The current exhibition at 707 Penn Gallery is a delightful survey of recent work by 13 photographers from the United States, Canada and Europe, all well-known for using photographic processes that deviate from the modern norm. Their methods range from the antiquated Daguerreotypes and wet-plate collodion processes to pinhole photography and photograms, among others.
f295 an Exhibition of Contemporary Alternative Photography is held in conjunction with the recent annual convention of f295, a Pittsburgh-based, international organization dedicated to the study and practice of lens-less imaging and alternative photographic processes. Viewing work made by such labor-intensive, technically demanding means seems especially significant in a time when digital photography gives everyone the ability to take innumerable photographs, download them and present them within minutes.
Notably on view are two color photographs from New York-based Jerry Spagnoli's "The Pantheon Series." These were taken with a pinhole camera -- essentially, a camera without a lens. The inspiration for this series is a cosmology of ancient Mediterranean origin that held that the sun is actually an aperture in a dome-shaped sky protecting us from an all-encompassing radiance beyond. This reminds us of the design of the Pantheon in Rome, with its oculus at the apex of the dome.
The pinhole camera, for Spagnoli, suggests a model of this antiquated belief: It's a box with a hole poked in it to admit light. These images are all shot directly into the sun; a technical advantage of the pinhole camera is that there are no visual aberrations, like lens flare. Included in the Pantheon series are "Saks," a view of a bustling street that shows the sun setting between two converging rows of buildings, and "Yosemite," whose scenic vista includes the sun about to set behind a fish-eye-lens-style perspective of trees and mountains.
Toronto's Mike Robinson, meanwhile, presents a five-panel series of Daguerreotypes of downtown Pittsburgh. The Daguerreotype was among the first photographic processes, dating from around 1839. The image is exposed directly onto a plate coated with silver halide, resulting in a unique, positive image that cannot be duplicated. In Robinson's hands, this intricate, delicate and laborious process -- as much at home in a science lab as in a photo studio -- has resulted in a striking, historic-seeming panorama.
Others photographers in the exhibition include Jo Babcock, Craig Barber, Martha Casanave, Jill Enfield, Jesseca Ferguson, Alan Greene, Robert Hirsch, Tom Persinger, Keith Taylor, Ilan Wolff and France Scully Osterman. Osterman specializes in wet-plate collodian, salted paper and albumen printing, all printing techniques dating to the mid-19th century. In two large-scale images of rumpled bedsheets, made on paper treated with silver salts from collodian glass negatives, she manages to create poignant and elegant images from potentially banal subject matter. In her "Sleep" series, Osterman offers stunning photographs of friends and family asleep.
While the f295 exhibition presents a wonderful collection of works, the show's stated theme would seem to warrant posting more information about "contemporary alternative" photographic methods than is included in the exhibit. The gallery is disappointingly devoid of such information; a little preparatory research of one's own is required in order to fully appreciate the fine craftsmanship of the artists whose work is on view.
f295 an Exhibition of Contemporary Alternative Photography continues through July 5. 707 Penn Gallery, 707 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-325-7017 or www.f295.org
- Razed bed: "Sleepless," by France Scully Osterman.