Pure Radiance: Black and white at UMMA/Bangor
A trip to Bangor’s University of Maine Museum of Art is guaranteed to be worthwhile as long as George Kinghorn continues his “thinking-outside-the-Maine-box” exhibits, and “From the Shadows” (through January 4, 2014), approximately 30 black and white photographic works by Susan Burnstine & Lynn Saville, is no exception.
Burnstine, a resident of LA, creates square format archival pigment prints. Very specifically, these prints are “hand-varnished”. When I asked her at the recent opening reception why the distinction between “varnished” and “hand-varnished”, she convinced me the difference is vital to the success of her printmaking. Her once-immovable commitment to silver gelatin prints thwarted for health reasons, Burnstine continues to be deeply involved in every aspect of creating the image – from home-made cameras and lenses, to meticulous planning, creating all effects, as her website says “entirely IN-camera. No photoshop post- processing techniques are used…”. She prints her own work, selecting a luxurious rag fine art paper to do so, then hand-finishes each one in an arduous last step in the process. The result is truly a lush, multidimensional print that begs you to touch it.
Saville, a resident of NYC, is exhibiting black and white works taken over the last 25 years, and some are silver gelatin prints, while others are archival pigment prints. She has, of course, traveled the changing course of equipment and processing since she started making photographs in the 70′s, and it’s interesting to view the differences in the exhibited prints. She tells me her digital printer is a master at understanding exactly what her intentions are, and Saville is an intrepid explorer in the land of greyscale tones, a vision that requires a very clear understanding indeed. Also, much of her work is now being shot in color and there is no doubt she is having a ball with it if the works on her website are any indication.
Two things about this exhibit that I found distracting, as did several others I talked with at the opening reception: Burnstine’s titles, trying too hard to be poetic and pithy, have no place in an exhibit of this level of work. And the installation design of the two-person show, while there is definitely a justified and insightful purpose here in linking high-level artists creating urban landscapes, (and yes, I know, Burnstine’s work is only in square format), mixing their work on the walls resulted in a level of confusion while viewing the show that made me wish for a little more separate-ness between the two artists. Like maybe moving the enchantingly installed sculpture exhibit of works by Sachiko Akiyama into the center gallery, thereby separating the two bodies of work by Burnstine and Saville?
Every fine art photographer and photophile in Maine should make the trip to UMMA this fall to spend some time studying the works in “From the Shadows”. We are privileged to have the opportunity to see them, and regardless of what comes along during the rest of 2013 in the way of photographic exhibits in Maine, it will be one of the highlights of the year for me.