Think how many images are uploaded to the cloud every day. You couldn’t count how many you see between all your devices every day. How often do you communicate through an image rather than a text or phone call?
These are all interesting ways of thinking about how we experience images today, and ones that the Missoula Art Museum staff considered when designing their new exhibition, according to John Calsbeek, associate curator.
Google the names “Imogen Cunningham” and “Lee Friedlander” if you like, but the curators would prefer you come down to see “Omnipresent: Photographs from the MAM Collection” in person, where the varied techniques and large scale are obvious and The rapid pace of digital consumption is put aside for a moment.
“An artist who makes a photographic image – the intention is completely different,” he said.
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The photos are an opportunity to take a moment to step away from the way we consume images – through backlit screens, often small ones, in feeds that encourage quick reaction and movement to the next. Consume as much as possible without digesting, and none of it will have a lasting effect and the “experience” wasn’t one at all.
The compositions and development techniques justify this and often require it.
A specific example that Calsbeek has chosen for the exhibition is a black and white gelatin silver print by John Smart, a large format photographer from Helena. “Yellowstone River Near Chico, Montana” (1987/89) is a landscape that, like a landscape, reveals its nuances. If you ignore it and move on, you’ve missed the point. Up close, the care that went into the composition is evident – two bands of water with lush ripples that feel three-dimensional due to the full range of values. Each of the hills receding into the distance gets lighter and if you don’t stop you might miss the expressive jagged silhouette of the ridgeline against a cloud bank.
Friedlander, an innovator in the art form, came to Montana to work with two others, including Lois Conner, on a project related to the American prairie bison sanctuary. Her work was included in the book The Wide Open and in an exhibition in 2008/09.
Friedlander’s Montana Prairie (2004, gelatin silver print) is an example of a photographer using the camera to create an abstract image, Calsbeek said. The frame is overhauled with intricacies of a fallen poplar. In black and white, branches reach out in all directions against a grassy hillside. However, it is not a hill. Friedlander tilted the camera.
Conner, a nationally acclaimed photographer, shoots with a 7″ x 17″ banquet camera. Her Lake Diptych photo is so wide and clear that it comes close to the panoramic feeling of standing at the water’s edge.
The MAM permanent collection dates back to 1975. The number of photographs is around 200, so the exhibition only represents a small part of the holdings. Donations can come in the form of entire collections, such as B. Lee Nye’s Eddie’s Club portraits.
A portrait of the painter Morris Graves by Cunningham features an important Pacific Northwest photographer documenting one of the region’s most important painters. It was a gift to MAM from a donor who thought it should be in their holdings.
Bigfork photographer Lauren Grabelle’s photo was donated unbeknownst to her until this show. She was recently featured in PhotoLucida’s Critical Mass Top 50, a juried competition open to photographers from around the world. She and 10 other finalists will be featured in a special issue of Fraction magazine. Her photograph, Earth, Water, Dam (Hungry Horse Series), a gelatin silver print, focuses the lens on a small promontory jutting into the water. In the upper half, the edge of the dam bends through the black water.
Andres, who is from Missoula, attended the University of Montana before moving to Portland, where she built a career as a photographer for national publications. One of her photos is from a series called “River Road,” in which she was basically shooting a movie with still images: finding or creating sets and costumes, designing a storyline, and more.
Sarah Hart’s photograph of a film set in Japan, “Kyoto, Japan 1985” (Type-C print/paper). The artist photographed from an angle so that the small cluster of miniature buildings and houses on the hillside is obvious. The edge of the background is visible, and the full size buildings of the real set are tucked into the edge of the image. Lead curator Brandon Reintjes said it was a way to acknowledge the artificiality of her subjects.
Photographer Marcy James’ Paper & Ink Studio won a Lucie Award for Printing Lab of the Year. Before settling here in Missoula, she lived in Butte where she took pictures of the town and the pit. Her painting Digging for Water, Area 4 (2006) is part of a series. It’s Cibachrome, a relatively obscure process, on gorilla board, shot almost from the ground at a fire hydrant attached to an above-ground hose leading uphill on a darkened residential street.
The color is rich, probably part of the reason it was once the gold standard, Reintjes said. The black has a depth and luster that is tactile. However, the format has been discontinued. It’s the kind of analogue that only you get to see in person.