Collage at the CRAG: Past, Present and Future

Collage is a medium all its own within visual art, referring to art made from combining a variety of forms, materials, and sources to create a new whole. By layering different information and materials, new meaning develops from the meaning of the original sources.

Caroline Monnet, Bear (anomalia series). Collage and silkscreen on paper, 2010.

The beginning of collage is often attributed to George Braque and Pablo Picasso during the Synthetic Cubist period (1912-1914). The term “collage” comes from the French word coller, or “to glue.” Collage’s definition as a visual art has expanded through technology. Analogue, or handmade collage, may include newspaper clippings, images from books and magazines, coloured or handmade papers, portions of other artwork, cloth or found objects. The techniques used to create this type of collage can be as simple as tearing up images, pasting images over one another and applying coloured surfaces with straight or organically-ripped edges. Digital collage is a technique that utilizes computer design and image manipulation to achieve seamless effects. 

Collage doesn’t just have to be two-dimensional magazine cutouts, although that’s loads of fun and can produce amazing results. The definition of collage can be expanded to include video à la Janie Geiser’s 1994 short film The Red Book which was screened as part of Landscapes of the Interior this summer in the CRAG’s Satellite exhibition. Montage film is rooted in early film editing that involved physically cutting and rearranging filmstrip reminiscent of collage techniques. This changes the speed and variety of images viewers see, and can create chaotic effects and manipulate time.

Robert Rauschenberg, Rhyme, 1956. Combine: oil, fabric, necktie, paper, enamel, pencil, and synthetic polymer paint on canvas. RRF 56.005

Sculpture is also prevalent in the history of collage practice. It is also known as assemblage. American artist Robert Rauschenberg created “combines” that incorporated painting and found objects. Using personal objects was a surprising and subversive way to express himself that was different from the popular Abstract Expressionist style, challenging notions of originality.

Collage can be a powerful tool for change. The medium offers the opportunity for artists to add commentary through familiar imagery and objects. Relatable materials increase audience recognition and artist credibility, making the message more convincing. The possibilities of using collage to address a variety of issues are endless. Artists can leave clues within the elements of a piece to allude to anything from social and political to personal and global concerns.

Bushra Junaid, Poetics of Relation. Digital drawing, 2017.

VOICES AFAR // Diversity-based practices in collage is the third and final phase of the CRAG’s year-long Satellite Gallery exhibition, Collage, sans colle, co-curated by Jenelle Pasiechnik and Vicky Chainey Gagnon. The works of three Canadian artists, Caroline Monnet, Jerry Evans and Bushra Junaid, will be featured in our lobby until November 20th. 

Bushra Junaid will be joining us on October 4th from 6 to 8 pm for a combined lecture and collage workshop in the CRAG lobby. The cost is just $5 and all materials for making your own collage will be provided. Check out our updated fall Programming Guide for lots more collage activities happening, like regular Artist Trading Card events.

Don’t forget to keep up with our travelling community art project, the Collage Caravan! Follow #CollageCaravan and our social media feeds for updates on its island adventures this month. The restored 1975 Winnebago has been converted in to a mobile art gallery and it’s now ready to hit the road!

Photo courtesy of Rachel Henry.

Collage Caravan: Art on the Move this Fall

Front view of the Collage Caravan. Photo courtesy of Rachel Henry.

In conjunction with this extended exploration of the medium of collage, the CRAG team is embarking on a travelling community collage project known as the Collage Caravan. Local artist Rachel Henry has converted a 1975 Winnebago van into a mobile art gallery complete with a blonde wood interior and overhead track lighting, not unlike the Crummy Gallery by the Bomfords which is currently residing in Spirit Square as part of the CRAG’s main gallery exhibition this fall. It is built to house collage artwork from the community of Campbell River and will travel to the North Island communities of Gold River, Tahsis, Sayward, Port Hardy and Port McNeill over the course of October to display the art inside. All of the schools that we visit in will also contribute collage art pieces to the gallery. 

Jan Brueghel the Elder and  
Hieronymous Francken II, The Archdukes Albert and Isabella Visiting a Collector’s Cabinet. Circa 1621-1623, oil on panel. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.

A mobile art gallery might sound like an outlandish idea, but art galleries have not always looked like the ubiquitous “white cube.” In fact, this model was only popularized in the 20th century with the rise of modernism which assumed that white walls devoid of any context would allow art to speak for itself. Aristocratic early modern households displayed their art collections of all eras and mediums clustered together to demonstrate their wealth and good taste. A postmodernist approach to art and display takes social context in to consideration. Our mobile gallery will be able to change its physical location and engage directly with the diversity of community contexts that we inhabit on Vancouver Island. We hope that this ongoing collaborative project enriches arts education and appreciation and makes these accessible to everyone.

We want to celebrate the endless possibilities of collage and share the joy of art making with this accessible medium. Anyone is able to get immediate results (just cut, place and glue) with no formal art training needed, just lots of creativity and imagination. All you need to get started are scissors, glue and images! The ability to rearrange and change your mind without committing to a final image by physically moving pieces around gives collage a sense of flexibility that avoids the frustration of mixing a paint colour you don’t like or taking a photo with your thumb over the lens. 

The caravan with a fresh coat of paint. Photo courtesy of Rachel Henry.

The first Caravan stops are happening this week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday right here in Campbell River. We will be visiting schools around town so keep your eyes peeled on the streets and our social media platforms for sightings and updates as it tours the island. Be sure to use #CollageCaravan to get involved on social media!

If you want to get involved with collage and public art at the CRAG this fall, be sure to check out our updated Programming Guide for all the info. Our current collage exhibition, VOICES AFAR // Diversity-based practices in collage, is on in the Satellite Gallery until November 20th and our new Main Gallery exhibition, Rest Stop and Crummy Gallery by Cedric, Jim and Nathan Bomford, is on view until November 18th.

Upcoming at the CRAG: Art Runs in the Family

Rest Stop, in progress. Photo courtesy of Cedric Bomford.

The CRAG is excited to present two new interactive sculptures, Rest Stop and Crummy Gallery this fall by Victoria-based artists Cedric, Nathan and Jim Bomford. The Bomfords, a father-and-son trio, have worked collaboratively on several artistic projects like this one in the past. 

A family business or profession being passed down through generations is not uncommon, whether by means of nature or nurture. Learning a trade by observing someone you live in close proximity to makes sense, as well as the idea of the “creative gene” being inherited by birth. Parents who are well-connected in the art world can open doors for their offspring to succeed in the same circles. What is perhaps less common is parents and children working as equal partners on a shared artistic project. 

Rembrandt Workshop, Portrait of Rembrandt, 1650, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Widener Collection, 1942.9.70

While there is a persistent Western fascination with the singular artist as a reclusive genius, artists throughout history and today in fact rely on a vast network of support to produce their work. In the Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern periods in Europe, the guild system flourished. Many artists inherited the family business of a certain genre of painting or other type of art. Hans Holbein the Elder worked as a renowned portraitist in the Late Gothic style, establishing a large workshop in the city of Augsburg, while his son was a pioneer of the Northern Renaissance elsewhere in Europe. Apprentices in a master’s workshop would even complete the less-detailed sections of paintings attributed to the master or create similar drawings that are often still mis-attributed such as works from the Rembrandt school.  

Generations of talented artists appear not just in the Western canon of art history. Inuit artists from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Nunavut, Pitseolak Ashoona, Napachie Pootoogook and Annie Pootoogook are grandmother, mother and daughter respectively. They were all talented artists respectively, working in printmaking and drawing, influenced by each other. Artist collectives sprung up the 20th century and like-minded artists routinely expand their capacity with collaborative efforts—check out this 2016 article from Canadian Art that captures a diverse cross-section of contemporary collaborations happening in Canada on small and community scales. Performance art lends itself to a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach used by mother and daughter California-based Lita and Jasmine Albuquerque and the UK family art collective of filmmakers Grace Surman and Gary Winters and their two school-aged children. 

Aside from the intangible bond of parents and siblings forged over decades of shared memories, the Bomfords’ artistic connection could stem from their overlapping interest which figures extensively in their practice—the land. Dad Jim was born in Duncan and Nathan and Cedric have both lived and worked in Victoria. 

Not all of their projects involve each other. Jim is retired from a career in civil engineering and both Cedric and Nathan have studied and exhibited their own art including photography and installations abroad. Perhaps what binds them creatively is the latitude to express their own ideas outside of the shared space. 

Each bring a unique set of skills and perspective to their practice. They have expressed their process for building large-scale works such as Rest Stop and Crummy Gallery as “thinking through building,” as they avoid extensive planning and designing before starting the construction. The structures become improvisational, allowing for more interaction and collaboration. This also avoids the uniform urban aesthetic, recalling instead structures built based on need and available materials such as a backyard shed or long-abandoned dwellings in small settler communities along the BC coast. 

Crummy Gallery, in progress. Photo courtesy of Cedric Bomford.

In the spirit of their familial approach, all three artists and their own families will be in attendance to give an artist talk for our Exhibition Opening at the Art & Earth Festival taking place at the gallery and in Spirit Square on Saturday, September 21st from 3 to 5 pm. Join us for a free and fun-filled afternoon of activities for the whole family including live music and community toy-building. Their sculptures will be on view at the CRAG until November 18th.

For further reading on this fruitful topic, see the links gathered below:

The Atlantic: A closer look at other types of creative collaboration…John Lennon and Paul McCartney, anyone? Another great list of duo collaborations, including friends, spouses and siblings.

Royal Academy of Art: A profile of several artists featured at the 2016 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London consisting of over 15 duos.

Upcoming Exhibition at the CRAG: The Bomfords & Public Space in BC

Inspiration for the upcoming artwork Rest Stop came from visiting and photographing rest stops like this one on Vancouver Island. Photo courtesy of Cedric Bomford.

The Bomfords’ upcoming exhibition, Rest Stop & Crummy Gallery, is being custom-built to be shown at the Campbell River Art Gallery. Cedric, Nathan and their father Jim, who have all lived and worked in the Island for many years, are no strangers to working together on projects of this large scale. 

In the summer of 2014, they presented another site-specific, interactive public sculpture in and around Vancouver’s waterways, called Deadhead. made from found and recycled materials. The trio explored Vancouver Island on research trips for several years before the realization of the sculpture, finding inspiration in the vernacular structures. Many were abandoned projects or dwellings decaying in the wet West Coast environment. Much of the materials that made up this mostly-wooden sculpture were salvaged from such projects, and a photograph of a False Creek storage shed served as exterior decoration (or camouflage) on the exterior of the central tower. Some of the materials from this project were later repurposed once again repurposed for a later project called Deadhead: Redux. The structure was mounted on the back of a truck (like the upcoming Crummy Gallery) which was featured at events in Victoria produced by Open Space Gallery and Ministry of Casual Living in 2016. Their ingenuity and collaboration allowed them to construct as they went without relying on previous plans or renderings of the final product.

Photo of Deadhead from Cedric Bomford’s website, 8 September 2014.

The entire structure was built on top of a floating steel barge which was pulled by a tug boat and could be moored nearly anywhere, though it primarily resided in Heritage Harbour adjacent to the Vancouver Maritime Museum. The movement around the busy port of Vancouver introduced the idea of art as an economic product, democratized through free access to the vessel. Once visitors came aboard, they were free to explore the space which was purposefully designed not to be straightforward, echoing the improvisational style of its production. Certain points allowed for a view framed by the structure, with the ultimate centre of the maze being the elevated lookout. 

An excerpt regarding the title of this work from the Deadhead website clarifies these themes.

“The title Deadhead suggests multiple meanings: a waterlogged tree partially submerged beneath the water’s surface represents imminent danger, and to ‘deadhead’ a plant entails plucking remnants of past bounty to encourage further blooming. It also refers to the cargo, or lack thereof, on a return trip without paying passengers or freight. The Bomfords’ interpretation of ‘deadhead’ combines the particular conditions of the west coast – its unique climate, histories, and economies – with the artists’ creative process: a hybrid model of function, fantasy, logic and mystery, and the precariousness of the unknown.”

Rear View of the Crummy Gallery, in progress. The Crummy will be parked outside in Spirit Square for the duration of the exhibition with a few scheduled stops around town. Photo courtesy of Cedric Bomford.

This playful use of local terminology carries in to the CRAG’s exhibition. A “crummy” is a vehicle used to transport logging workers to the camp. The back bed of the truck is arranged with two parallel benches to maximize space. An adage goes that it is called a crummy because that is how one feels when they ride in one. The Bomfords are interested in engaging with the local history and culture of our resource-based economy and how that impacts the way that we interact with our environment.

Rest Stop, in progress. Photo courtesy of Cedric Bomford.

The CRAG is excited to present these two newly-commissioned works this fall, starting September 21st, to open a dialogue surrounding public space in Campbell River and on Vancouver Island. We will be joined by the artists and their families at our exhibition opening and launch party which coincides with the Art and Earth Festival happening around Campbell River over the weekend of the 21st. Our event on the Saturday will be located outside the gallery in Spirit Square where the Crummy Gallery will be open to the public and the main gallery will be open for tours of Rest Stop. The artists will be giving a talk along with live music, food and drink, and an upcycled kids activity for all to enjoy. Stop by to join the festivities from 3 to 5 pm. The exhibition will be on display at the CRAG until November 18th. Keep an eye out on our website and FaceBook page for more events and programming this fall.

Sources & Further Reading:

An article in the Vancouver Sun from 2014 with a great description of the experience of being onboard Deadhead.

Cedric Bomford’s website with description of Deadhead: Redux. Check out his other past projects while you’re there.

Fiona Annis: Room of Knowledge

Summer is sadly drawing to a close once again as we anticipate a new beginning in September. Even if you aren’t going back to school this year, it is easy to feel the nostalgic yearn to curl up with a good book once the weather turns cool. If your summer reading list is still woefully incomplete, look no further than our current exhibition. Get back into the studious mode by exploring all that our current exhibition has to offer. 

Fiona Annis could certainly be classified as a lifelong learner. She holds a BFA from Concordia University, a master’s degree from the Glasgow School of Art and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies in Society & Culture also from Concordia University in Montreal where she currently lives and works. Her recent studies have taken her to a residency at the Museum of Astronomical Instruments in Naples, Italy where her most recent works will be on display this fall. 

Exhibition view.

Her curiosity for history, astronomy and literature are easily identifiable in this exhibition. You will notice several quotes on the walls placed in conversation with the artworks, as well as annotated physical books just waiting to be opened. When asked how she chose the books to be included in this exhibition, Annis responded that they were the books she wished to have in her personal library, not that they necessarily influenced the works on display. You are invited to browse our miniature library to introduce new ideas to your interpretation of Annis’s work. 

Tucked away in the corner of the main gallery is a space we are affectionately calling the “knowledge room.” You can sit at the oak table to get a closer look at the delicate cyanotype triptych or delve deeper into the exploration of knowledge. Over your shoulder is one of the only artworks in this exhibition that is not photographic, but it explores this tendency towards research nonetheless. 

Fiona Annis, The real as it is… Gold leaf on book page, 2019.

Annis isolates Nietzsche’s words from their textual context, leaving the viewer to extrapolate a philosophical interpretation. By covering the majority of the words, the meaning of the title is destabilized, much like viewing an abstract image. The remaining phrase explicitly questions what is “real” and if knowledge and reality are concrete or simply ever-changing perception. 

Alongside philosophy and astronomy lies this poetic sensibility throughout the exhibition. The interest in the mysteries of the night sky is thematic of the work of 20th-century Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges. Find a side-by-side translated compilation of Borges’s Poems of the Night in the knowledge room. Ponder these words and the big questions about time and knowledge as you explore this exhibition. 

Something that surely cannot be called

Mere chance must rule these things;

Some other man has met this doom

On other days of many books and the dark.

Algo, que ciertamente no se nombra 

con la palabra azar, rige estas cosas; 

otro ya recibió en otras borrosas 

tardes los muchos libros y la sombra.

-Jorge Luis Borges, “Poema de los Dones,” 1958.

Fiona Annis: a portion of that which was once everything is on at the CRAG for one more week until September 4th.

Art, Music & Astronomy: Special Event at the CRAG This Week

In the spirit of artist Fiona Annis’s multidisciplinary interests in photography and astronomy, the CRAG is hosting a special event of classical music in the gallery this Thursday, August 22nd from 2 to 4 pm. An immersive acoustic performance will be a natural extension of our current contemplative, mysterious and enthralling exhibition, Fiona Annis: a portion of that which was once everything

The CRAG is pleased to present an afternoon of music in the gallery with Helena Jung, renowned soloist, chamber, and orchestral cello musician. Helena has had a diverse career as a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician, and teacher in Vancouver Island, B.C. She vigorously pursues an eclectic repertoire, having performed with many well-known pianists such as Sarah Hagen, Glen Montgomery and Carter Johnson, as well as with the Vancouver Island Symphony since 2005.  Helena received her BMus and MMus in Seoul, Korea, and has performed with the Jeunesses Musical World Orchestra as a member and the Seoul Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Gyeonggi Provincial Philharmonic Orchestra as a principal.  

As of 2018, Helena Jung is the Music Director and Conductor of the Strathcona Symphony Orchestra. At the pinnacle of her career, Helena is exhilarated to lead the SSO to unprecedented feats enrich the Valley with music unlike any other. Her passion for music can be heard in her work and always leaves concertgoers eager for more.  

She will also be joined by other musical guests for the second half of the performance. This intimate session will reflect the depth and resonance of this exhibition and showcase local talent.

As we have been exploring during the run of this exhibit, astronomy and photography have been intertwined for centuries. What may be less obvious is the ancient link between astronomy and music. Time, sound and light are all mysterious forces of the universe that have evoked a poetic sensibility throughout history. 

By looking out into the universe, we are essentially seeing the past, due to the time it takes for light to cross vast expanses to reach our eyes. Photographs capture a moment in the present to be viewed in the future. Similarly, music has the ability to transport us back in time. 

Ebenezer Sibly. “Harmony of the Worlds” in A New and Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences. London, 1806.

Scholars and musicians have studied and searched for an explanation of the connection between music and astronomy for millennia. Ancient Greek philosophers believed in the harmony of the spheres, the theory that the planets moved in a rhythm, based on Earth at the orbital centre, that could be transposed to musical notes using mathematical principles. In 1619, astronomer Johannes Kepler published Harmonices Mundi (Harmony of the Worlds), posited that the planets produced an inaudible harmony that coincided with pleasing musical intervals and could be felt by the soul if not heard consciously. Astronomy and music were considered important intellectual endeavours, both included in the medieval curriculum called the Quadrivium, which included arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. 18th-century composer Joseph Haydn is said to have consulted with William Herschel, discoverer of Uranus and himself an oboe player, in the conception of his choral and orchestral composition “The Creation.”

Countless space-themed genres, song titles and lyrics have (think Across the Universe by The Beatles or 60s psychedelic space rock) have been spawned by the continuous modern fascination with astronomy. Several musicians have also used sounds from outer space as material in their works. Objects and energy sources produce signals that can be received and processed by radio transmitters. The California-based Kronos Quartet has been performing the composition “Sun Rings” since 2002, which includes such sounds collected over decades by University of Iowa researchers. Check out some of their sweet space sounds here. To get a taste of Thursday’s performance, here is an extensive playlist of space-themed classical music. 

We hope you can join us on Thursday for this special performance. If you can’t make it, pop by any time before September 4th to enjoy Fiona Annis’s work.

Super Saturday: Cyanotype Sun Prints

On Saturday, August 17th, the CRAG is hosting a very special Super Saturday. Drop by the studio any time from 1 to 3 pm to make your own cyanotype sun print. This all-ages activity is open to the public and cost is by donation. All materials and instruction will be provided.

Transport yourself back in time to the 1840s as cameras and photographs we just being invented. Join us for an afternoon of art-making so you too can learn how to make an image without a camera and with no lengthy developing process in a darkroom required – imagine that!

With the right chemicals, you can quickly produce a silhouette image on any paper. By placing an object directly on the sensitized paper and exposing it to light, the chemical reaction creates a “negative” effect. The background becomes the darkened blue areas because it is  exposed to the sun, while the surface that is covered by the object remains white. The contrast allows you to see the exact size and shape of the object. Watch the colour develop before your eyes and when you are satisfied, simply rinse with water to stop the developing. 

Fiona Annis, Da Corpo a Spirito. 3 cyanotype photograms, 2017.

Even though there is no camera involved in the making of a photogram, the “photographer” still needs some technical know-how – there is no “automatic” setting. Not to worry; our team will guide you through it, and there are no wrong answers when we are experimenting with new art-making techniques. Factors to contend with will include the strength and angle of the sun’s rays and the length of time the sensitized paper is exposed to the light. 

Man Ray, Untitled Rayograph. Gelatin silver photogram, 1922, 23.5 x 17.8 cm.
Man Ray, a 20th-century American artist who worked in Paris, created “rayographs” using a similar photogram technique with a different light-sensitive material.

Silhouettes aren’t the only effects that you can achieve with the photogram method. You can experiment with using objects that have transparent areas, which will let a small amount of light through and create a lighter blue shade where the paper is partially exposed to the sunlight. Taking inspiration from Fiona’s Désastre series, try crumpling the paper before exposing it to the light. Some of the surfaces will get more exposure than others, creating a beautiful abstract texture that resembles a landscape or map. 

Fiona Annis, Désastre (finding North). Archival inkjet print from silver gelatin negative, 2018.

We hope that this hands-on activity will spark your interest in the possibilities of using historical techniques to create unique and beautiful images in the 21st century. Make sure to revisit our current exhibition to compare your results to Annis’s photographic explorations. Fiona Annis: a portion of that which was once everything is on at the CRAG until September 4th.

Fiona Annis: Micro & Macro

Much of Fiona Annis’s artistic practice is centred around the principle of experimentation. The act of viewing these works, or visiting an exhibit for that matter, is something of an experiment in and of itself. You may have expectations, big or small; you may be an expert on the subject or wander in by chance. Either way, you are hoping to gain something – entertainment, knowledge, fulfillment. When you take the leap to experience something new, you can encounter the unexpected.

Often when we visit art galleries and museums, we are surprised by the scale of objects. In a digital world where high-quality images are accessible at our fingertips and virtual reality experiences are becoming more common-place, there is still something to be said for the physical presence of an artwork. Our hope is that this exhibition can become a space for contemplation, a place to get lost in, where each corner is a moment waiting to be discovered. 

Exhibition view.

This practice of viewing is an act of curiosity. As this exhibition combines explorations from several of Annis’s series, pertinent connections can arise from seeing the artworks in conversation with one another. The two tiny works in the series require a close inspection to see the soft gradation in tone. Perched above the shelf with books waiting to be read, the pair invites a leisurely pace of looking. At a distance, the larger piece appears to be a field of white, set off against the deep blue wall. The subtleties of the texture are only visible at an intimate distance. By the time you are close enough to see, the image dominates your field of vision. A gently sloping line punctuates the right side of all three pieces, forming a rhythm within the grouping that could not be communicated by looking at digital images alone. The juxtaposition of the sizes of these works reinforces their shared forms and animates the space.

The notion that something so small can make a big impact lies at the heart of many scientific disciplines like chemistry and astronomy. Take, for example, the chemical reactions that occur on a molecular level when developing photos that result in a crisp image. The same light that is distilled by a camera lens and captured on film has travelled millions of kilometres (149.6 to be exact) from the sun to produce an image. As astronomer Carl Sagan explained, we are all made of “star stuff” – the tiny elemental particles that make up our bodies was created by stars billions of years ago, connecting us to the cosmos in a profound way.  

You may come away from this exhibit with more questions than answers- These infinite possibilities are what make astronomy and art so compelling.

Fiona Annis: a portion of that which was once everything is on at the CRAG until September 4th.

Accident, miracle, or coincidence?

Exhibition view.

Even though much of Fiona Annis’s photographic work does not make use of a camera body per se, she finds herself collecting old cameras that are given to her. She is certainly interested in the effects that historical photographic processes can produce and the many variables that leave the final image up to chance. This pair of works incidentally were created using cameras, though in a wholly unexpected way. 

She was recently gifted two 8” x 10” large-format cameras from a family who no longer had a use for them. She discovered that they were both still loaded with unexposed film. The material is highly sensitive to light, so inevitably throughout its years inside the camera some light leaks occurred. The photographic effect over such a long time serves as a unique moment of discovery. The final result is not dissimilar to her other images, such as the “desastre” series, but the process is much less involved on the part of the artist. Like much of Annis’s work in this exhibition, they are a portal to the past, a moment of contact with an outdated mode of photography which invites us to re-examine our conceptions of it as an artistic medium.

The side-by-side pairing gives context to each other, revealing similarities and subtle differences that are a murky record of the film’s lifespan. Annis could not re-create the same effect unless she had half a century’s worth of patience and time as well as identical materials and conditions. These works speak to the paradox of photography’s capacity to capture and obscure.

Originally developed in the mid-19th century, large-format cameras were only popular until the mid-20th century. The features of the camera structure allowed the photographer to have greater control over the image’s perspective and focus, though they required an extensive knowledge of photography to operate. Capturing an image using a large-format camera is a lengthy and laborious process, but the camera itself is as deceivingly simple as this pair of works.

Chambres obscure de voyage (“dark rooms of travel”), illustration from Les Merveilles de la science, 1867 – 1891, Tome 6, by Guillaume Louis Figuier.

Large-format cameras are just that, large. They must be mounted on a tripod or other base, as they are heavy and cumbersome. Everything must be adjusted manually, requiring both hands to focus, operate an external light meter and control the exposure time. Two panels, called “standards,” make up the back and front of the camera body. The front standard holds the lens and shutter, while the rear holds the rear lens cell, glass viewing plate and film. The standards are connected by a flexible light-proof bellows which is folded like an accordion to allow the standards to be manipulated independently. The image can be seen upside-down on a ground glass sheet set on the plane of focus at the back of the camera, often under a dark cloth with the use of a magnification tool, so the photographer can see to adjust the focus and composition even in bright conditions.

Ansel Adams, The Tetons and the Snake River. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942. National Archives and Records Administration, 519904; Records of the National Park Service, 79-AAG-1.

The horizontal and vertical movements of the front standards and lens are referred to as rise and fall, shift, swing and tilt. Because the lens plane can move independently, the plane of focus is not fixed vertically. To get sharp focus further back without a very narrow aperture as would be desirable for landscape photography, the plane of focussed can be shifted downwards. The rise technique (moving the front standard vertically) would allow an architectural photographer to avoid converging lines and distortion of tall buildings. 

Large-format cameras require lenses with a longer focal length (the longer the focal length, the closer the object will appear to be), so the photographer must “stop down,” or use narrower aperture to achieve the same depth of field. A slower shutter speed is then also needed in order to let in more light, making it difficult to capture movement.

Yousuf Karsh, Self Portrait. Ottawa, Ontario, 1938.  Library and Archives Canada, PA-212511.
Karash was a well-known Armenian-Canadian portrait photographer.

The title of Annis’s works, “darkslide,” refers to an inner part of the large-format camera apparatus. It is the protective piece that shields the film from unwanted incoming light through the lens before and after the shutter release. 

Once the photographer is satisfied with the image, the glass is removed and replaced with the film holder. After setting the aperture and shutter speed, the darkslide can then be removed and replaced once the shutter triggered. The exposed film is then removed, safely inside the film holder. While a standard film camera uses 35mm film slides in a roll, large-format film consists of sheets that must be loaded individually in a darkroom or changing bag. Each slide is also developed individually, allowing control over optimal contrast, but is also time-consuming. A 4” x 5” or 8” x 10” negative can produce contact prints, without the use of an enlarger, creating high-quality images.

Fiona Annis: a portion of that which was once everything is on at the CRAG until September 4th.

To Infinity & Beyond: Contemplating the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Through Photography

On July 11th, the CRAG hosted an enlightening discussion with astronomer Tony Puerzer from the Nanaimo Astronomy Society and artist Fiona Annis. Their dialogue revealed several historical anecdotes that illuminate the deep inter-relation between astronomy and photography. Though the development of the camera owes much to astronomy, the reverse is also true.

One-third of the Earth’s sphere illuminated, taken from the Apollo 11 spcecraft. NASA,16—24 July 1969, AS11-44-6689.

July 20th, 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo mission’s lunar landing. It was the images and video footage of the event that so thoroughly captured the public imagination. Images taken during the flight of Earth seen from a different perspective still, after fifty years, provoke a poetic sense of our small place in the universe.

The expansion of the capabilities of human sight has always driven astronomy. Save for a few lucky astronauts, all of our experiences of space are photographic. Proof of Einstein’s theory of relativity was established when Arthur Eddington captured an image of a solar eclipse on a glass plate in 1919, showing that gravity causes light to bend around stars and galaxies. For centuries, astronomers have relied on photography to understand our universe, and even then we are limited in the extent of space and time that we can possibly see. This is one of the central concepts in Annis’s work – to question and embrace these limitations.

Fiona Annis, Double Moon Crossing. C-print enlargement of wet plate collodion, 2016.

This striking image is one of the only formal works in the predominantly abstract exhibition. Annis described being inspired by a talk given by Dr. Sarah Gallagher, the Science Advisor to the Canadian Space Agency. The audience was asked to imagine standing on the surface of Jupiter, looking out at its multiple moons crossing the night sky. Jupiter’s moons were discovered by Galileo in 1610 through his powerful telescope that could reveal objects not visible to the naked eye. This was a major breakthrough that questioned the theory that all celestial bodies revolve around the Earth.

The CRAG is in good company this summer – The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current exhibition on our conception of the moon and how it developed through art over the centuries, aptly debuting this summer to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.

Consider the comparisons below between Annis’s work and images of the surface of the moon from the Apollo 11 mission. What mysteries do they contain?

Fiona Annis: a portion of that which was once everything is on at the CRAG until September 4th. We hope you stop by to experience the wonder of Annis’s photographic explorations.