In today’s world of smartphones, Instagram and Snapchat, taking a photo is literally as easy as the tap of a finger. And with that ease comes a litany of images that range from pretty darn good to whatever you’d call those weird selfies with woodland creature filters.
A new exhibition at GreenHill gallery explores a less throwaway side of photography. “Analog,” which runs through Nov. 4, features photos taken or processed through traditional means.
“When you’re making a photo that’s rooted in analog processes — it’s developed in a dark room or captured on actual film — there’s more of a sense that the image you’re taking is precious,” says Elizabeth Harry, who curated the exhibition. “If you have a roll of film, you know you only have a few photos you can capture. Just the nature of what it’s going to take to take a photo with film — it requires more of a careful selection process. It involves a similarly heightened consideration that most people with cameras today aren’t necessarily thinking about.”
The exhibition includes the work of eight North Carolina artists: Signe Ballew, Diana H. Bloomfield, Courtney Johnson, Michael Keaveney, Holden Richards, Dale Rio, Elin O’Hara Slavick and Joshua White. Their approaches and techniques vary widely, from lugging around clunky over-sized antique cameras to manipulating digitally-shot images with traditional processing techniques.
Wilmington-based artist Courtney Johnson takes photos with a digital camera, but then uses natural saltwater (along with paper, gelatin and silver nitrate) to create hazy, dreamy images of bodies of water.
“Salted paper prints are very complicated in technique, but very simple in chemistry,” she says. “For this series, I wanted to use a variety of natural saltwater sources with varying salinity which would alter the tones I could achieve.”
Johnson used water from her own surroundings — the Atlantic Ocean and the brackish Cape Fear River estuary — as well as the Great Salt Lake, Badwater Basin and the Gulf of Mexico to create her prints.
“I used natural saltwater from different sources for the series initially to achieve a varied tonal range depending upon the salinity of the water collected,” she says. “Additionally, using the salt water pictured in the photographs allows the viewer to imagine the process in a visceral way.”
That water helped her explore unexpected themes in the work, as well.
“As the project developed, the series also incorporated ideas of climate change and pollution,” she says. “Several areas were hit by hurricanes shortly before or after water collection, and while making this project the toxic chemical Gen X was discovered in the Cape Fear River, which supplies my drinking water.
Using the different natural water highlights some of the problems society is currently facing.”
Johnson is among several of the artists who intermingle modern techniques with traditional, non-digital photography and processing to capture and create images more complex than the typical photograph.
Harry says this marriage of the present and past is one of the reasons this exhibition is so compelling.
“It’s interesting how we’ve got these different intersections of technology and antique photo processing,” she says. “Photographers are mixing them up and using them in really cool ways.”