Travelling arts exhibition features 59 Alberta artists
Photography has drastically changed since the evolution of the smart phone. Years ago people would witness something and say, ‘I wish I had a camera.’ To see and experience the world, we don’t only look at images; we take them, and often. In 2011, it was reported that Facebook’s 750 million users uploaded and shared 100 million photos every day. Everyone has a camera, and it seems as though everything is documented: breakfast sandwiches to double rainbows to cats doing funny things. Rarely do these pictures actually leave the device they were captured on, unlike bygone times when film cameras were the status quo.
So what have we lost and what have we gained by photography’s technological advancements? Is the quality of digital prints comparable to silver gelatin photographs? The first photographic paper using a gelatin emulsion was invented in 1873, 145 years ago. The works in this exhibition were taken over four decades, captured on 35-millimetre film cameras. The artists developed their images in a dark room, using the silver gelatin process. Gelatin, an animal protein, is used as an emulsion, to bind light sensitive silver salts to a paper or other support. After a brief exposure to a negative (under an enlarger), the print is immersed in chemicals to allow the image to develop, or emerge fully.
When this process is successfully achieved it produces a true black and white tone. Unlike digital prints, silver gelatin prints have a physical presence. The black and white imagery is evocative; subjects within the image are captivating, drawing the viewer into a time and space.
Photographs engage us optically, neurologically, intellectually, emotionally, viscerally and physically. The people documented in these works were captured in a moment: The two young women in Tim Van Horn’s Ruthie or the woman reading the paper in Jeannie – Silk Hat Restaurant by Randall Adams. They remind us of our own moments, to take time to reminisce, and celebrate the human spirit.
Xanthe Isbister is curator of travelling exhibitions at the Esplanade.
Tim Van Horn: RUTHIE; 1992 Silver gelatin on paper; 8 7/8 x 13 3/16 in.; Collection of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.