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From iPhone to I, Photographer

Mercedes Jelinek teaching at Mitchell High

Mercedes Jelinek explains to her Art 1 students how to edit images on their phones.

 

“Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative.”

—Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1957

 

Although darkroom photography is no longer part of many high school art programs, photography itself is more prevalent than ever. These days, most high school students walk around with camera phones in their back pockets, and snapping photos is almost second nature. As a visiting artist at Mitchell High School in Spruce Pine, NC, Mercedes Jelinek’s goal was to show students that these photos could be more than just a way to record and share—they could be a form of creative expression.

“Photos can mean a lot more than just representing likeness,” Mercedes tells her students at the beginning of class on a Wednesday morning. The students are seated in bright yellow chairs around a projector in Jennifer Robinson’s Art 1 class. On the screen, Mercedes is advancing through portraits they took of each other yesterday, each original photograph shown next to an edited version. “What makes this one so good?” she asks. Her students respond with their thoughts about composition, lighting, framing. Despite being taken with simple cellphone cameras, the photos do look good—really good. There’s personality coming through in each one.

 

black and white portraits of three Mitchell High School students

Three of the many portraits Mitchell High students took of each other during their photo classes with Mercedes. From left, images by Tanner, Kassie, and Billy.

 

As a resident artist here at Penland, Mercedes has years of professional photography experience—both film and digital—to share with her students. Her three-day visit to Mitchell High was part of the Professional Craft Study for High School Students, one of Penland’s Community Collaborations programs to bring creative experiences to students in the surrounding counties. During her lessons, Mercedes started with basics such as camera controls and simple editing, but her students were soon talking about how to interact with subjects to make them comfortable and relaxed and how to set up a shot to lead the viewer’s eye.

 

Mercedes photographs a student

During her class, Mercedes set up a photo booth to take portraits of all her students.

 

On her final day of teaching, Mercedes used the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson as an inspiration for her students. Cartier-Bresson is known for The Decisive Moment, a book of black-and-white street photography. “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression,” he wrote.

In asking her students to take photographs of “decisive moments” as their final assignment, Mercedes enabled them to bring together the technical concepts they had practiced such as lighting and exposure time with their own view of the world. “Go set up the shot absolutely perfectly, then have somebody walk through it,” she instructed them. “You decide the perfect moment to take your shot.”

There was nothing uncommon about the laughter that followed, or the knots of two or three teens talking in groups, or the students wandering on the grassy stretch in front of the school. What was uncommon was the particular care and attention taken to document it all.

—Sarah Parkinson

 

black and white photographs by Mitchell High students

A few of the “decisive moment” photographs taken during Mercedes’s class. Clockwise from top left, images by Rylie, Madison, and Devlin.

 

See more photographs from Mitchell High School Art 1 students on the MHS Art Instagram.

All of Penland’s Community Collaborations programs are funded by grants and donations. The Professional Craft Study for High School Students is able to bring artists like Mercedes to Mitchell High School thanks to the generous support of the Samuel L. Phillips Family Foundation Education Partnership Endowment.

 

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Welcome Back, Horner

Horner Hall at Penland School

After more than a year of renovation and new construction, Penland’s venerable old Horner Hall, home to the Penland Gallery, is fully functioning again. This is the front of the building with the newly-installed sculpture, New Growth, by former Penland resident artist Hoss Haley.

 

Horner Hall at Penland School

Much of the building was gutted, the floor plan was altered, and all the spaces were completely renovated.

 

horner-4

A new exhibition hall and a courtyard were added to the North side of the building.

 

Horner Hall at Penland School

The second floor, which had been used for student housing for many decades, was refashioned into staff offices.

 

Horner Hall at Penland School

The building reopened in mid-March, just in time for the opening of the first scheduled Penland Gallery exhibition, This is a Photograph, curated by artist, photographer, and long-time Penland instructor Dan Estabrook (at left, with glasses).

 

 

Horner Hall at Penland School

The gallery walls and pedestals (custom-built by former Penland resident artist Daniel Marinelli) are covered with beautiful work, and we hope you’ll come visit. The gallery is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10:00 – 5:00 and Sunday from Noon – 5:00. Closed Mondays. Lots more gallery information here.

 

Here is a time-lapse sequence of Hoss Haley and crew assembling New Growth on March 25.

 

 

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The Penland Archive: Linking Past and Present

Dan Bailey Penland image

Carey Hedlund’s office is packed from floor to ceiling with shelves and boxes, each carefully labeled and filled with a piece of Penland history. When you enter the room, your eye spends a few moments taking in the sheer density of the files before settling on a large framed photograph on the far wall. The image, created by Dan Bailey in 1983, is a piece that Carey cites as one of her favorites in the Penland archives. It’s a familiar view of the Penland knoll with The Pines behind it, but with a long-exposure twist: the photographer took a light and moved it in concentric rings so that the knoll looks like it is covered in a layer of glowing topographical lines. There are no people in the picture, but the gentle kinks of the ribbons of light record the path of a person walking a hill at night.

Carey’s own path to Penland was similarly circuitous: “a long and twisted one” as she describes it. Growing up, she spent time at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, where she learned crafts such as ceramics and metalsmithing. She’d heard of Penland by the time she was in high school, but it wasn’t until the fall of 2014 that she finally arrived for the first time as a new member of the Penland staff. In between, she got an undergraduate degree at Oberlin College, spent a few years in the visual collections of MIT’s architecture program, obtained a graduate degree in landscape architecture, worked for two decades as a landscape architect, teacher, and illustrator, and eventually found her way back to working with collections.

portrait of Carey HedlundAs collections go, the Penland archives are a bit unusual. “There are some archivists who believe that objects have no place in a collection,” Carey explains. “But how would you tell Penland’s story without them?” Indeed, in addition to the many thousands of pages of old publications and photographs and letters, the Penland archives include a rich array of objects, from textiles and pottery to more humorous items like a knit doll of an eccentric woman who worked at Penland years ago. “I’m still seeing things for the first time,” Carey adds. “Whenever I pull a box out and start reading, I find something that’s fascinating or funny or moving. There are real people in those boxes.”

For Carey, one of the primary challenges now is to make the existing Penland archives more pertinent and accessible. “It’s not a collection to hold close to myself,” she said, “it’s a collection to spread out and share.” She would like to see the archives cataloged in an online database where they would be visible. “That would also make them sustainable,” she notes.

One of the things that drew Carey here was Penland’s deep living history. “All archives are about a certain continuity,” she explains, “but there really is this fascinating tie between the early history here and what we do now.” Carey sees Penland as a school, but also a web of people and connections that make up a rich community. Reflecting on her first year here, she concludes, “It was a joy to find work in a rural community—that was a goal. The mountains are glorious. And Penland itself is what most people say: an incredibly beautiful place with an incredible energy.”

–Sarah Parkinson

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This Is a Photograph | Penland Gallery Exhibition

Chris McCaw Heliograph 095

Chris McCaw, Heliograph 095, two unique gelatin silver paper negatives, 10 x 8 inches each. This image was created by exposing photo paper in a view camera for long enough to allow the sun to create a trail across the negative. This piece represents two solar exposures.

 

What possibilities do historic photographic processes offer to contemporary artists? What does it mean to make photographic images with chemically-sensitized and processed materials in the digital era? These are some of the questions raised by “This Is a Photograph: Exploring Contemporary Applications of Photographic Chemistry,” the inaugural exhibition at the newly renovated and expanded Penland Gallery & Visitors Center. Curated by Brooklyn-based photographic artist and long-time Penland instructor Dan Estabrook, the exhibition not only reveals some of the arresting possibilities of these processes, it also brings work by world-class image makers to our community here in Western North Carolina.

Jerry Spagnoli Glasses

Jerry Spagnoli, Glasses 3-3-12, daguerreotype, 14 x 11 inches. A daguerreotype is an image created on a silver surface that has been polished to a mirror finish and then sensitized with fuming iodine and bromine. Dating to 1839, it was the first widely-used photographic process.

“This Is a Photograph” displays work by twenty-three artists experimenting with a variety of processes and materials in ways that frequently have little to do with their historic antecedents: tintype images made on found metal objects, large daguerreotypes that look almost holographic, images created by painting directly onto photo paper with chemicals, and images made by igniting gunpowder that had been sprinkled directly onto photo paper, to name a few. As Penland Gallery Director Kathryn Gremley describes, “handmade images created through the complex alchemy of light and chemistry are the common ground of the artists invited by Estabrook for this exhibition.”

“This Is a Photograph” opens on March 22, 2016. The gallery will celebrate with a public reception on Saturday, March 26 from 4:30-6:30 p.m at which Dan Estabrook and some of the artists will be present. The exhibition will be on display through May 1.

 

“This Is a Photograph” features the following artists: David Emitt Adams, Christina Z. Anderson, John Brill, Christopher Colville, Bridget Conn, Danielle Ezzo, Jesseca Ferguson, Alida Fish, Adam Fuss, Mercedes Jelinek, Richard Learoyd, Vera Lutter, Sally Mann, Chris McCaw, Sibylle Peretti, Andreas Rentsch, Holly Roberts, Mariah Robertson, Alison Rossiter, Brea Souders, Jerry Spagnoli, Bettina Speckner, Brian Taylor

Read Dan Estabrook’s essay on the show below, and you can see images of all the work in the show on the Penland Gallery website.

 

Adam Fuss Untitled

Adam Fuss, Untitled 2006, unique cibachrome photogram, 30 x 40 inches (courtesy of Cheim and Read, NY). This image was created by exposing color photographic paper through a transparent tank of colored water (with a baby in it).

 

One year ago, I was here at Penland teaching a workshop called “Photography in Reverse,” in which the students and I worked backward through the entire history of photography, stopping at key moments to experiment, play, and think about the nature of each technology. Starting with our smartphones and handheld devices—the very definition of today’s tech—we began to ask ourselves how photography has changed at this critical moment, now that almost all our daily photographic usage is created and printed digitally. At our first step backward in time, with the earliest digital cameras, we learned something crucial: although photography is becoming purely digital, like much else in our life today, we still live in a physical world, and there are artists who will always want to make physical things.

Christopher Colville Dark Horizon 41

Christopher Colville, Dark Horizon 41, gunpowder generated gelatin silver print; unique print, 8 x 6 inches. This image was created by igniting gunpowder in the presence of photographic paper.

We had to scramble to find the right cords and batteries and software so we could use some early digital cameras from 2001, and it became evident how much harder it was to work with the obsolete technology of 5 or 15 years ago than with the processes of 150 years ago. Most of our computers now can’t run the first version of Photoshop (ca. 1990) or read early Photo CDs or Zip Drives. Even the standard color snapshot is being discontinued, since the machines required to make and develop color films are disappearing for good. The history of photography, like the history of technology in general, seems to suggest that every new system or process is an advancement on the last, making all older forms obsolete. And yet for every technique that has been pronounced dead, there seems to be an artist ready to explore its particular expressive qualities. After all, decades after the invention of mass-produced ceramics, people still want to throw beautiful pots. The artists in this exhibition are each exploring the possibilities of physical and chemical photography to pursue their own contemporary aims, very much in the here and now.

Some are finding a wealth of new beauty in the simplicity of the photographic act—a permanent mark made by the meeting of light and chemistry. Others are deeply engaged with history, in how we look backward from the present or forward to the years ahead. Still others have realized how much can be revealed in the life of a physical photographic object. Any technology that can still be used by artists, whether it’s something that can be handmade or something produced from saved and scavenged machines, is going to have an ongoing parallel history through the work of these artists, not just as a period relic but as a technology carried along into the present with new developments and new meaning for the future.

A decade from now it will likely be easier to make a daguerreotype than to use the iPhone you bought in 2016; in 100 years that will be even more true. In the meantime, there will be artists like these to involve us in the material world in which we live, and to expand the possibilities of just what a photograph is.

Dan Estabrook | Studio Artist | Penland Instructor

 

Sally Mann Untitled (Self Portraits)

Sally Mann, Untitled (Self-Portraits), 2012, unique collodion wet-plate positives on metal with sandarac varnish, 9 parts, 10 x 8 inches each (courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, NY). These self-portraits were made using the traditional tintype technique, which involves pouring a liquid emulsion onto a metal plate and then exposing it before it has completely dried.

 

Alida Fish Winter Leaves

Alida Fish, Winter Leaves, archival pigment print transferred onto oxidized aluminum, 24 x 20 inches. Alida creates patterns of oxidation on aluminum sheets and then transfers digitally-printed photographs onto the metal surface.

 

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Communicating Through Craft: A Profile of Aaron Hughes

portrait of Aaron Hughes working at the press in the letterpress studio

 

Art, activism, performance, protest—for Aaron Hughes, the lines between them are blurred and insignificant. “All my work is about creating stories and sharing stories,” he explains. “I’m trying to find space for people to bridge the divides we have in our world through art and through stories.”

As a veteran who served in Iraq and Kuwait for fifteen months in 2003-2004, Aaron is sharply aware of those divides. His deployment introduced him to a rougher and more complex world than he’d known growing up in the Midwest. “I felt like the ideas from my upbringing, my religion, my country didn’t make sense anymore,” he remembers. “But what did make sense was art. I felt like art was something I could invest in and believe in and put my energy into. It was something creative and not destructive.”

Aaron came home from his deployment determined to use art as a tool to generate conversations and connections about difficult topics like war, trauma, and oppression. In 2006 he graduated from the University of Illinois with a BFA in painting, and in 2009 he received his MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University. Then he went on to work with organizations such as the National Veterans Art Museum, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and the Center for Artistic Activism.

 

Drawing from the series 21 Days to Baghdad/Chicago

One of the pieces from “21 Days to Baghdad/Chicago,” a collection of drawings and maps Aaron made after returning to Illinois from his deployment.

 

In the summer of 2013, Aaron came to Penland for the first time with a Windgate Charitable Fund Scholarship. “I had spent so much time helping others to tell their stories and listening to other people’s stories that I had neglected any kind of personal work I needed to do,” Aaron explains. “I applied to Penland as a part of my transition back to focusing on my own art practice.”

He has returned to Penland each summer since to take classes in the printmaking and letterpress studios. “One reason I’m super invested in the printmaking program is that I’m interested in the way printmaking and politics can help to popularize language, stories, and movements,” he says. The connection is clear for Aaron: “Your ability to communicate lies in your ability to execute a craft. That’s what I’ve been gaining each time I come to Penland—the opportunity to develop my craft and to improve my communication skills.”

Aaron readily admits, however, that his time at Penland has been about more than gaining skills in the studio. “Penland is a generous space for me as a veteran,” he explains. “It’s a place of transformation and growth and learning. I’ve been encouraging other veterans to apply there because it’s such a healing, generative space.”

When he’s at Penland, Aaron describes himself as a “studio hound.” “I just want to make, make, make, make, make,” he laughs. But Aaron also values the quieter, more contemplative moments on campus. He describes the short walk back from dinner to the print studio: “There’s a little bench that’s halfway. I’ve often enjoyed sitting there, embracing the evening as it approaches and watching the Appalachian dusk. It’s so beautiful—transcendently beautiful. And I just sit in between all this creativity and embrace the present moment of being there. I feel like that’s healing. That’s wholesome for anybody.”

–Sarah Parkinson

 

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Thank You, Mary Ann!

Mary Ann 1994

Mary Ann Scherr in the Penland metals studio, 1994. Photo by Ann Hawthorne.

We are sorry to report that metalsmith, designer, educator, and Penland’s great friend Mary Ann Scherr died at her home in Raleigh, NC on March 1. Mary Ann, who famously never looked her age, was 94 years old.

She first taught at Penland in 1968 and went on to teach at the school at least 37 times. She served on the board of trustees and contributed to every benefit auction. Her broad knowledge of metalsmithing and design made it possible for her to teach students of almost any skill level or area of interest. She pioneered the use of exotic metals in adornment and received international attention for her development of decorative electronic body monitors. She was known for her work combining drawing and metals, and she had extensive experience in product design and production work. She was able to incorporate all of these interests into her teaching.

Mary Ann was trained at the Cleveland Institute of Art, The University of Akron, Kent State University, The New School, and Durham Tech Computer Center. She served as head of the product design department at Parsons School of Design, and was on the faculty of Duke University, Meredith College, and North Carolina State University. She also taught at Arrowmont and Haystack and led dozens of workshops at universities across the country.

Her work is found in many permanent collections, including The Vatican Museum of Art in Rome, The Metropolitan Museum, The Museum of Arts and Design, The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Smithsonian Institution-Medical Division, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Her work is also in a number of well-known private collections including Liz Claiborne, Helen Drutt, the Knapp Jewelry Collection, U.S. Steel Corporation, and the Alcoa Company.

In addition to her metalsmithing and jewelry design, Mary Ann worked at Ford Motor Company, designing hubcaps, hood ornaments, and instrument panels; she and her late husband, Sam, ran an industrial design firm that produced designs for Tappan, Hoover, and Rubbermaid; she made illustrations for children’s books; and a cookie jar she designed found its way into Andy Warhol’s private collection and then onto the front page of the New York Times when it sold for $19,000 at Sotheby’s.

Mary Ann Scherr at Penland

Mary Ann and her friend Charlotte Wainwright at Penland’s 2008 Annual Benefit Auction, when Mary Ann was honored as that year’s Outstanding Artist Educator. Charlotte was the founding director of the Gregg Museum of Art & Design at North Carolina State University. Photo by Robin Dreyer

Her list of awards includes an honorary doctorate from Defiance College in Ohio, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Distinguished Women of North Carolina Award, the North Carolina Governor’s Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of North American Goldsmiths, and she was a fellow of the American Craft Council. In 2008, she was honored as a Penland School of Crafts Outstanding Artist Educator.

Penland has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of Mary Ann’s knowledge and generosity. And for her, the connection was a very personal one. In an interview several years ago she said, “For more than forty years, Penland has remained positively important in my life. As the world moves, so does Penland in its own way, and it offers me an opportunity to grow with it. Each time I go back, I find new ways of thinking.”

Mary Ann was predeceased by Sam Scherr, her husband of 54 years, and is survived by a daughter, Sydney, who lives in Malaysia, two sons, Randy, and Scott, daughter-in-law, Debora, and grandson Dylan, all from Raleigh.

The family asks that memorial contributions be directed to the Gregg Museum of Art & Design (516 Brickhaven Dr Suite 200, Raleigh, NC 27606) or to Penland School (PO Box 37, Penland, NC, 28765) where The Mary Ann Scherr Metals Scholarship has been created in her honor. (You can also contribute to that fund here; just put “Mary Ann Scherr Scholarship” in the “additional gift information” field.)

You can read more about Mary Ann’s life in this article from NC State and in this oral history from the Archives of American Art.

 

Mary Ann Scherr, Neck Lace

Mary Ann’s extraordinary piece titled “Neck-Lace” was presented to the Museum of Arts and Design by a group of donors at Penland’s 2015 Annual Benefit Auction. The piece is made from 14K gold with 50 diamonds. Photo by Mercedes Jelinek

 

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Photo of the Week: TV Crew at The Barns

Seth Gould on Craftsmans Legacy

This crew, from the TV show A Craftsman’s Legacy, was at Penland last week filming in the studio of resident artist Seth Gould (in the gray and white check shirt). That’s host Eric Gorges (in the blue and black check shirt) next to Seth. The weird thing on the tripod is a camera jib. There’s a camera on one end and a counterweight and monitor on the other.

The show is available online and also airs on CreateTV. We don’t know when Seth’s episode will be available, but we’ll keep you posted.

 

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