Light show: Solo exhibit serves as 'Spectator' to effects of exposure
It's hard to think of photographs as objects. But they are, especially photographs in the traditional sense, such as those printed as gelatin silver prints.
That's the tried-and-true method of printing photographic imagery on paper coated with light-sensitive photo emulsion. Most of the photos of the 20th century, from those that hang in museums to the ones stuffed in shoeboxes in people's homes, take this form.
Photographs as objects is the concept behind April Friges' latest solo showing, “Spectator (Selected Works 2012-2014),” at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Galleries in Oakland.
Friges' work explores the intersection between image and object, the blending of photography and sculpture.
Originally from Cleveland, Friges received her bachelor's degree from the University of Akron and her master's from the University of California, Irvine. She is an assistant professor of photography at Point Park University.
The works in this exhibit are built upon the fundamental properties of light, the most prevalent element with which we interact and are defined by, embracing the phenomena of reciprocity, reflection, refraction, inversion and absorption into the medium.
The shapes in each photograph are gradated tones of black and white, made from small pieces of photo paper Friges tore by hand. When laid upon unexposed photo paper and exposed to light, they become inversed onto the light-sensitive paper, creating the “image” seen in each. Because each torn piece rarely lays flat, the edges create a soft, graduated tone from the exposure.
This basic form of creating an image is called a photogram. In this way, Friges says, “I step back to traditional photography — more specifically, the photogram, because of its one-of-a-kindness.
“This is just purely exposed paper,” Friges says, pointing to “Spectator 0912,” which is a massive piece split into two sections.
It's one of the few entirely flat pieces in the show. From there, the pieces take on a more sculptural quality.
Several pedestal-based pieces — “Spectator 1512,” “Spectator 1513” and “Spectator 1514” — are freestanding, thanks to a polymer gypsum Friges applies to the back of each piece of photographic paper.
In this way, the sculptural qualities are emphasized so that the visitor can experience the piece “in the round,” so to speak.
“I'm playing between these mediums, thinking about photography, thinking about sculpture. Basically pushing both mediums,” she says.
Several of the largest pieces, such as “Spectator 0414” and “Spectator 1012,” are, in Friges' opinion, just as sculptural. “I sculpt these in the gallery, on the wall,” she says.
“I utilize the gallery lighting to create additional forms on the reflective surface of the photographic paper,” Friges says.
The pockets of highlights and shadows that result add to or contradict the shapes of the image already created, which depends on how the paper is sculpted.
When the artwork is taken down from the gallery walls at the end of the exhibit, it will be re-flattened. Subsequently, the sculptured image created will have a new form every time it is shown.
Friges says the title of the exhibit, as well as the pieces, which all begin with the word “Spectator,” is not just about viewing the work.
“It's about looking at the genre of photography as a whole, what a photograph is today, and how we are going into this digital realm photographing, in some cases, hundreds of images a day,” she says. “They're on our phones, in our computers, etc. And in turn, they are becoming more meaningless. We're not printing them anymore; we're not putting them in frames.
Friges also contends our perception of photography is changing in terms of processing film. So, these images are going backward, dealing with pure light on photographic paper.
To that end, none of the works is created using a camera; however, they utilize a historical mode of photographic production — traditionally made with light in a darkroom.
In this way, Friges says they question the two-dimensionality of photography and the constrained square frame that we have come to define as the medium.
“There is a gray area created between photography and sculpture that is left to the viewer to determine where the work belongs,” she says.
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.