The exhibition, “A New and Mysterious Art”: Ancient Photographic Methods in Contemporary Art presents recent work by Takashi Arai, Stephen Berkman, Dan Estabrook, Adam Fuss, Luther Gerlach, Vera Lutter, Sally Mann, Matthias Olmeta, France Scully Osterman & Mark Osterman, and Craig Tuffin. Many of these works have never been exhibited before. The show is curated by photographer Jerry Spagnoli, a leader in the revitalization of the daguerreotype process.
The pre-industrial period from 1839 (when photography was invented) through the 1860s was a seminal time, when the pioneers of the medium used experimental, hand-fabricated methods to capture light. The resulting images had an immediacy and unpredictability that drew attention to the illusory nature of the nascent endeavor. The title of the exhibition at Howard Greenberg Gallery is drawn from an 1857 essay about the relationship between art and photography by Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, a British author, art critic and art historian. She wrote, “It is now more than fifteen years ago that specimens of a new and mysterious art were first exhibited to our wondering gaze.”
Industrialization homogenized the photographic documentation of the visual world, making the results more predictable. In reaction, the artists in “A New and Mysterious Art”: Ancient Photographic Methods in Contemporary Art acknowledge and embrace the primitive forms of photography. Utilizing these early methods – and equipment – today allows for a newly personalized expression and a direct engagement with the medium. Among the works on view will be daguerreotypes by Takashi Arai; albumen prints from wet-plate collodion negatives by Stephen Berkman; salt prints from calotype negatives by Dan Estabrook; daguerreotypes by Adam Fuss; relievo ambrotypes by Luther Gerlach; work made using a room-sized camera obscura by Vera Lutter; wet-plate still lifes, portraits and figure studies by Sally Mann; ambrotypes by Matthias Olmeta; pigment prints from photogenic drawings by France Scully Osterman & Mark Osterman; and daguerreotypes and wet-plate collodion ambrotypes by Craig Tuffin.
“There is an immediacy to images made using antique processes, and an urgency that occupies photographers as they prepare and work with difficult and temperamental methods,” says Jerry Spagnoli. “It is this energy which gives these images their power.”