Phil Nesmith’s “Flow”—a collection of nearly two dozen photographs of this year’s BP oil spill—is an unusual example of hyper-current imagery and positively ancient technology. Nesmith uses the wet-plate collodion method. His rationale for employing the process—it was the standard photographic technique at the time oil was discovered in the U.S. in the 1850s—seems somewhat arbitrary. Still, form and substance blend well for Nesmith, as even “modern” objects such as tractors, boats, and little Monopoly-esque homes look like they’re from the 19th century. But the biggest difference with the 1850s is in tone. Nesmith highlights ineffectuality, especially in his image of a long string of oil-sucking pom-poms resting on a dock. Its visual counterpoint would be the fearlessly optimistic 1857 portrait of British civil engineer I.K. Brunel amid gigantic dockyard chains. Little of that gusto is on display here.
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