More than most types of art, photography is deeply intertwined with technology. And while technology marches on, some of photography’s archaic techniques are revered, even fetishized, producing such exhibits as Glen Echo Photoworks’ “Rendering the Spirit: The Personal Image in Alternative Media.”
The exhibit features a dozen artists and includes works made using such obscure techniques as lumen prints and polymer photogravures. As might be expected with such a diversity of methods, the results are mixed, but a number of the artists offer a welcome vacation from familiar film and digital images.
On the tamer end of the spectrum are platinum/palladium prints by John Sarsgard, featuring relatively sedate portraits of New Yorkers. Marek Matusz uses the same technique to somewhat rougher ends, photographing a dirt-encrusted old GMC vehicle, while Ian Leake uses it to create nudes in elongated poses.
Some artists use more heavily manipulated processes. Dan Schlapbach layers translucent positives known as relievo ambrotypes over digital prints and frames them in three-dimensional boxes, producing what amounts to mixed-media combines, while Eddie Hirschfield takes emulsions on watercolor paper and hand-coats them using oil and pencil, producing images that look more like paintings or drawings than photographs.
The exhibit’s strongest works tend to fall somewhere between these two poles—inventive, but rooted.
Atalie Day Brown and Jared Brown use direct-positive wet collodion on aluminum to produce portraits with muddy highlights that suggest old-fashioned tintypes, but with greater refinement, while Leena Jayaswal creates images of an “Indian Bride Barbie” using the unusual, purple-toned lumen process, a cousin of the camera-less photogram.
Bruce Schultz offers the most technically diverse portfolio, using a mixture of methods to create negatives, then producing albumen prints, an egg-based 19th century process. He documents such subjects as a tumbledown church, a still life and a ghostly apparition on a veranda.
The two most impressive artists in the show, however, are Barbara Maloney and Erik Larsen. Maloney’s polymer photogravures produce soft-edged prints perfectly calibrated for their timeless subject matter—rice farmers in Southeast Asia (middle). And using the labor-intensive gum bichromate method, Larsen produces a surprisingly detailed and dramatic rendering of a butte in the western United States, illuminated by visible shafts of sunlight (bottom).
Through April 11 at Glen Echo Photoworks, 7300 MacArthur Blvd. Sat 1 p.m.-4 p.m., Sun 1 p.m.-8 p.m.