Galleries - March 2014

are narratives captured over many minutes. The portraits taken using daylight comprise four different wet plates, exposed one after the other, of facial quarters of the subjects, with each image taking about a quarter of an hour to capture. Printing them as a digital C type from the wet plate originals and assembling them to view, the ‘icons’ stretch and dissect the sitter like photographic Francis Bacons: mesmerising. Reba Maybury is the final subject shown. In this series, the stylist John William worked with Wozniak to create a moment, as if peering out of the window of a stalling time machine into an indeterminate era. The dressing and the camera take away cues which would otherwise reassure you in trying to ‘read’ the image and you are left with your eyes dancing around looking for comfort and finding nowhere to settle . . . It takes time, once back on the Earl’s Court Road, to re-adjust your reality. Paul Hooper such as the Matthew Brady studio portrait of General Custer, taken in 1865. It requires the photographer to mix a light sensitive solution, coat a glass plate and get it into a camera – all in the dark and before the plate begins to dry. Once the camera is set the image has to be taken quickly as the dryer the plate the longer the exposure needed to fix the image. You might think that it is ageing that give the images we know their antiquity, but starting upstairs with Wozniak’s contemporary series ‘Artisan’, portraits of the same with the artefacts of their trade around them, you immediately realise that we are misinterpreting early images. The process, which can render the finest detail, tonal depth and gradation instantly ages the context. The chemistry makes the photographer work in a certain way, the wet or damp plate and the cookery element and the timescale of the exposure constrain composition. Modern cameras produce grey scale images that are colour balanced tonally; working with a wet plate the chemistry is only sensitive to blue light – cold colours appear lighter, warm ones darker, so you are unavoidably dislocated from your expectations when you look at the result. If ‘Artisans’ are individual narratives or photo sociology fixed in a second, the ‘Iconography’ series downstairs Contemporary photographers are crippled by the extraction of nuance from their work, as the infinitely malleable analogue materials that once rendered a fixed image on paper or plate have been enthusiastically replaced by the mathematical digital engine. In many ways for an artist, digital photography is harder to master than the wet processes that it so quickly usurped 20 years ago. Where previously a photographer could control the image from inception to print this has been taken away by the lure of ‘auto’. Every element of an image is now controlled by a slider and an alogorithm – you get what the photographer ‘likes’ as opposed to what they previously created in the alchemy of the chemistry. That there is a reaction against this from artist photographers means that there are images now being shown which are more than a photographic equivalent of the ubiquitous giclée. Kasia Wozniak has a show entitled ‘Contemplate’ at Gallery 286 (until March 7th, call for opening hours). Working on three levels of the space one is taken deeper and deeper into an exploration of subject, context and temporality by her work. Before you start, you have to work out a relationship or interpretation of the method of the Wet Plate Collodion Process. It is archaic, being pioneered in the 19th century and familiar to us all through famous images 12 GALLERIES MARCH 2014 FOCALPOINT The Wet Plate Collodion process K asia Wazniak ‘No: 25’ from the Iconography Series. ‘Jake Rusby’ from the Artizan Series both at Gallery 286