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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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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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Photo(s) of the Week: Community Open House 2016

The following blog post is a photo slideshow. We recommend viewing it in an Internet browser.

Learning to blow glass is one of the most popular open house activities.
This blob of hot glass became a juice glass after a few minutes' work.
In the letterpress studio, visitors printed masks on the Vandercook press.
Cutting out eye holes in a freshly-printed mask
If you see one of these creatures around, it's probably been to the letterpress studio!
In the clay studio, visitors learned to throw on the pottery wheel.
All sorts of fun clay creatures being made at the handbuilding tables.
Getting clay pointers from one of our great volunteers
Making a clay mask while wearing a letterpress mask
In the iron studio, everyone got to try their hand at forging a J hook.
These two are adding a decorative twist to finish off the hook.
Visitors to the Ridgeway building decorated paste papers.
Sometimes, fingers are the best brushes!
Hands-on fun!
Who wouldn't want to join in on some whistle mania?
Visitors to the wood studio made their own train whistles.
The whistle process involved some precise sawing and drilling.
These two young visitors made a whistle—and it works!
In the flameworking studio, visitors made glass beads.
Here's a mother-daughter flameworking duo.
Each bead is formed by melting colored glass onto a metal rod.
The photo studio was all about crazy portraits.
This visitor is getting her photo taken as a tiger.
Edwina poses with her gold-sequined portrait.
Resident artist Jaydan Moore demonstrated his printmaking process to visitors.
In the metals studio, visitors learned pewter casting.
After the pewter is melted, it's poured into this two-part mold.
Unmolding the pewter revealed a tiny hammer and anvil!
Visitors to textiles learned to weave at the looms.
Everyone went home with a rag-rug coaster they wove themselves.
Visitors to the school store got to embellish Penland postcards
Thanks to the 700+ people who came out to visit us for the Community Open House!
And a big thanks to all our volunteers and staff!

 

This year’s Penland Community Open House was another big success! Over 700 people from the Penland community came up to try their hand at a new craft. Artists young and old alike were busy forging in the iron studio, flameworking beads in the glass shop, making colorful portraits in the photo studio, creating wooden whistles, and lots more. We’re grateful to all volunteers for helping us to share this fun day with our community, and to all the visitors who join us with such enthusiasm.

 

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The Altered Image: Mixed-Media with Photography

Nick DeFord, “Cibola,” Hand-embroidery, Highlighter, White-out and adhesive stickers on found map
Nick DeFord, “Cibola,” hand embroidery, highlighter, Wite-Out, and adhesive stickers on found map

 

“The type of work I make is not the kind of thing I can speed up. It goes at the pace it goes,” says artist Nick DeFord. “It’s stitching. I can only do so many stitches.”

It’s easy to imagine stitching and to think of detailed quilts or elaborately-embroidered handkerchiefs. But to imagine those items is not to imagine the work that Nick makes. Nick stitches not to attach two surfaces or enhance them with detail, but to add meaning, distort meaning, change meaning.

“My work explores the visual culture of cartography, occult imagery, geographical souvenirs, and other structures of information that are altered to examine the relationship of identity, space, and place,” Nick explains. He often chooses a found object as a starting point—an old photograph, a map, or a page from a book. From there, he adds layers with paint, stickers, paper, yarn, or thread, adding dimensions to it or changing its context. “Embellishing the truth” is how Nick describes the process.

 

Nick DeFord, "Invasion," hand embroidery on paper, four panels, 13" x 13" each
Nick DeFord, “Invasion,” hand embroidery on paper, four panels, 13″ x 13″ each

 

This spring, Nick will bring his unique approach to the Penland studios for a 1-week workshop called The Altered Image: Mixed-Media with Photography. The class, which will run April 24-30, 2016, will focus on physically altering photographs through collage, drawing, painting, and embroidery. Each student will transform photographs into pieces of layered art—but whether those layers are supernatural, whimsical, spooky, romantic, contradictory, or something else all together will be entirely up to them. The image is just a starting point.

“If you like spirit photography and stitching, then this workshop is for you,” Nick states. Register for The Altered Image now.

 

Nick DeFord, "Lost" (detail), hand embroidery on found map, 19" x 27.5"
Nick DeFord, “Lost” (detail), hand embroidery on found map, 19″ x 27.5″

The Altered Image: Mixed-Media with Photography

Nick DeFord—Photographs are perceived to be artifacts of truth—but truth can easily be distorted, embellished, and exaggerated. This class will use embroidery, collage, and drawing/painting techniques to physically manipulate photographs as a metaphor for the psychological dissection of truth, memory, and time. We will work on photos brought from home and found photos (both from the physical world, but also the cyber world). While students are welcome to shoot and print digital photos during the workshop, we will not be using the darkroom, and the emphasis of the class will be on manipulation and embellishment after the photo has been printed. All levels. Code S03P

Studio artist and Program Director at Arrowmont (TN); teaching: University of Tennessee, Arizona State University; exhibitions: William King Museum (VA), Vanderbilt University (TN), University of Mississippi, Coastal Carolina University; collections; City of Phoenix (AZ).

nickdeford.com

 

Nick DeFord, "Give the Devil," hand embroidery and Scotch tape on book page, 7" x 7"
Nick DeFord, “Give the Devil,” hand embroidery and Scotch tape on book page, 7″ x 7″

 

 

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Black-and-White Photorama with Robin Dreyer

Robin Dreyer, "Wave Runner," silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 inches.
Robin Dreyer, “Wave Runner,” silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 inches.

 

Photography is alive and well at Penland—all kinds of photography. Photography dates back to 1839 and, in the years since then, it has undergone repeated technical evolution, beginning with daguerreotypes and early paper processes and ending up with today’s digital technologies. Along the way, many fascinating and beautiful methods of image-making have come and not quite gone. Not quite, because artists and craftspeople are in the habit of taking an out-of-date technology (like the potter’s wheel or the letterpress) and adopting it for purely creative purposes.

This is exactly what’s happened in photography, and Penland’s photo workshops cover almost every kind of photography that has ever been practiced: salt printing, cyanotype, platinum, color processes, digital processes, and, of course, gelatin silver photography. What is gelatin silver, you might ask? That’s the technical name for black-and-white darkroom photography, which dominated both art and commercial photography during much of the twentieth century. It’s the kind of photography people used to do in their basements using their dad’s camera. It’s the kind of photography that used to be part of high school and college art programs. The profession of photojournalism and the photography collection of the Museum of Modern Art were built on gelatin silver photography.

If you’ve always wanted to explore the potential of these materials or you are nostalgic for that little darkroom you used to have in your bathroom, or if you are a photographer interested in trying out some different ways of working, we have a one-week workshop this spring that may just be for you: Black-and-White Photorama with Robin Dreyer March 27 – April 2.

 

black and white image of oak tree hung with prayer flags
Robin Dreyer, “Prayer Flags,” silver gelatin print, 10 x 10 inches.

 

Robin has been Penland’s communications manager for twenty years, and for much of that time he’s been the school’s main photographer. Although today he makes pictures for the school using digital cameras and a computer, he shot a lot of Penland’s earlier promotional photographs on black-and-white film and printed them in his darkroom. Black and white was his first photographic love, and he’s never lost that interest. His silver gelatin photographs have been shown in galleries in Asheville, Durham, Greensboro, Raleigh, Atlanta, and New York City. One of his prints won Best in Show at The Art of the Auction, a juried show/auction at the North Carolina Museum of Art. He’s taught two previous Penland workshops and is looking forward to sharing his enthusiasm for this still-great method of making pictures.

“It’s kind of cliché,” Robin says, “but darkroom photography can be magical. You imagine something as you take the picture, you have some meditative time processing the film, and somehow these strange, translucent, negative images appear on your film. Then you take that film into this room, dimly lit in orange, that has cool optical devices and trays full of liquids, and, after a little fussing, you stand and watch a picture emerge on an apparently blank piece of paper. Often it’s not quite what you were imagining when you pressed the shutter; sometimes it’s much better.”

 

black and white image of chickens in a tree
Robin Dreyer, “Dawn Patrol,” silver gelatin print.

 

“My idea for this class,” he continued, “is to streamline the technical parts as much as possible so we can focus on the excitement of creating gelatin silver pictures. We’ll make our own pinhole cameras from tin cans to get grounded in the basics of the process. We’ll use them to make paper negatives and positives. Then we’ll expose film negatives using large-format cameras and plastic cameras. Large-format cameras can be intimidating, but they aren’t that hard to use, and the results can be amazing. Plastic cameras are quite easy to use; they give you very little control, and the results tend to be surprising and sometimes great. So we’ll get negatives a few different ways.

“With those negatives, we’ll make beautiful prints using Penland’s excellent enlargers. At the end of the week, everyone will have a little portfolio of new images—maybe wonderful, maybe weird—along with a deeper understanding of photography, black and white materials, and the mysteries of light and time.”

More information about Black-and-White Photorama with Robin Dreyer (March 27 – April 2)

Register for Black-and-White Photorama

 

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Photo(s) of the Week: So Much Winter!

The following blog post is a photo slideshow. We recommend viewing it in an Internet browser.

Same old knoll, different outfit. Photo by missmarimos
Snowy studios, snowy paths. Photo by lilliputianb
In the middle of two straight days of snow. Photo by missmarimos
Meanwhile, at the residents artists' studios... Photo by mjelinek2
All suited up. Photo by apronon
Making good use of the snow and the slopes. Photo by powerandlightpress
Resident artist Seth Gould and iron coordinator Daniel Beck post race sledding. Photo by margret_mae
Snowy porch sit. Photo by nickeshep
Wood studio adventurers. Photo by ellieinthewoods
Photo by madeline.manson
Hollow spheres with snow hats outside the glass studio. Photo by ohcriminy
The dye shed has seen this all before. Photo by apronon
A brief moment of sun as the storm cleared. Photo by kimmirus
Some pretty wild icicles outside the letterpress studio. Photo by margret_mae
And some giant icicles setting up shop on the iron studio. Photo by christinaboydesign
Evidence of some serious sledding.
Monday morning—the calm after the storm.

 

This weekend’s snowstorm brought out a softer, quieter, colder beauty here at Penland, not to mention ample opportunities for sledding on the knoll! Here’s to Penland winter at its finest.

Thanks to all the winter residents who kept their eyes open and their cameras handy to get these great shots.

 

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Core Show Slideshow

Left to right: Tyler Stoll, Meghan Martin, Joshua Kovarik, Elmar Fujita, Daniel Garver, Jamie Karolich, Bryan Parnham, Emily Rogstad, Morgan Hill
Left to right: Tyler Stoll, Meghan Martin, Joshua Kovarik, Elmar Fujita, Daniel Garver, Jamie Karolich, Bryan Parnham, Emily Rogstad, Morgan Hill

 

The annual October Core Show is a much-anticipated highlight of fall at Penland, and this year was no exception. Our nine core fellows came together to put on a stunning show of pieces from their workshops across the Penland studios. Titled Personal Effects, the show featured furniture, prints, photographs, weaving, ceramics, sculpture, jewelry, and much more. It was a great opportunity to see the cumulative talent of this group of young artists, and also to show our appreciation for these people who do so much at the very heart of the Penland community.

View lots more images in the Personal Effects slideshow.

 

coreshow2
Guests admiring work at the opening reception. The table in the front is by Elmar Fujita.