An exhibition of contemporary photographs using 19th-century photographic techniques and processes – daguerreotypes, photogenic drawings, calotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, and camera obscuras – is currently on view at Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York. 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.
“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.”
A New and Mysterious Art
September 15 – October 29, 2016
At Howard Greenberg Gallery