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photo-eye Gallery Collecting Pentti: The Photographer's Photographer We spoke with photo-eye Represented Artists Mitch Dobrowner and Brad Wilson about why they chose to collect prints by Pentti Sammallahti.



Pentti Sammallahti is renowned for his meticulously well-seen vignettes expressing delight and wonder for the world around us. Sometimes referred to as a "Photographer’s Photographer", Pentti’s rich silver-gelatin prints are coveted by collectors of all kinds including Henri Cartier-Bresson who named Sammallahti among his 100 favorite image-makers. In kind, photo-eye Represented Artists Mitch Dobrowner and Brad Wilson also own works by Pentti, and we reached out to them about why they chose to collect work by the Finnish photographer and what it means for them to live with a Pentti print.

Book of the Week Book of the Week: A Pick by Laura M. André Laura M. André selects Peter Hujar: Speed of Life. by Peter Hujar as Book of the Week.

Peter Hujar: Speed of Life. Aperture, 2017.
 
http://www.photoeye.com/BookteaseLight/bookteaselight.cfm?catalog=ap625
Laura M. André selects Peter Hujar: Speed of Life. Photographs by Peter Hujar. Texts by Joel Smith, Philip Gefter, Steve Turtell, and Martha Scott Burton. Aperture Foundation, 2017.

Published in conjunction with a major, traveling retrospective exhibition, Peter Hujar: Speed of Life presents readers with the first sustained examination of one of the most important—and underappreciated—artists of the 1970s and 80s. A central figure in the New York art scene of the period, it seems that Hujar's life and work in some way influenced everyone he encountered, whether through professional mentorship, personal friendship, romantic love, or a combination of all of these forms of intimacy: Vince Aletti, Fran Lebowitz, Susan Sontag, William S. Burroughs, Gary Schneider, Nan Goldin, Kiki Smith, and of course, David Wojnarowicz, whose photographs of Hujar on his deathbed remain among the most affecting images of loss and love that I have ever seen.

In the book's opening essay, Joel Smith situates Hujar's work as residing chronologically and aesthetically somewhere between Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe, "at a crossroads of brutality and beauty." But Smith also asserts that this comparison does little to help us actually see Hujar's photographs—the unforgettable portraits, the expertly composed cityscapes, the historically important documents of 1970s gay culture, and the quietly haunting interiors.

After Hujar's death in 1987 at the age of 53, his work—if not his presence—became subsumed by the AIDS-crisis-fueled, increasingly vociferous, protest-oriented art of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was also overshadowed by the politically driven hysteria and censorship directed at the younger artists Wojnarowicz, Mapplethorpe, and the NEA Four. It was not until 2013 that The Morgan Library & Museum acquired the Peter Hujar Archive and, working in conjunction with the Fundación MAPFRE, organized this publication and the accompanying retrospective exhibition, which travels from Barcelona to The Hague before reaching the U.S. in January 2018.

With this book and exhibition, Hujar joins the countless artists whose work only found recognition after their death—something Hujar predicted during his life. As Gary Schneider recalls, “He was kind of anti-institution, Peter. He even talked about how he would have to die for the work to become famous. And it was really true.”

Susan Sontag (1975) and Rene Ricard (1978). From Peter Hujar: Speed of Life. Aperture, 2017.

Paul Hudson (Leg) (1979) and Surf (2) (n.d.)From Peter Hujar: Speed of Life. Aperture, 2017.

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Laura M. André is the manager of the photo-eye book division. She received her PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and taught photo history at UNM before leaving academia to work with photography books.




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Book Review Two Blue Buckets Photographs by Peter Fraser. Text by Gerry Badger. Interview by David Campany. Reviewed by Adam Bell A revised and expanded "Director's Cut" of Peter Fraser's first book, with a new introduction by Gerry Badger and an interview by David Campany.
Two Blue Buckets. Photographs by Peter Fraser.
Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017.

http://www.photoeye.com/BookteaseLight/bookteaselight.cfm?catalog=IB829


Two Blue Buckets.

Reviewed by Adam Bell.

Two Blue Buckets.
Photographs by Peter Fraser. Essay by Gerry Badger. Interview by David Campany. Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017. 88 pp., 47 four-color illustrations. 11 x 11 inches.

The world is full of inconsequential stuff we can’t escape. When asked to look at the minutia of everyone’s daily life via Instagram and other social media platforms, we won’t and can’t stop. The refreshed flow is part of the appeal—a meal, a humorous sign, a pile of trash—it moves past only to be displaced, shunted downward in the stack. Yet, examined closely and for long enough, the factness of objects can threaten us in their abstraction, like a word that suddenly loses its shape and meaning. Photographers have long reveled in the medium’s ability to transform the mundane, but few excel at this task. The British photographer Peter Fraser’s work can be located in this storied tradition that stretches from Eggleston to Tillmans and beyond, but nevertheless remains distinct. Whereas some work can be bluntly factual, Fraser’s work is philosophically obtuse and melancholic in its investigative stare. Originally published in 1988, Fraser’s first book, Two Blue Buckets, has recently been reissued by Peperoni Books and gives us an opportunity not only to revisit the beginnings of Fraser’s long career, but also to reassess this prescient and singular book.

Two Blue Buckets. Photographs by Peter Fraser. Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017.

At the time of its release in the late 80s, Two Blue Buckets was a bit of an outlier and perhaps remains so. Color had gained a small foothold within the cloistered spheres of art photography, but Fraser found a path forward that contrasted with his colleagues in Britain (Paul Graham, Martin Parr, and Peter Mitchell) that were also working in color, albeit in a more social documentary mode. It was after an extended visit with Eggleston in the 80s that Fraser embraced the enigmatic clarity of the master’s work as well as his approach to documenting the mundane. Equally important, he accepted color. While Eggleston is an obvious and admitted influence, Fraser quickly found his own position and stylistic approach. The range of this early investigation is on display in this volume.

Two Blue Buckets. Photographs by Peter Fraser. Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017.

Described as a “Director’s Cut,” this new edition of Two Blue Buckets contains three of the four original bodies work—leaving out Towards an Absolute Zero (1986), a project still in progress at the time, but including 12-Day Journey (1984), The Valleys Project (1985) and Everyday Icons (1986)—and adding 19 new images. The texts by Rupert Martin and Maureen O. Paley are also replaced by a new introduction by Gerry Badger and an interview by David Campany. Both editions were designed by Alan Ward, who makes subtle references to the original, like the schematic of the titular buckets, printed on the 1988 edition’s cover, that reappears as a blind stamp on the back of the new edition. Other clues no doubt exist for the attentive observer. The first edition isn’t flawed like so many reprinted and revised books nor is it prohibitively expensive or unavailable, but this expanded and more focused edition gives clarity and depth to the work.

Two Blue Buckets. Photographs by Peter Fraser. Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017.

Rather than presenting a single, cohesive body of work, Two Blue Buckets presents three separate but inter-related projects. In each, Fraser seems to be testing the limits and possibilities of his forthright but philosophically measured approach. Long before the art world embraced object-oriented ontology, Fraser’s images pointed not only to the singular lives of objects and things in the world but also to the necessity and enigmatic possibilities of a scrutinizing gaze. In the book’s most well-known image, part of Everyday Icons, two nearly identical blue buckets shot from above, upon closer examination, reveal themselves to be radically different. Floating on a field of dark linoleum, the buckets seem to be magnetically drawn to each other like charged particles: bound together, yet discrete and defiant. Likewise, in the book’s opening image, a disheveled stack of pale bricks sits in an expansive field of dirt. Individual bricks struggle to break free of the pink plastic tarp and the taut black band that holds them in place. Throughout the book, objects and things are presented impassively, at once familiar, yet also opaque.


Two Blue Buckets. Photographs by Peter Fraser. Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017.

While Fraser holds his cards tight to the chest, clues about the various projects’ meanings peek through. In The Valleys Project, Fraser re-visited his native Wales for a commission and the work feels like a fraught homecoming. In one image, partially deflated balloons lounge on a drab red-brown carpet, and in another, the fogged and lushly illuminated interior of a parked car radiates a ghostly presence. Although full of metaphoric possibilities, the images defy simple reading and force us to return to the act of looking. Yet these are not impersonal or formal images. As Fraser notes in the interview, he is keenly aware of the “delicate interface between being psychologically engaged and intellectually curious about a ‘physical fact.’” Fraser exploits this tension throughout his work. There are also suggestions of the themes that would occupy Fraser for the coming years as his work shifted to examine the physical and metaphysical suggestions of science. From the molecular cluster of the blue buckets to the image of a frozen classroom clock surrounded by celestial notations and artwork, these interests reappear in projects such as Deep Blue (1997) and Material (2002), but also in recent bodies of work such as Mathematics (2017). The original edition of the book even faintly resembles an obscure quantum mechanics textbook with the repeated image of the buckets on the cover and the aforementioned schematics.

Two Blue Buckets. Photographs by Peter Fraser. Peperoni Books, Berlin, 2017.

In a genre long since bowdlerized and defanged, Fraser offers us images that are inscrutably transparent. If we’re always pointing at the stuff around us, there is little room to look. Never a simple act, it can be endlessly fertile terrain in the right hands.  —Adam Bell


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ADAM BELL is a photographer and writer. His work has been widely exhibited, and his writing and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including Afterimage, The Art Book Review, The Brooklyn Rail, fototazo, Foam Magazine, Lay Flat, photo-eye and Paper-Journal. His books include The Education of a Photographer and Vision Anew: The Lens and Screen Arts. He is currently on staff and faculty at the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department at the School of Visual Art. (www.adambbell.com and blog.adambbell.com)




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photo-eye Gallery photo-eye Gallery: Three Works We Love Gallery Director Anne Kelly and Associates Savannah Sakry and Lucas Shaffer share one image that personally speaks to each them, why the work is meaningful, and why it's worth collecting.




Last week in the introductory post to our Collecting Series, my first tip was to begin with work you LOVE. This week, Gallery Associates Savannah Sakry and Lucas Shaffer, as well as myself, want to share one image that personally speaks to each us and why we find the work meaningful.

Believe me, it’s not easy to pick just one print, and I think the same applies when selecting a photograph for your personal collection, but here each of us made intuitive and passionate choices based not only our personal aesthetic taste, but themes, and ideas we respond to. Collecting work that delights, inspires, calms, or challenges you means you get to have that conversation – that experience in your own home on a daily basis.

We hope that you enjoy viewing some of our favorite prints from the Gallery and please reach out if you have questions about one of the selected artworks — and if you have any questions that you would like to see addressed in future posts, we would love to hear from you.

–Anne Kelly, Gallery Director

Lucas Shaffer selects Chris McCaw's Sunburned GSP#279


Sunburned GSP #279 (Pacific Ocean /movement) 2008 © Chris McCaw | Gelatin Silver Paper Negative, 20x24", Unique, $8,000
Chris McCaw’s Sunburned GSP#279 (Pacific Ocean/Movement) is rich, moody, and alien. This atmospheric black-and-white image places you on a wide sea confronting a constellation of black suns against a void of blank sky. For me, the view builds a sublime feeling of unease, danger, and fascination I find utterly delightful. Perhaps equally engaging is the way McCaw makes his imagery. Using hand-made cameras and antique odd lenses each exposure - sometimes lasting hours – solarizes the image in camera on vintage silver gelatin paper yielding a unique print. I love how Sunburned emphasizes the transformative power of photography showcasing how the impression of light over time can make something truly otherworldly and alter our perception of the natural world. I find McCaw’s work important, and I adore how he has found compelling reasons to continue to make landscape imagery on traditional silver gelatin paper in 2017.

Read Director Anne Kelly's interview with McCaw

Gallery Associate Lucas Shaffer
Joining photo-eye Gallery as an Associate in the summer of 2014, Lucas Maclaine Shaffer began making images in college where he studied at the Maine Media Workshops + College and the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Lucas counts Cig Harvey, Brenton Hamilton, and Doug Ischar among his most influential instructors imbuing him with a love of process-based artwork and the power of visual metaphor. Aside from photo-eye Gallery, Lucas has assisted photographers such as Andrea Modica and George Tice during workshop sessions, has taught introductory photographic classes, and prints professionally.

Lucas Shaffer, Gallery Associate
505.988.5152 x114lucas@photoeye.com


Savannah Sakry selects Element II  by Chaco Terada


Element II © Chaco Terada | Sumi Ink and Pigment Ink on Silk, 10x7", Unique, $1,200
This transparent black and white photograph Element II by Chaco Terada is beautifully printed on two layers of silk. To the right of the composition, we see the shadow of what appears to be a tree, or perhaps a tumbleweed drifting over a sea of blissful waves. As you walk by this piece, your eye will catch the light shimmering back from the silk. Originally from Japan, Terada's process is a meditative practice or spiritual journey. She often will include nostalgic moments and personal reflections through the use of expressionistic, free-form calligraphy by hand with bold, or soft metallic Sumi inks. As a result, her works are each one-of-a- kind, or unique. I love Chaco's ability to blend the natural and spiritual world so seamlessly and her inventive printing method using such delicate fibers. This photograph is elegant, dreamy and perfectly minimal.

Read more about Terada's process

Gallery Associate Savannah Sakry 
Savannah Sakry is an artist and photographer living in Santa Fe, NM. Her love for photography ignited with the alchemy of the black and white darkroom at a young age. She received a BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, NY, where her passion for curating and collecting was influenced by her instructors Alexandra Brez and W.M. Hunt. Savannah joined photo-eye Gallery in 2015 as Associate and is and especially fond of master printing, symbolism, storytelling, and all things magical.

Savannah Sakry, Gallery Associate
505.988.5152 x115savannah@photoeye.com




Anne Kelly selects Balearics, Spain 2014 by Pentti Sammallahti


Balearics, Spain 2014 © Pentti Sammallahti | Gelatin-Silver Print, 7.5x6", Not Editioned, $1,300
This small silver gelatin print Balearics, Spain, 2014 by Pentti Sammallahti depicts a tiny white sailboat on the horizon of a vast, dark and potentially ominous seascape — topped by a giant white cloud. The scale of this print, which is common for Pentti, invites the viewer to look beyond the surface of this exquisitely printed photograph and to travel inward to the midline where the tiny fragile boat floats… in the middle of the dark sublime ocean.  The image is powerful and fragile at the same time and it sparks my imagination… Where is the boat traveling and what will happen next We don’t know … and I love that.


Gallery Director, Anne Kelly
Anne Kelly is Gallery Director of photo-eye Gallery in Santa Fe, NM and has been with the company since 2007. Her interest in photography developed at an early age, influenced by her mother’s love for the medium. Originally from Colorado, she moved to Santa Fe to further her studies in photography under the direction of David Scheinbaum at the College of Santa Fe, where she received her BFA.  Kelly ls particular interested in photographic works that employ the use of alternative processes in contemporary work, magical realism, and images that invoke emotion and stimulate the imagination.

Anne Kelly, Gallery Director
505.988.5152 x121 • anne@photoeye.com

Book of the Week Book of the Week: A Pick by Christian Michael Filardo Christian Michael Filardo selects Concrete Abstraction by Toshio Shibata as Book of the Week.

Concrete Abstraction. Photographs by Toshio Shibata.
Akio Nagasawa, 2015.
 
http://www.photoeye.com/BookteaseLight/bookteaselight.cfm?catalog=zg359
Christian Michael Filardo selects Concrete Abstraction. Photographs by Toshio Shibata. Akio Nagasawa, 2015.

Humans like to clear a path even when there isn’t one to begin with. We re-­direct the water; tell it where it ought to go. Cut down the trees and put something else in their place. We take the organic and make it alien. Somewhere, Toshio Shibata sits with his large-format camera and waits to make a photograph. Perhaps the augmented nature tells him something, when to use his intuition, where to wait for an image to reveal itself.

Folklore always describes the master in the woods with their ancient teachings, one who meditates or knows something we don’t know. Ready to show us the way of the world that we have long forgotten. This is the way the water flows, this is why the birds sing, and this is where the cedar grows.

When I see Shibata’s images I hear the sounds of nature and the man-made elements that obscure them. The hum of water spilling over a large concrete wall, the footsteps of a single man atop decaying leaves, the whisper of the wind through dried grass. It’s easy to assume that Shibata is looking, using his vision to decipher something new and strange. However, I feel like in the photographs contained within Concrete Abstraction he listens. It almost feels as though he does very little looking. I imagine him composing his photograph, and waiting for his moment with eyes closed. Feeling the air, the sunlight, hearing a leaf fall from a high treetop.

I wouldn’t call myself a fan of landscape photography. In fact in general I would say I don’t care for it. However, Shibata’s images show me something that I have never experienced before. A different kind of silence, they make me aware of my humanity, they make me feel small, but empowered. As though I’m finally listening to nature and hearing it for the first time.

Concrete Abstraction. Photographs by Toshio Shibata. Akio Nagasawa, 2015.

Concrete Abstraction. Photographs by Toshio Shibata. Akio Nagasawa, 2015.


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Christian Michael Filardo is a Filipino-American composer and photographer living and working in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He recently had a solo exhibition called Tumbleweed Replica at Current Space in Baltimore, MD and is the current shipping manager at photo-eye Bookstore.




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photo-eye Gallery 5 Tips to Start Collecting Photography by Gallery Director Anne Kelly Gallery Director Anne Kelly lists 5 great tips for anyone looking to start collecting photography.


 Works by Brad Wilson installed at photo-eye Gallery 
If you've contemplated collecting prints and just didn't know where to start or even think it was possible – well, this is your guide. In my 10 years at photo-eye Gallery, I've heard anxieties from people considering collecting their first print, sometimes even apologizing for not knowing more about photographic processes, a specific artist, or collecting work. Don't panic – you don’t need a degree in Art History to appreciate or collect photographic prints. In fact, informing clients about photography, and giving them the details they need to select the right photograph to start, or continue, their collection as become an absolute passion for me during my time at photo-eye.

Beginning today, Gallery Associates Savannah Sakry and Lucas Shaffer, as well as myself, are launching a blog series aimed at answering many of the questions frequently asked about collecting, and I want to begin with 5 Tips to get your collection started:

Unpacking Tom Chamber's 20 x 20" print,
A View from The Bridge

#1 Collect Work You Love

This one may sound simple, but it's perhaps the most critical piece of advice: love the works you collect and don't make the mistake of trading artwork like stocks and bonds.

Artworks, including photographic prints, have value, and while some of that value is certainly monetary the real value is the experience of enjoying, contemplating, and adoring an original print in your home for years. I can attest to this myself, and the experience of viewing an original artist-made work in your home on a daily basis is a game-changer.

Every work of art has a story  – who made it, how, when, and what it means – and hanging the work in your home makes its story a part of your own.


#2 A Little Bit of Research

photo-eye is an incredible resource of photographic knowledge including detailed project descriptions, bios of our artists, and excellent interviews. Get familiar with the kind of work we offer by taking a look at the portfolios and get a feeling for the kind of work you most respond to most – what affects you, what delights you, and what does the work generally cost.

Investigate the inspirations for the photographers you love. For example both Julie Blackmon and Cig Harvey list Keith Carter as an early inspiration for their work, so if you respond to their images it's worth taking a look at his portfolios.

Here are some additional resources on collecting photography that we offer via photo-eye Bookstore:



Works from Golden Stardust by Kate Breaky

#3 Establish a Budget

Hands down, photographic prints are one of the most affordable ways to collect original artwork.

If your collecting budget is on the conservative side, take look at the Photographer's Showcase. The Showcase features works primarily by emerging artists, photographer's new or fairly new on the scene, and prints are usually very affordable. Some established artists, such as Kate Breakey, offer prints for less than $1000.

Open Editions, prints that aren't restricted to a certain number of sales, are also a great value. Represented artists Steve Fitch & Richard Tuschman both offer a few of their images as Open Editions for less than their Limited Edition prints.

If there is a piece you JUST have to have that pushes the limits of your budget, we totally understand and can offer you the option of making payments over time. Just let us know what you’re looking for and we can give you the details.

Make sure to leave room in the budget for framing and finishing. With a few exceptions, prints from photo-eye are sold unframed but we work with an INCREDIBLE team who can archivally prepare your print in either traditional or contemporary treatments. Framing and finishing for each piece is hand-made, and custom cut, so we provide quotes on a case by case basis.


15 x 15 inch Silver prints by Keith Carter

#4 Pick a Theme

So much great work is being produced, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Chose an aspect of the work you respond to that serves to unite and focus your collection such as:

  • Subject Matter
    • landscape, narrative, portraits, etc…
  • Artist
    • collect work by the same artist
  • Print Material, or Print Process
    • Silver Gelatin, Archival Pigment, Tintype, Platinum …
  • Style
    • Black-and-White, Large Format …
  • Location
    •      Work made in a one location such as the American West.
  • Print Size

#5 Connect with a Gallerist

Gallery Director Anne Kelly
Reach out! Build a relationship with Savannah, Lucas, or myself, and we can guide you through the process. ASK US ANYTHING– sometimes collecting can be jargon-heavy, and we can make sense of it for you!

We send out the latest information to our clients about photo-eye artists, including new releases, which helps collectors secure the base price on new work.

We make recommendations based on your previous interests, and can suggest work by an artist that you may not be aware of that will be a good fit for your collection.

Because of our access, we can also find you sold out works available on the secondary market.  Please feel free to call or email anytime!

Next week the three of us will be offering up a few of our favorite works by photo-eye artists, as well as sharing a bit about ourselves and our own stories and collections.

Get ahold of us in the meantime if you have any questions or requests:

Anne Kelly, Gallery Director 
505.988.5152 x121 • anne@photoeye.com

Savannah Sakry, Gallery Associate
505.988.5152 x115 • savannah@photoeye.com

Lucas Shaffer, Gallery Associate
505.988.5152 x114 • lucas@photoeye.com


Book Review Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals Photographs by Mandy Barker. Designed by Mandy Barker and Tiffany Jones. Reviewed by Laura M. André Mandy Barker's brilliantly conceived, faux-Victorian photobook exposes a contemporary global environmental crisis.

Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals. 
Photographs by Mandy Barker. Overlapse Books, 2017.



Beyond Drifting:
Imperfectly Known Animals.

Reviewed by Laura M. André.

Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals.
Photographs by Mandy Barker. Designed by Mandy Barker and Tiffany Jones. Overlapse Books, London, 2017. 104 pp., 59 color and numerous additional illustrations. 7 x 9 inches.

Last month, the Rijksmuseum announced their acquisition of a rare copy of the first known photography book: Anna Atkins' Photographs of British Algae. Published in various editions 1843–1853, and illustrated with hundreds of cyanotypes, Atkins' landmark book effectively "sits on the border between art and science."

Now, 170 years after Atkins, another British woman has produced an important photobook that echoes Victorian-era science even as it exposes a contemporary environmental crisis.

Mandy Barker's Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals similarly occupies that liminal space where art and science converge, and its impeccable presentation exemplifies how book design can extend content. Barker's book takes the form of a 19th-century scientific album—not unlike Atkins' book—complete with what appears to be a distressed dust jacket and faded and stained cloth boards.

Photographs by Mandy Barker. Overlapse Books, 2017.
The series, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Prix Pictet, continues Barker's ongoing photographic investigations into the environmental problem of plastic marine debris, which the Leeds-based artist has explored in numerous projects worldwide. More specifically, Beyond Drifting came about during a residency in Cobh, Ireland, which is located on the Cove of Cork on the southern coast. It was there, during the 1820s, that John Vaughan Thompson, a military surgeon and amateur naturalist, made important discoveries about little-understood marine organisms, which he referred to as "imperfectly known animals."

As it turns out, those organisms were what are now known as plankton—the tiny, microscopic creatures that float aimlessly in ocean and fresh waters, and which exist at the bottom of the food chain. The contemporary problem, however, is that the enormous amount of plastic debris in the world's bodies of water decomposes, and plankton ingest these minuscule bits of plastic. In turn, other animals eat the tainted plankton, and so on, and the often-toxic plastic travels up the food chain. The ultimate effect of this process on various life forms, including humans, is still incalculable.

Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals. Photographs by Mandy Barker. Overlapse Books, 2017.
The book's fidelity to the look and feel of an old scientific text continues on the front free endpaper, where a creased, tipped-in Cobh Library lending slip bears faded stamps and facsimile hand notations. Together with the photographically illustrated signs of age and use on the dust jacket and cover, the lending slip adds to the book's feeling of well-worn authority.

Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals. Photographs by Mandy Barker. Overlapse Books, 2017.
By the time I reached the title page, I found myself compulsively touching the paper in a futile effort to verify what my eyes were seeing: faint creases, mold spots, and bleed-through text. In fact, these convincing effects are printed throughout the book. Their source is Thompson's own published texts, and the result is that Thompson's work appears in dialogue with Barker's.

Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals. Photographs by Mandy Barker. Overlapse Books, 2017.
For the main body of the book, Barker's photographs of these new, "imperfectly known animals" appear as "26 MICROGRAPHIC SPECIMENS," one to a page, bordered by a circular frame, printed on black paper, and opposite antique specimen labels. For example, the spread above depicts Copeopod langisticus (Barker has given each specimen a Latin-sounding name embedded with the letters—in order—for the word plastics).

Barker has photographed the specimens as if seen through a microscope, using faulty cameras and expired, grainy film. They appear to be floating like plankton; the blurry images suggest movement and their forms are difficult to recognize.

Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals. Photographs by Mandy Barker. Overlapse Books, 2017.
A new section, "PLATES," follows the specimen pages. These red-edged pages are sealed with a red and white "CONCEALED HAZARD" sticker, the reverse of which lists various hazardous plastic chemicals.

Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals. Photographs by Mandy Barker. Overlapse Books, 2017.

Inside the sealed section, the secrets of Barker's specimens unfold. Each specimen appears next to a photograph of its source, which is a piece of plastic detritus harvested from the Cove of Cork. Here we learn that Copeopod langisticus, for exampleis really a plastic six-pack yoke. Like Thompson before her, Barker has dutifully recorded these articles of plastic refuse, which include bits of packaging, a coat hanger, electrical components, a cell phone casing, doll parts, a toy horse, and plastic book covers. Rather than merely presenting these objects as they ordinarily appear, Barker transforms them into seemingly animated species of plankton. In so doing, she asks us to look at them differently, to see them as if they have mutated into microorganisms—because, in a way, they have.

Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals. Photographs by Mandy Barker. Overlapse Books, 2017.

A series of brief, explanatory texts at the book's end reveal Barker's process and raise awareness about the shocking environmental problem of microplastics. Although the book focuses on this specific issue, I would argue that its concept and design also prompt broader questions about photography's role in producing knowledge.

Thompson, who worked before the rise of photographic imaging, communicated his scientific discoveries through a combination of texts and drawings that illustrated what he could see in his microscope. After all, this was standard practice for scientists. In fact, Thompson's drawings appear as nearly imperceptible, ghostly traces on the book's pages and dust jacket.

Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals. Photographs by Mandy Barker. Overlapse Books, 2017.

Barely two decades later, Atkins' revolutionary move was to abandon the pencil and allow her algae species to draw themselves on light-sensitive paper. Atkins learned about photography from none other than William Henry Fox Talbot and his wife, Constance, whose experiments with "photogenic drawings" led to the calotypes he published in the 1844 book The Pencil of Nature. The idea that light and chemically treated paper could automatically produce "drawings" of the natural—and unnatural—world revolutionized how many people understood photographic images as unmitigated proof of something.

Alaria escalante. Page spread from Anna Atkins' Photographs of British Algae. 1843–1853. Courtesy Rijksmuseum.

That Barker has chosen a 19th-century form to address a 21st-century problem speaks to both the power and futility of the old notion of photography as proof. Her presentation of this work recalls the era of positivist science, which held that if something could be seen—in a photograph, perhaps—it therefore existed. Ironically, Barker's constructed images provide a kind of positivist proof that plastic-infused plankton exists. At the same time, despite ample visual evidence and data that warn of this and other contemporary ecological and environmental crises, far too many people—some of whom wield the power to mandate positive change—have chosen to remain in denial of what is, in fact, perfectly known.  —Laura M. André


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Laura M. André is the manager of photo-eye's Book Division. She received her PhD in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and taught photo history at UNM before leaving academia to work with photography books.



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Book of the Week Book of the Week: A Pick by Laura M. André Laura M. André selects Through Darkness to Light: Photographs along the Underground Railroad by Jeanine Michna-Bales as Book of the Week.

Through Darkness to Light:
Photographs along the Underground Railroad.

Photographs by Jeanine Michna-Bales.
Introduction by Andrew J. Young.
Princeton Architectural Press, 2017.
 

http://www.photoeye.com/BookteaseLight/bookteaselight.cfm?catalog=CI254
Laura M. André selects Through Darkness to Light: Photographs along the Underground Railroad. Photographs by Jeanine Michna-Bales. Introduction by Andrew J. Young. Princeton Architectural Press, 2017.

If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep Going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.

This moving quote, attributed to Harriet Tubman, occupies a revered place in popular American history. However, scholars cite no evidence that she actually said it. The exhortation appears to have originated from semi-fictional accounts of Tubman's life geared toward children in the 1950s and 60s.

Authentic or not, the quote undeniably rings true to Tubman in spirit. The words represent her. It is this same relationship between historical truth and its representation that Jeanine Michna-Bales investigates in her new book, Through Darkness to Light: Photographs along the Underground Railroad, in which the attributed Tubman quote appears opposite an image aptly titled Keep Going.

Jeanine Michna-Bales, Keep Going. Crossing the Tennessee River, Colbert County, Alabama
from Through Darkness to Light: Photographs along the Underground Railroad.

The Underground Railroad operated at its peak during the 1850s and 60s. Overall, an estimated 100,000 slaves made the dangerous, three-month, 1,400-mile journey to freedom. To avoid detection, they traveled in darkness, covering around 20 miles per night before stopping at a "station," where they would hide and rest in barns, caves, and beneath church floors. Although the US National Park Service has established certain waypoints along the Underground Railroad, the actual paths people took remain largely unknown.

Armed with years of solid research and an inexact map, Michna-Bales embarked on a photographic journey from former cotton plantations near Natchitoches, Louisiana, and threaded her way north through farms and villages, all the way to Michigan and the Canadian border. Her nighttime photographs thus represent something like what freedom seekers might have seen, as well as actual "depots" along the way.

Jeanine Michna-Bales, A Brief Respite, Abolitionist William Beard's Home, Union County, Indiana, 
from Through Darkness to Light: Photographs along the Underground Railroad.

The first impression of the book's images is that they are extremely dark. So dark, in fact, that their edges can sometimes barely be discerned from the black pages they're printed on. This intentional effect forces our eyes to adjust to the subtle color and light that give these images form. Like travelers on the Underground Railroad, we are challenged to navigate in near-complete darkness.

Michna-Bales pairs the images with quotes from historical texts, fiction, folklore, and spiritual songs, which help to contextualize the visual material. When light appears, it is often from the sky; the moon and stars were essential navigational tools along the Underground Railroad. For example, the Big Dipper—here referred to as "the drinking gourd"—points to the North Star, and a photograph of the star pattern appears alongside the verse, "For the old man is a-waiting / for to carry you to freedom. / If you follow the drinking gourd."

Jeanine Michna-Bales, Follow the Drinking Gourd, Jefferson County, Indiana, 
from Through Darkness to Light: Photographs along the Underground Railroad.

But on a rainy night in the middle of a forest, "they were armed with little more than the knowledge that moss grew only on the northern sides of trees."

Jeanine Michna-Bales, Determining True North in the Rain. Along the Southern Part of the Old Natchez Trace, Mississippi, 
from Through Darkness to Light: Photographs along the Underground Railroad.
Indiana was usually the first free state that freedom seekers encountered, and the Ohio River, which forms the state's border with Kentucky, was such an important milestone that it was referred to as the River Jordan. Michna-Bales' panoramic photograph imagines the river as a mirror-like, convex arc that bends toward the approaching travelers, beckoning. Yet the dark land beyond promised neither freedom nor safety, as slave hunters and local law enforcement officials dogged the steps of freedom seekers all the way to Canada.

Jeanine Michna-Bales, The River Jordan. The First View of a Free State, Crossing the Ohio River to Indiana, 
from Through Darkness to Light: Photographs along the Underground Railroad.
As a title for the series and book, Through Darkness to Light of course refers metaphorically to the journey from slavery to freedom. Indeed, the vast majority of these images convey the sobering darkness of slavery's shadow, punctuated only by the faintest light or the occasional, dim beacon. But Michna-Bales means it literally, too. In the final images, taken along the St. Clair River along the US–Canada border, a blinding sun rises.

Jeanine Michna-Bales, Within Reach. Crossing the St. Clair River to Canada Just South of Port Huron, Michigan, from Through Darkness to Light: Photographs along the Underground Railroad.

In many cultures—Western and non-Western—the dark-light binary represents the poles of evil and good, respectively. Think of intellectual and spiritual enlightenment, for example. However, there exist legitimate questions about the racist implications of this deeply entrenched moral—and sometimes aesthetic—symbolism. As many theorists, philosophers, scholars, and sages have asked, how might equally entrenched forms of racist oppression be mitigated if this binary were to be switched or—more radically—obliterated altogether?

Through Darkness to Light posits darkness as a process, a path, a way out that is essential to survival. Darkness, in this case, is a form of protection, and it is good. Aesthetically, these subtle and low-contrast images remind me of Teju Cole's brilliant essay about Roy DeCarava's work: "Instead of trying to lighten the blackness, he went against expectation and darkened it further. What is dark is neither blank nor empty. It is in fact full of wise light which, with patient seeing, can open out into glories."

While Harriet Tubman might not have actually spoken the words that open this essay, as someone who not only escaped slavery but risked recapture to travel the length of the Underground Railroad over a dozen times to rescue other enslaved people, she knew what it meant to persevere, to keep going. It is fitting—and no accident—that Michna-Bales should bring this work to our consciousness at a time when the country is again so bitterly divided, especially along the lines of race, class, and human rights. Her work prompts many questions, not the least of which is whether we, as a society, can keep going, and learn to see differently.  —Laura M. André


PURCHASE BOOK

The exhibition Through Darkness to Light: Photographs along the Underground Railroad is presented as part of PhotoSummer. See it at photo-eye Bookstore and Project Space until July 15. To view the portfolio online or inquire about print sales, please visit photo-eye Gallery.



Laura M. André is the manager of photo-eye's Book Division. She received her Ph.D. in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and taught photo history at UNM before leaving academia to work with photography books.