Reception: Sunday, September 26, from 2 to 4 p.m.
At a time when everyone has instant access to digital photos in hand-held devices, the pioneering Gallery at Spencer Lofts in Chelsea, MA, is celebrating the totally not-digital approach to photography. The works of four artists are presented in the September exhibition of cutting-edge, old-fashioned photography entitled SO not-digital… The Artists are Mark Morelli, Pamela Rajpal, Paul Weiner, and X Bonnie Woods. A wide range of film-based art is shown here — most of which would be impossible to make with a digital camera.
Mark Morelli of Chelsea works in medium format. His work has been widely exhibited and published throughout the U.S. His photographs here are part of a much larger project about the City of Chelsea. This is the first time that work from this series has been shown in Chelsea. By including photographs of people, neighborhoods, interiors, storefronts, industry, and landscapes, Morelli presents a complex portrait of a city in transition, and he establishes his own personal style of documentation. His array of pristine gelatin silver prints brings a fresh yet archival approach to the questions of “What is a portrait?” and “What is Chelsea?”
When asked whether there is pressure to quit his darkroom work and photograph in a more modern way, Morelli said, “There is definitely pressure from clients to work digitally and there is increasing difficulty of both purchasing and processing film. But if I worked digitally, I think I’d miss the hands-on, the touching of the actual work in progress.”
Pamela Rajpal, a graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, with a studio in the South End, has exhibited as painter and photographer throughout New England and internationally. Here, she shows works made with a homemade pinhole camera, converted from an old bellows Polaroid camera. She develops negatives in natural sunlight, making one-of-a-kind images. Included here are pieces from two series: landscape photos taken on an island off the coast of Scotland, and still-life photos of common fruits and vegetables.
Because a pinhole camera cannot be “focused” in a traditional way, these works have a timeless painterly quality. “I’m interested in using a pinhole camera and natural sunlight to create images that subvert the precision and accuracy of digital photography,” says Rajpal. “Pinhole images are dreamlike, imprecise, and intuitive. They develop slowly over time, unlike the quick shoot and edit of digital photography. In an impatient world, they ask photographer and viewer to slow down.”
Paul Weiner of Somerville works in medium format with color transparency film. Among other awards, he has received a MCC Artist Grant and several Somerville Arts Council grants. In this show he presents photos from his ongoing Portraits of Artists series, exploring the private creative world of artists. The series documents the environment in which each artist works, as well as Weiner’s artistic interpretation of what goes on in the artist’s mind. Each of his images is a single exposure, lit only by shining an ordinary flashlight beam over the subjects in a totally darkened room. Each “shot” takes as long as 30 minutes. There are no darkroom or computer manipulations involved.
When asked why he chooses to work not-digitally, Weiner said, “There is a softness to the image that cannot be recreated by using a digital camera making a very long time exposure.” He says that for art prints, he does not feel professional pressure from others to work digitally. However, in the past he always printed on Cibachrome paper from a color transparency, and now, unfortunately, Cibachrome labs are almost non-existent.
X Bonnie Woods of Chelsea has worked as a documentary photographer at Ground Zero and in post-Katrina New Orleans, and has exhibited her work internationally. In her new Water series, through abstract panorama format she explores the way people look at landscapes. She uses odd angles in her bold compositions. Water looks different when it appears to do illogical things, she thinks. Because there seems to be no real sense of “up” or “down” in these new works, she feels that people can look at a photo in a fresh way, which might lead to looking at other things in a fresh way.
Woods, who also works as a painter, relies on her black-and-white photography to keep herself constantly surprised and vigilant about light. “I am a great fan of the silver-gelatin print. It is so solid, so rich and satisfying to look at, but it catches only a moment in time.” Chance is something that a photographer understands well, she thinks. “I feel that the time lag between taking a photo and then finally seeing it developed adds a great element of suspense to the process.”
As an instructive guide to viewers, notes about the camera and film used in each photograph are included in the exhibition.
This wide range of photographic styles and techniques is a refreshing reminder of what can be possible when the photographer is not limited to standard digital cameras and Photoshop manipulation. The exhibition raises questions about the future of not-digital photography and what might be lost if every photographer crossed over to the digital medium. In a time when digital photographers are increasingly using tricks to make their work look more like “old-fashioned” photography, here are four photographers who do not seem so old-fashioned at all.