Light, Paper, Process: Alternative Process and Experimental Photography at the Mills Building

Shotgun Review

Light, Paper, Process: Alternative Process and Experimental Photography at the Mills Building

By tamara suarez porras March 20, 2019

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, tamara suarez porras reviews Light, Paper, Process: Alternative Process and Experimental Photography at the Mills Building in San Francisco.

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Light, Paper, Process: Alternative Process and Experimental Photography explores photographic languages outside of traditional processes.1 Beyond the material theme, the show reveals how photography can visually represent temporal and durational processes.

Meghann Riepenhoff’s For Anna, Vol. II (2017) is dedicated to the nineteenth-century botanist and photographer Anna Atkins, whose cyanotypes depict flora found throughout Great Britain. While Atkins used photography to preserve organic material, Riepenhoff, by contrast, erodes and warps cyanotype paper with physical specimens of algae and coastal debris, a process that renders abstracted sea-green algae forms that curl outward from ocean-blue washes. These centered forms of algae, like overhead views of islands, are imbued with precarious melancholy and allude to the tenuous state of the contemporary environment.

Meghann Riepenhoff. For Anna, Vol. II, Plate 12, 2017; unique dynamic cyanotype, algae, and shoreline debris; 14 ¼ x 11 ¼ x 1 ¾ inches. Courtesy of the Artist and EQUINOM Gallery, San Francisco.

Brianna Tadeo’s camera-less photographs, by comparison, tackle disintegrative states that are invisible to the eye: Plants decompose for weeks over chromogenic paper, during which their shifting chemical composition transforms and marks the glossy, white, unexposed surface of the paper. White silhouettes are outlined with surreal, seemingly unnatural greens, yellows, and blues that drip and dissolve like organic material. Duration is conveyed within a single image; a flower becomes an impression of its life cycle.

Binh Danh’s daguerreotypes slow the rapidity of a contemporary photographic gaze. Panoramic View from Corona Heights Park (2014), for example, affords a glimpse at the perfect view of Twin Peaks over the hills of San Francisco. That view is undoubtedly preserved in social-media feeds, but within Danh’s work it feels like a ghostly past. His daguerreotypes, however, refuse to be photographed; they require the viewer to move from side to side in order to see details beyond the hyper-reflective surface. The faint images, inscribed on plates in silver tones, must be pondered in person with a slowed cadence that stands in contrast to the pace at which the city is changing.

These works refuse a basic photographic premise: to document and preserve a fixed state in time. In challenging the perception that a photograph necessarily signifies a temporal pause, the artists reveal that photographic processes can evoke duration and the inability to stop time.

Light, Paper, Process: Alternative Process and Experimental Photography was on view at the Mills Building in San Francisco through March 1, 2019.

Notes

  1. The title makes reference to Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography, a 2015 exhibition at the Getty Center and attendant catalogue, that featured artists whose process-based, often camera-less, analog works expand the language of the photographic medium.

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