Playing with issues of history, tradition, beauty, pop culture, surf culture and Americana, “From Wet Plate to Pixel” at the Santa Paula Art Museum combines the approaches of six Ventura County photographers and their photographic processes.
Curated by Ventura Community College instructor Meg Phelps, this is an educative exhibit that focuses on the technical processes of photography of the last three centuries since its invention.
Luther Gerlach seeks to create visual music with his vintage process of wet-plate photography. Using the mid-19th century wet-plate process, large-format restored antique cameras and lenses, Gerlach produces a series of gritty urban landscapes that seem to have been abandoned or forgotten. Yet they are quietly beautiful and untroubled.
Lisa Dodge documents the ranch life along the California coastline. Cowboy hats, belt buckles, smiling children, spurs, men on horseback, vast landscapes and simplicity are elements in Dodge’s depictions. She uses the antique technology of large-format wet collodion photography, which was used in the 19th century. Just as impressive as her process are her subjects: Genuine and unaffected, they gracefully pose for her lens. A reflective sense of Americana is present in her compositions.
Using a film camera, Lis J. Schwitters creates cyanotype mandala prints that explore human themes. Inspired by the kaleidoscope, her photographs deal with philosophical issues of life experiences. Schwitters incorporates graphic design elements into her photographs, which are scanned and digitally manipulated to achieve the desired aesthetic result.
Self-taught photographer and camera builder Jim Fitzgerald, specializes in carbon-transfer contact prints in which the labor-intensive process of carbon transfer allows for total control of tonality of the finished product. Fitzgerald’s photographs are handmade and one of a kind. Most striking are his photographs of the black oaks in Yosemite Valley. Fitzgerald captures the magnificent strength of these ancient oak trees against less-than-ideal environmental changes.
John Nichols makes many interesting investigations. A noteworthy example is “Santa Paula Depot,” (pictured). It depicts the building not as a solid construction but as an organic wave. Upon closer inspection, the entire photograph is densely pixilated, lending itself the element of a modern photographic process.
Stephen Schafer’s “Thing A Ma Jig” is a series of gelatin silver prints of items from everyday life from the past, including some a century old. Schafer specializes in architectural photography, yet his indulgence in his personal work is always a treat for the viewer. His tongue-in-cheek explanation of his process is surprisingly informative and adds an element of humor to his presentation.
There is much to be said about the extent to which photography has grown over the last century in terms of content and technique. The work here is optically intriguing, but doesn’t push beyond the boundaries of the photographic process. Altogether, this is a museum-quality exhibit that educates about the historical process of photography through examples from some very talented and accomplished local photographers.
“From Wet Plate to Pixel” runs through Oct. 12. For more information, visit www.santapaulaartmuseum.org.