Secret photographs on display at Pittsburgh’s SPACE gallery
Photographers took the pictures but had to wait to see them.
The 1,921 photographs on display at SPACE gallery in Pittsburgh’s Downtown had never been seen—even by the photographers who captured the images – until the opening of the exhibit, which runs through Sunday.
Pittsburgh-based curator/graphic designer Brett Yasko asked 87 local artists to each shoot a roll of 35mm film and return it back to him, undeveloped. He then printed and arranged the pictures into an exhibition at the gallery.
Yasko, who is known for interesting ideas, chose to ask the participants to “document a secret” for this show.
Ross Mantle, from Millvale, said he didn’t think twice about being part of this project.
“Brett has a good track record of executing an idea in an interesting way,” Mantle said. “I trust him.”
He said went out at night in Millvale with a strobe light and took photos. Not being able to see the finished product took away some control a photographer usually has, Mantle said, but he was comfortable with that because he was working with Yasko.
There was no hesitation from Jamie Gruzska, a photographer from Edgewood. He said it was a great concept.
“I was floored by this show,” Gruzska said. “It is one of the best photo shows I have seen in a long time. Brett worked the photos so beautifully into the room at SPACE.”
Gruzska said one of the amazing things about photography and using film versus taking a digital image is the intrigue of not knowing what the photograph will look like until it’s developed. That is a secret in itself.
Sometimes people associate a secret with something ugly or shameful, Gruzska said, but a photograph can make things that are ugly or shameful, beautiful. He took photos of pictures he had stored in boxes.
He added that as he looked through photos from the boxes, the images took him to a different time. Pictures help people travel to other places, he said.
One of the series of photos is from the late Pittsburgh artist John Riegert. Riegert was the subject of a prior exhibit of Yasko’s in which Riegert was in 252 portraits which featured multiple mediums including painting, photography, digital media, sculpture, video and sound.
Riegert, who had struggled with mental illness and took his own life in November, left a roll of undeveloped film on a table in his residence which Yasko found and included the photos in the show. The photos were of his daughter.
“I’m not even sure if what he had on that roll was for the project specifically,” Yasko said. “And with him being gone, there’s really no way of knowing for sure. He was one of the artists I invited. He seemed excited about it.”
The fact this project created a community of artists was one reason Christopher Ruane of Murrysville decided to participate. Ruane chose to document a motorcycle crash where a man died. The man was the brother of the husband of a woman Ruane knows. The area where the man was killed is part of the secret Ruane shot.
Kim Beck of Regent Square said this assignment allowed her to work in a medium she hadn’t used in a while.
“I loved the secrecy of what you would see once it was developed,” Beck said. “I had no idea what to do so it took a while to figure it out. I really love how Brett designed the space. He highlights all artists. He is so inclusive.”
Kristen Letts Kovak of Regent Square said Yasko asked the photographers to let go of their control. She chose to use a cheap disposable camera as did several other photographers. That meant that she couldn’t adjust the settings, fix the image in Photoshop, control the quality and scale of the print, or even choose what images would ultimately appear in the exhibition. She said she didn’t want to reveal details of her photos.
“It’s a secret,” she said.
“In the spirit of the project, I decided to never look through the camera lens, either,” she said. “Seeing the images collectively on display, revealed a lot about how each artist approached the work. For some, the series revealed a sequential narrative whereas for others, the images were technical deviations from each other in the search for a singular completed image.”
Yasko said as he looked through the photos themes came to mind so he arranged them in sections such as nature, neighborhoods, collections, death and abstract. The instructions did not include to shoot vertical or horizontal, what film to use or what sort of camera to use. The photos are for sale. All are 4 x 6 prints.
“I was interested to see how the artists would react,” he said. “I was just the organizer. It was interesting to see their processes. I want people to see this exhibit in its entirety.”
Murray Horne, curator of visual arts for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust said the intrigue of such an undertaking is “the mystery of the unknown. “
“They didn’t know what the net result would be, but they all had confidence in Brett,” Horne said. “This was different than any show we have done. It’s like a series of pages in book.”
Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .