The New Jersey Photography Forum is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a Trenton City Museum exhibition that combines artwork with a survey of photography practices past and present.
Ellarslie is just one of several stops for the exhibition created by the Summit-based group started by photographers Nancy J. Ori of Berkeley Heights and the late Michael Creem of Summit. The exhibit is on view in Trenton through Sunday, November 10.
The group formed in 1994 to provide “an opportunity for photographers to gather and talk about their work and exhibition opportunities within the fine art community,” according to NJPF materials.
Now, organizers say, “the group has grown over the years to become the largest and most recognized group of fine art exhibiting photographers in the state. The membership comes from all areas of the state and as a group they have tremendous variety in style and use a wide array of photographic techniques. There are several recurring themes in their work, such as: nature, environment, architecture, people, abstracts, and culture.”
But it is that array of techniques in the simply titled exhibition “New Jersey Photography Forum: A 25-year Retrospective” that organizes the 100 works by 40 photographers and provides both a direct experience of various artworks and the opportunity to reflect on the aesthetics that shaped them.
For example, take Lebanon-based Ray Yaros’ “Flatbrook Fog Upstream,” an image of a misty, silent stream. The process is Silver Gelatin, one that according to NJPF was “the most commonly used method of making black and white prints before the 1960s. Here, the film image is projected onto light-sensitive paper. The paper has several layers of dry chemistry including light sensitive silver grains and a coating of gelatin as a protective top coat. Properly processed (they) are quite stable and will last unchanged for decades.” They are also favorites with collectors.
Platinum Print is another traditional darkroom approach that used platinum instead of a silver emulsion. And what makes such images at the Trenton City Museum intriguing is that they were created with a “pinhole camera which has no lens (just a tiny hole); no viewfinder, no settings, and no light meter. The limitations became the challenge and fun to get a great image.”
Soon the exhibition brings photography up to date and focuses on digital photography, the most used approach to capturing and processing an image. Among several color works, two help demonstrate the benefits for engaging the eye. One is Califon photographer Ken Curtis’s “Iceberg and Sky,” an image that both pleases and broods with silent power. The other is the “Emperor of Washington Square,” Summit artist Thomas Dackow’s sharp and crisp-hued street portrait of a man whose garments and gaze are silent statements.
Other techniques or approaches are less familiar yet affecting. The Cold Wax Alternative Process uses a mixture of wax in a solvent to create a semi-solid paste that is applied or fused in layers with a palette knife. It can also be mixed with collage objects and burnt wood materials, charcoal, and ashes. As NJPF information says, the medium lends itself “to a process-driven approach to painting or photography.” And since the wax has a translucent quality, it allows light to pass through its layers to create depth. Heidi Sussman’s “Sun Rising” demonstrates how photography and painterly techniques can be fused to create moody abstracted landscapes.
Wax is also used for Nancy Ori’s “The Red Pitcher” but with a totally different result. The encaustic process uses a coating of melted beeswax and involves mounting the image and then covering it with melting wax to add depth and engage the eye with a warm glow.
Nearby, Yaros’ “Yellow Rose” also glows — but more subtly. Its effect was created through Polaroid Emulsion Lift where a Polaroid photo image is “literally boiled off the original print paper and while floating in the water, is slipped onto a piece of watercolor paper” where it can be manipulated for artistic purposes.
Scotch Plains photographer Russ Wilk’s work stretches the accepted idea of photo image by using Glass Fusion. Here a “digital negative is used to create a screen, very much like a silk screen print. This screen is then used to transfer the photo onto a prepared sheet of glass using glass powders instead of ink. After fusing the glass powder to the sheet in a kiln, additional glass layers are created and fused to the photo. The final glass piece is then cut and polished.” His “Emerge,” created in 2016, is a face on an uneven glass “canvas” whose frame includes a back light source that changes hues and promotes responses to the same image.
“Aspen Morning” by Barnegat’s Susan Puder is a product of “C-print , a photo lab print produced on light-sensitive color paper that uses a negative or digital image projected in a darkroom and then processed in a wet mixture that involves three layers of gelatin that contain dyes that respond to light in different ways.”
And Old Bridge resident Neil Larsen’s “Winter Cornfield” uses the chemicals in a Polaroid photo as the “image information” to transfer the picture to fine art paper and allow the photograph to look like a painting.
The latter is also something apparent in the exhibition, and a great deal of the intent seems to be to blur the line between photography and painting and drawing. There is also a strong emphasis on creating images that suggest non-objective or representational imagery, although some use objects as the source.
Nevertheless, viewers looking for non-abstracted or processed images will not be disappointed with some photographers focusing solely on the camera’s power to capture human beings in action. That includes Hopewell architect turned photographer John Clarke.
Yet process — including cell phone imagery, photo etching, cyanotype, and others — is the real content of this cleanly displayed and thoughtfully arranged exhibition.
And for those more audibly inclined, coordinator Nancy Ori will provide a free curator’s talk on Sunday, November 10, at 2 p.m. It will be part of a closing reception from 1 to 4 p.m., also free and open to the public.
Incidentally, also on view is the small exhibition on the museum’s second floor, “Clang Clang Clang Went the Trolleys.” Using a mainly text panel format, the one-room display chronicles Trenton’s trolley history staring with a horse-drawn vehicle in 1863 through the last electric trolley in 1934. It closes on Sunday, November 17, with a free lecture by historians Pat Allen and Karl Flesch.
Trenton City Museum, Cadwalader Park. Wednesdays through Saturdays, noon to 4 p.m., Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m. Free. 609-989-3632 or www.ellarslie.org.