Train of Thought: Serial Images from the Light Work Collection
Train of Thought presented the work of five photographers from the Light Work Collection, including Hollis Frampton, Arnold Gassan, Peter Max Kandhola, Judy Natal, and Aaron Siskind. Several photographs from each artist were exhibited with the intention of providing viewers, especially students, an opportunity to follow an artist through many different stages and approaches to one idea or subject and the chance to witness and consider their creative process through multiple images.
Through the generosity of Robert and Joyce Menschel, Light Work recently received a donation of 150 photographs, including fifteen silver gelatin prints by preeminent photographer and educator Aaron Siskind (1903–1991). The images by Siskind included in this exhibition are strong examples of his interest in exploring the formal and abstracted views of urban decay—peeling paint, torn signs, and bits of graffiti. Like the other artists in this exhibition Siskind’s work documented and ordered the world he encountered around him, with a unique ability to show us the profound beauty of the ordinary. Siskind viewed the photograph as a unique physical object in its own right, in contrast to many images today that exist only virtually. He stated, “When I make a photograph I want it to be an altogether new object, complete and self-contained, whose basic condition is order —(unlike the world of events and actions whose permanent condition is change and disorder).” Train of Thought included a variety of “altogether new objects,” as each of the artists included can be said to have uniquely documented and ordered their world.
Artist Judy Natal combined images made over a ten-year period while traveling the world to create her portfolio, The Hermetic Alphabet, a series of twenty-six silver gelatin prints.
Natal used the alphabet as a structure on which she could organize and connect a series of seemingly random, ambiguous images. As the work moves us through the alphabet from A to Z, Natal investigates language, landscape, and travel.
Arnold Gassan, a widely recognized authority on photographic processes as well as the history of photography, created the series Elegy in dedication to his mentor and teacher Minor White. The rich, elegant surfaces and tonal range of Gassan’s images are created using the labor-intensive, antiquated process of photogravure. His images show familiar rural scenes of clotheslines, picket fences, landscapes, and portraits of friends and family. The exquisite care he takes in printing points to his belief that, “the photograph often leaves a residue of un-verbalized meaning.”
No Birds Do Sing in Blue Sky, a collection of eighteen unique silver gelatin prints by Peter Max Kandhola, continues his exploration of death and grief, an idea he has approached with several different photographic mediums over the years. In this series the artist scratches and distresses his negatives as a visual metaphor. His purpose for manipulating the negative is described in his statement that, “images come and go, they flicker unsolved, and time builds itself around them. We invent explanations which also remain unsolved, but we also retain the meaning of episodes in our past life, a museum of images.”
ADSVMVS ABSVMVS is a portfolio of chromogenic prints by Hollis Frampton, an artist and educator who worked in both still photography and the avant-garde film movement known as “New America Cinema,” which flourished in the 1960s and 1970s. He used his camera to record and order his unique collection of plant and animal specimens found in his travels, including road kill and delicacies from an Asian grocery. Each color photograph is paired by text of the object’s Latin name, history, and mythology. Although his texts borrow the language and model of scientific classification, his version is quirky, personal, and humorous. His array of oddities and the stories of their discovery relay an artist’s creative process of trolling his neighborhood for inspiration.
Photographers and artists often seek an underlying structure or pattern in the world around them. As hundreds of students walked through this exhibition, some carrying cameras and a photo assignment, they were able to see how five different artists went fishing for inspiration and made, as Siskind said, “order out of chaos.”
Mary Lee Hodgens
Just as paths are worn over time to connect locations, so the outlines of our lives are exposed by accumulated events, from the genetic patterns we inherit to our position in family photographs. Before we realize it our experiences have repeated over time to chart a signature constellation.
Attention to detail is the starting point of Marion Faller's wide range of projects that evolve into inventories of living traditions. In this retrospective of her work titled Detail - Repetition - Variation, seven selections from her major projects of the last decade are presented.
In her Time Capsule series Marion Faller has followed two years in the life of her son Will by photographing the objects she cleaned out of his pockets on laundry day. Beginning in 1979 when Will was 12 Faller recorded 110 days of candy wrappers, pennies, pocket knives, and an assortment of other miniature prizes.
Each was day is represented by a still life that has been, printed 4 x 6in to life-size and matted in a sequence of 5 across. The arrangements challenge our notions of still life in their lively expression of physical and intellectual activity.
The warm realistic color of the photographs brings us even closer to the personal nature of the project, which is about mother and son. The cherished details of Will’s daily travels contribute also to the broader tale of adolescent growing pain we're plastic insects and pipe cleaners give way to cash receipts, a comb and occasionally detention slip.
Flora (1977 to 1979), the earliest series in the exhibition explores women of different ages who are decorated with the names of flowers. Fowler uses late 19th century photographs of anonymous women and frames them with silhouettes of their namesake flowers, ribbons, and other notions. Though they share the same format and generally central position, each portrait undergoes a unique process from straight black and white print to cyanotype and some collages as well.
Local Conventions (1979 to 1983) is a wonderful contribution to backyard cultural history where Faller combines straight documentary with the repetition of a theme to make wry commentary on the accepted arrangement of outdoor property. Each set of four postcard-size photographs plots what Faller described as, “The everyday aesthetic decision that people make - decisions that are usually personal and traditional at the same time.” The seasons are an important aspect of this selection taken from a larger series of over 200 photographs. The homemade goblins on porches in October and the flower boxes full of Petunias in July were photographed at rural Central New York crossroads and record preparations for the welcome change of weather.
Nativity is an ongoing survey started in 1982 as another “theme and variations” collection. Fowler exposes our pagan instincts for filling spiritual voids with pageantry in our generic depictions of the holy family. While she was involved with this series Fowler made connections with Kate Koperski, a folk art consultant also living in Buffalo, NY.
Swienconka and the Altars are a result of this logic alliance. The swienconka, or Easter baskets, were photographed at the St. John Kanty R. C. Church in Buffalo on Holy Saturday. Each 16 x 20 inch color photograph is taken at an angle where the owner tips her or his basket towards the camera for us to admire. In the catalog of their joint exhibit, “The Iconography of Rebirth: Aspects of the Polish American Easter Celebration,” Koperski explains that these personal variations on the tradition of blessing and sharing special food in Spring fuel the survival of the ritual and our desire to contemplate it.
Neither - Nor: A Primer is the newest portfolio of prints that celebrate compound words “whose meaning is given in neither the former nor the latter.” The simple graphic illustrations of paired words like footnote, green horn and dreamboat have been generated on an Amiga 1000 computer. The prints are set up like pages from a book and combine elements of printmaking with media production in an easy-reader Style. This series is a whimsical departure from her straightforward documents of social customs but refers to a legacy of manuscript illumination.
The variety of projects represented in this exhibition demonstrate the artist flexibility and charting the course of human nature. From the personal and public standpoint Faller applies her skillful observation, a creative willingness to collaborate with her subject, and free spirit to experiment with process. Faller's consistent attention to detail provides the direction to coexist with past and future.
Marian Fowler lives in Buffalo, NY and teaches at the State University of New York at Buffalo.