Arts Feature

McMaster Gallery Kicks Off Season with Alternative Method Photography

By Shani Gilchrist
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Anne Berry, Elephants Playing photogravure

This week brings more than just the end of anticipation for the start of the Gamecock football season in Columbia. Thursday also marks the opening of McMaster Gallery’s first exhibition of the 2014-15 season, PATHWAYS: Photography Invitational. The exhibition, which runs through Oct. 2, features the work of artists who explore the world through historic or alternative photographic methods.

The gallery didn’t plan to compete with the opening of football season; rather, it scheduled the show before the University of South Carolina football schedule had been announced, as galleries and museums often book shows months if not years in advance.

“Every year I try to do an invitational in a rotation of mediums,” says Mana Hewitt, director of USC’s McMaster Gallery. “Many students are assigned to write about it — but there’s quite a bit of interest from the public, as well.”

The works featured in PATHWAYS are hung in the small, sparse gallery in the heart of the School of Visual Art and Design’s Senate Street building. They are unique in that they were all created using processes that are considered rare in 2014.

“At this point,” says Hewitt, “any [photographic method] that is not digital is considered an alternative process.”

Even gelatin silver — the process used by Carolyn DeMeritt to create striking contrasts in darkness and light, organic and inorganic — is beginning to be considered a bygone means of processing photographs. In the gelatin silver process, gelatin — an animal protein — is used with suspended silver salts or fibers on a background support like glass, plastic or resin-coated paper to create the depth and contrasts that are commonly recognizable in black-and-white photography dating from present times all the way back to the 1890s.

It’s a process that can be used with a digitally produced image, but it is becoming rare.

Throughout the exhibition are modern examples of this process and others. Among them are tintype, in which a direct positive image is placed on a thin, tin plate; palladium, in which a monochrome print is made using the salt byproduct of non-iron palladium; and photogravure, in which a specially treated carbon tissue is exposed under a transparency and then pressed into a resin-dusted metal printing plate.

The result is a rich viewer experience — a nostalgic appreciation for the imperfections of images untouched by the godlike hand of Photoshop.

Exhibiting artists include Frank Hamrick, Diana Bloomfield, Anne Berry, Kevin Bruce Parent, Aspen Hochhalter, Laurie Schorr, Carolyn DeMeritt, S. Gayle Stevens, Emma Powell and Keith Carter. All but one of the photographers lives or works in the Southeast.

The dark walls and scarcity in the gallery combined with the focused shine of track lighting creates an environment where a viewer can easily concentrate on each individual photograph. There’s no need to overexert the brain’s ability to focus on one item at a time while studying the claustrophobia-stricken Marine helicopter in Kevin Bruce Parent’s pinhole photograph entitled PTSD. Unhurried observation will bring wonderment at the life-infusing luminosity of S. Gayle Stevens’ Allegory series of images of plant and animal specimens that the artist collected on nature walks.

Many of the photos have a surrealist quality, and they are seemingly grouped according to how surrealist they are. The groupings can be confusing, however, because it means that one photographer’s pieces can be found all together while another’s work is scattered throughout the room.

If seeing the Gamecocks play the Texas A&M Aggies isn’t your thing, Thursday afternoon will be a perfect time to take in this interesting collection of work. Parking should be abundant, for once, and a comfortable stroll to the PATHWAYS opening reception should be enlightening and hassle-free. 

McMaster Gallery is located inside the USC School of Visual Art and Design at 1615 Senate St. The opening reception is Thursday, Aug. 28, from 5 to 7 p.m. Regular gallery hours are Mon-Fri from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free.

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