Arranged on white walls at the Heckscher Museum of Art, photographs that look like paintings and etchings and drawings live next to frames displaying splashes of light and objects abstract and concrete. The exhibition is one of experimental photography – an art form within the photography field that is represented by the sect of photographers who practice “non-traditional” methods.
The Heckscher opened its “Modern Alchemy: Experiments in Photography” exhibition on Dec. 6. The two-gallery show begins with 20th-century works and travels up to present-day digital work, with the most recent works on display being images captured on the iPhone, Curator Lisa Chalif said.
“It really traces from the traditional darkroom all the way up through the digital,” she said.
Works that will likely be “more unusual for more of our visitors,” she said, can be found in the second gallery, which is focused on contemporary photographers.
A vertically-displayed roll of photographic paper stands as one room’s centerpiece. The creation of artist Mariah Robertson, the paper has been intentionally splattered with developer and fixer and then put through various processes that produce color and line. On the far wall are Klea McKenna’s 57 deconstructed paper airplanes, each made of a chromogenic photograph that was exposed to the California sky in airplane form over a 12-hour period.
According to Chalif, there is “a lot of attention being paid” to experimental photography – a bout of attention that, Chalif said, she thinks is the result of both the influence of digital technology on the field of photography and the societal bombardment of images.
“I just think the number of images that we see on a daily basis everywhere – you know, on our computers, on social media – I just think that the explosion of images that we see daily, all the time, has sort of caused a reappraisal of… ‘what is photography,’” Chalif said.
Experimental photography, as Chalif described, is “not created according to the traditional processes or the traditional use of the photographic materials.”
“That may – may, but I don’t think necessarily does – involve an element of chance,” she said. “That is, you may not know what your end result will be.”
In putting the exhibition together, Chalif spoke with many artists. One of those artists, she confirmed, was Huntington resident Andreas Rentsch.
“Andreas and I had many discussions about experimental photography because he knows a great deal about it and he creates works in the field,” Chalif said. “He did share his knowledge with me, which was great.”
Rentsch has two works in the exhibition – a Polaroid from his “Entangled with Justice” series and a video, “The Wanderer.”
As curatorial assistant Kerrilyn Weiss mentioned, many artists in the field of photography today are using the same techniques as such artists as Man Ray, whose work also appears in the exhibition.
“People are used to traditional photography and images of recorded…observed nature, observed life… things that could be directly seen,” said Weiss said. “And this is something completely different.”
The works in the show represent “the opposite of traditional photography,” Weiss said, noting that many of the pieces were created without the use of cameras.
The exhibition will remain open until March 15, 2015. The museum is located inside Heckscher Park at the corner of Main Street and Prime Avenue in Huntington.