and Gesture, February 20-June 3, 1990)
From the series The Things Themselves: Picture of Dust
Framed, overall: 51 x 130 1/2 inches
Two silver dye bleach prints (Ilfochrome)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York;/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Fuji Crystal Archive Print
f/t/s Cancellations (Brown) – Field Star
Gift from the Collection of Joel Deal and Betsy Ruppa
© Thomas Barrow. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence
Barrow scratched through his landscape negatives, calling attention to the materiality of the medium itself and the fact that regardless of how much information is given, reality remains an accumulation of belief, knowledge, and one’s own experience.
The Static Electric Effect of Minnie Mouse on Mickey Mouse Balloons
“Kodak Kodalith paper was a thin, matt, orthochromatic graphic arts paper that was not intended for pictorial purposes. However, when it was used for pictorial expression its responsiveness to time and temperature controls during development enabled one to produce a wide range of grainy, high-contrast, and sepia tonal effects. Its unusual handling characteristics also meant that photographers had to pull the print at precisely the “right” moment from the developer and quickly get it into the stop bath, making each print unique.”
Din Q Le
C-print, linen tape
Hand colored gelatin silver print
Our Thoughts Wander
From the series Open Books
Hand bound book
I create photographically illustrated books springing from my fascination with the book format and a love of texture in art. My imagery is inspired by the surreal and poetic moments of living in our fast-paced, modern world. I’m fascinated by how daily life in the 21st Century presents us with incredible experiences in such regularity that we no longer differentiate between what is natural and what is colored with implausibility, humor, and irony.
These hard cover books are hand bound with marbleized paper and displayed fully opened to a photographically illustrated two-page folio spread. Each book is framed in a wooden shadowbox and presented as a wall piece. I like the idea of making art that contains some imagery which can be sensed but not seen. The underlying pages contain my photographs, snapshots, and work prints that “gave their lives” for the imagery visible in the open spread. These images lie beneath the open pages like history.1
Angelo On The Roof
Jerry Uelsmann (American, born 1934)
Small Woods where I met Myself (Final Version)
Gelatin silver print
25.4 x 32.3 cm (10 x 12 11/16 in.)
© 1967 Jerry Uelsmann
Are You Rea #15
David Levinthal and Garry Trudeau
Untitled, from the series Hitler Moves East
8 x 10 inches
Gelatin silver (Kodalith) print
Courtesy Paul Morris Gallery, New York City
My favorite story comes from the early days of Levinthal’s career, when he was a college student working on Hitler Moves Eastwith Garry Trudeau. They worked with childlike enthusiasm, purchasing smoke bombs from a local theater supply shop and growing grass inside David’s apartment to achieve maximum realism. This culminated in a huge explosion of smoke, and the photograph above. Forever making jokes, Levinthal had this to say about the situation: “I’m not even sure we had 911 those days, so that was probably helpful.” He sometimes describes incidents in which things went wrong, but thankfully this wasn’t one of those situations. Instead he successfully produced this photo and began a transition from the early works, which show toys rearranged on his linoleum floor, to photographs that are sophisticated and deceptively real looking.3
Poussin in Hell
Toned gelatin silver print
Film and Plexiglas
5 x 5 x 2.5 inches
Mike and Doug Starn
Double Rembrandt with Steps
Toned gelatin silver print, toned ortho film, wood, Plexiglas, and glue.
108 x 108 inches
Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
“CEPA Gallery is pleased to announce Transformational Imagemaking: Handmade Photography Since 1960, a companion exhibition to Robert Hirsch’s recently published book of the same title (Focal Press). This extraordinary exhibition features work by some of the most innovative photographers and imagemakers of the mid- 20th century through today; artists who redefined the notion of photography as a medium and left an indelible mark on contemporary photographic practices.
This extensive survey will include more than 140 works by over 40 artists spanning nearly 50 years of artistic practice unified by a curatorial arc rooted in notions that deviate from the purview of traditional photographic practice. Citing Robert Heinecken’s practice as the genesis of conceptual handmade photography, this exhibition charts an intricate universe of artists whose practice dispenses with the self-prescribed limitations of conventional photography in order to mine the boundless potential of the photographic medium as a conceptual conveyance.
Transformational Imagemaking is the culmination of Hirsch’s lifelong exploration into handmade photography and the artists whose practices were formed on the principle of unearthing new possibilities. Hirsch sites the catalyst for the project as an article he published in exposure in 2003 entitled “Flexible Images: Handmade American Photography, 1969 – 2002”. It has since expanded into a comprehensive publication that includes personal conversations with each artist conducted over a six-month period during 2013. CEPA will now elaborate further by mounting an exhibition that features a selection of each artist’s work.
In addition to Transformational Imagemaking, CEPA will also show the complete folio of Robert Heinecken’s seminal series Are You Rea (1966). Considered to be the grandfather of post-modern photographic practices and a major figure of 20th century art, Heinecken was a key figure in promoting new sentiments about photography as an art form, influencing artists such Richard Prince, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, and others. Heinecken’s rebellious spirit challenged conventions about the ways photographs represent the tangible world: “We constantly tend to misuse or misunderstand the term reality in relation to photographs. The photograph itself is the only thing that is real.”
Are You Rea (1966), created by contact printing magazine tear-outs onto photographic paper, are ghostly compositions that layer sexually suggestive images of women with fractured text. This provocative body of work, sexually charged and evocatively ambiguous, reflects an awareness of desire as a commercial commodity that begs us to question the very root of our own desires.”
Press release from CEPA Gallery
The Botany of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum #2
From the Immortality: The Remnants of the Vietnam and American War series
Chlorophyll print and resin
The chlorophyll process is an organic alternative photography process akin to the anthotype process. However, instead of printing on the crushed extract of fruit or plant matter, the prints are bleached by sunlight directly onto the surface of leaves using a positive. The resulting images are stunningly delicate and beautiful, ranging from haunting silhouettes to crisp definition. Despite the simplicity of the finished product, the process itself can be tedious with plenty of trial and error.
Drawing on the anthotype process, Danh refined a method for securing a positive directly to a live leaf and allowing sunlight to bleach the image onto its surface naturally. He has also addressed a fundamental challenge with natural photography processes; that of fixing the image to prevent further bleaching and deterioration over time. To save his work, Dah casts his finished pieces in a layer of resin allowing them to be enjoyed for years to come.2
Dinh Q. Lê (Vietnamese, born 1968)
Untitled, from the series Cambodia: Splendor and Darkness
C-print and linen tape
Salt print with ink and watercolor
Roast Beast 3
Verifax transfer with rundowns, stamping, and crayon
Are You Rea #1
Sunburned GSP #676 (San Francisco Bay)
Gelatin Silver paper negative
Bleached c-print with synthetic polymer varnish
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