Photographers exhibit at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Galleries showcases creativity
The work of five local photographers fills Pittsburgh Filmmakers Galleries in the exhibit “Pigment and Silver,” and as visitors will see, their explorations in contemporary photographic processes and image making are as diverse as they come.
The subject matter is equally diverse, ranging from the allegorical to the abstract. For example, photographs by Ellen Bjerklie-Hanna of Murrysville chronicle the lives of her aging parents and tell a story filled with faded family memories.
Wanting to make photographs that had an element of the past, Bjerklie-Hanna says she saw that some of the photos she took were more about the spaces that her parents live in rather than just the objects.
“Perfume Bottles” exemplifies this. A formal study of her mother’s bureau, it includes a vintage portrait of her mother and a pillbox that offers a hint of the present.
So, too, does “My Mother’s Fancy Winter Coat.”
“I loved my mother’s coat since I was little,” Bjerklie-Hanna says. “She wore it when my parents went out for special dinners, and it was so cozy and big when she hugged me goodbye and then hello when she came back. When she gave it to me, I put it out on my bed to photograph it in the afternoon light. When looking through the viewfinder, I noticed that the shape of the light from my window made it look as though I had laid it to rest. I knew that this was something important and kept shooting.
“Although accidental, it suddenly made me realize that the driving force behind this whole project was that I am having a hard time dealing with my parents’ fragility.”
Not personal memories, but a proverb inspired the work of Brenda Roger of Fox Chapel. “Long thread, lazy girl,” a German proverb, isn’t only about sewing, even though that’s the context in which most people first encounter it. In it, Roger found an opportunity for multiple metaphors from a simple spool of thread that was too good to resist and used the spool for the basis of multiple images that are disconcerting to say the least.
“I wanted the images to make the viewer slightly uncomfortable, like the passage of time,” she says.
Roger says the images grew out of experimentation with a medium-format camera (a Mamiya RB67).
“Each frame is double exposed,” she says. “The image of the thread is made with a lens, and the image of the model is made with a pinhole body cap.”
The exposures were long exposures — perfect for capturing a sense of a “lazy girl.”
“Because I could not see the pinhole image to compose it during shooting, I relied about 10 percent on skill and 90 percent on chance,” Roger says. “For me, that’s the seduction of analogue photography. The surprise of looking at the processed film for the first time just never gets old.”
Sports fans will no doubt take a shine to the work of Cynthia Zordich of Youngstown, Ohio. By combining late ’90s Steelers sideline shots with layers of old Pittsburgh Press and Post-Gazette clippings, Zordich successfully tries to humanize the NFL player.
“I wanted to make it seem as though the more you peeled back the clippings, the more you would get inside the mindset of a player when his career comes to an end,” Zordich says.
In each piece, players are purposely not identified because Zordich wanted to create an “Oh, that’s, wait … what’s his name?” moment. “In this way, I could provoke the viewer into accepting some accountability,” she says.
“Current players are held in such high regard and former players are often forgotten. It’s a quick and tumultuous love affair,” Zordich says. “In the end, players are left stripped of their numbers and often their identities.”
Some of the more-experimental images include those by A. Jason Coleman of Greenfield.
A camera-repair technician who works at Pittsburgh Filmmakers in the equipment office, Coleman finds his points of interest mostly in light and the limits of how it can be bent and warped, but still be used to record a recognizable image photographically.
For example, in “Allie, Berkeley Springs” a little girl in a bed is surrounded by a bouncing ball that appears to move around the picture plane.
“Light is the basic material that photographers trade in, and it’s great fun to use it that way, as a workable material like clay,” Coleman says in regard to capturing the effect.
“I repair cameras as part of my living, and my experience in taking apart and reconditioning photographic equipment has given me opportunities to see how a camera and lens can be modified to permit and direct what are usually considered imperfections,” Coleman says. “I basically backwards engineer my gear, making it a little more primitive, a little less corrected, a little less likely to produce a slick and faithful image.”
Perhaps the most experimental is the work of Danielle Goshay of Robinson. That’s because Goshay doesn’t use a camera at all, but rather he creates “photograms” and “scanographs” to get wholly abstract images like “8:18” and “2:13.”
“I really enjoyed both processes because it allowed me to physically create images as if I were drawing/painting or any similar medium, and it gave me more creative freedom,” she says.
To make photograms, Goshay took black-and-white photo-enlarging paper into the darkroom, exposed it to light with a flashlight randomly, and folded up and stomped on and scratched up the surface before putting it into the developer.
“Then I saw how it turned out,” Goshay says. “I never knew exactly what I’d get. These images were fun and quite therapeutic to make.”
To make the scanographs, Goshay placed or spun objects (a pill box, finger cymbals, trinkets, anything) on a flatbed scanner while it was going off.
“It really came down to composition and how the light from the scanner moved over the objects,” she says in regard to the resultant images.
Aiming for an ethereal effect, Goshay says, “I wanted my images for the show to have a sort of subconscious/dream-like quality to them, and allow people to see whatever they wanted to see.”
Kurt Shaw is the art critic forTrib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].