One of the cruelest of ironies in arts and technology is that the company that developed the core technology for digital photography ended up being the biggest victim of its success. Steven Sasson of Eastman Kodak invented the first prototype digital camera in the mid-1970s, yet his company watched as others perfected the technology and adapted it to new uses. And Kodak subsequently watched as the root of their own original business—chemical emulsions—suffered, withered, and died as digital cameras in consumer devices replaced film. [As a sidebar, it is worth mentioning, though, that Eastman Kodak still produces incredibly excellent films for the motion picture industry that rival the resolution of the digital process.]
Despite the sad end for that friendly yellow box, digital photography has had a profound effect on art and business, with its touch reaching into every corner of society. As personal computer technologies advanced in speed and capacity, image manipulation became relatively commonplace allowing the photographer to assume the role of image designer and darkroom artist as well. In the Arts & Culture Alliance National Juried Exhibition of 2015 that opened last week (February 6) on the Balcony Gallery of downtown’s Emporium Center, one can see just how digital photography has affected—often unconsciously—traditional mediums as well as photography.
Although the 48 piece show has a definite tilt toward photographic entries, it was a painter that took the “Best of Show.” Catherine Haverkamp’s My Echo is an engaging portrait (oil on Masonite) that possesses a somewhat photorealistic quality of details and blended tone, yet with crisply rendered lines and patterns of light that draws one into the subject’s face.
Another painter, Roy McCullough, gave his oil on canvas Milltown Sideshow a geometric composition and use of light that street photographers strive for; Norm Plate’s photograph Colorful Hudson blurs the line between imagination and realism. Cheryl L. Tarrant’s The Cry of November blurred those lines even more with photography submerged in heavily computer manipulated textures.
One of the traps of computer-aided digital photography is that certain techniques—once difficult, impossible, or incredibly time-consuming—can now be accomplished in seconds with a click or two. Undisguised use of common Photoshop filters or High Dynamic Range processes have become today’s equivalent of paint-by-numbers kits of the past. On the other hand, skillful use of these tools in the hands of imaginative artists have changed the genre and yielded some fresh, exciting images. I was particularly impressed by Chris Rohwer’s Buffalo Clover, a work that uses simple bold lines in a saturated and elongated landscape to make his point.
Two photographic entries in the competition eschewed obvious manipulation, instead relying on composition and juxtaposition. Shawn Poynter’s Nuclear Plant and Kingsport, TN both explore the conflict between the harsh geometry of industrial facilities and a natural environment. Daniel Taylor’s black and white Bench is a classic shape defined by light, one that is satisfyingly evocative of a time and place.
Some artists in the competition, though, seemed to have an immunity to the arguable ravages of digital derivations. Susan B. Miller’s watercolor Lengthy Perspective was a gentle, somewhat abstract exploration of a water reflection. Toronto Twin Beds, an oil on panel by Danielle Winger, was delicious abstraction driven by color. Jennifer Brickey’s 2nd Place entry, Ripe, (pen, ink, acrylic, on paper) was an energetic journey, as well as a visually entertaining destination.
The exhibition continues this month through February 28.
Artists represented in this exhibition: Ann Harwell, Catherine Haverkamp, Brandon Douglas, Art Brown, T.P. Dunn, Melinda Adams, Nicholas Bell, Jennifer Brickey, Bill Cook, Jr., Raluca Iancu, Roy McCullough, Clay Pardue, Norm Plate, Shawn Poynter, Chris S. Rohwer, Denise Stewart-Sanabria, Daniel Taylor, Marilyn Avery Turner, Steve Zigler, Susan B. Miller, Loretta Lee Edge, Dennis Sabo, Tatiana Potts, Brian Reid, Bill Long, Audry Deal-McEver, Danielle Winger, Cheryl L. Tarrant, Lisa D. Line, Chris Turnier, Tyson Smith