SoHo Photo’s rich history ensures that any visit to the gallery will offer something memorable. The Alternative Process show is no exception. The national competition, juried by Geoffrey Berliner of the Penumbra Foundation, demonstrates not only the breadth of photography as an artistic medium, but the incredible range of aesthetic, even philosophical, approaches to the process of making photos. Throughout the exhibition you find not simply remarkable diversity in process—from cyanotype to tintype to photogravure to sculptural photographic work—but a range of approaches to the subject under examination. Perhaps the best contrast can be illustrated by the juxtaposition of the work of Alex Timmermans, whose distressingly alluring images (such as “Lost”) turn toward a steampunk aesthetic, with the work of Timothy McCoy, whose albumen print “Drink in the Rain” would appeal to virtually any lover of fine landscape photography.
This contrast is apparent throughout the show, and while I found myself at times wishing for a kind of coherent narrative or vision to emerge (I confess to a yearning toward unity), I was so regularly engaged, surprised, or simply mesmerized by an image that I frequently forgot that internal demand for overarching—perhaps artificially imposed—structure. Instead, I experienced something like a journey into a well-known wood in a new season. I recognized the trees, but new light shone through the shifting and changing leaves and illuminated something new and remarkable.
The variety of subject and form in the show is notable. I admit to an unabashed love of tintypes (and there are lovely ones in this exhibition), and I have a inexplicable soft spot for printing on organic material such as leaves. Nonetheless, I left this show most impressed by the exquisite and luminous printing of two artists: Fritz Liedtke and Geoffrey Agrons. Agrons’ palladium prints glow and draw your attention from across the room. His two images in the show, “The Myth of Sisyphus (Because This is Where You Are)” and “Big Big Love” I leaned into, stepped away from, then leaned into again to try to immerse myself in them. I didn’t simply feel “drawn” to the images. I wanted to go into them, to experience them and all of their strange light.
Similarly, Liedtke’s portraits demanded attention. Small photogravures, they’re portraits of young faces that manage to both yearn outward and pull inward. I frankly can’t get the eyes of “Asia” out of my head. These are works where the process not simply supports the subject of the imagery, but animates it. The clarity, the intensity, and the sure lines of the features remind us that photogravure is not simply the process for the fantastical or ethereal as it seems to have become today (think the ParkeHarrisons), it also allows a measured precision and texture that is hard to replicate. It’s almost impossible to imagine a silver gelatin print representing the freckled skin of Fritz’s “York” with such complete richness and honesty. If Liedtke can pull a photogravure like “Asia” and “York,” one wonders how other artists might reclaim and remake lost processes, and the exhibition, like other process exhibitions, helps us imagine what all we’ve left behind when we turn toward contemporary printing.
Roger Thompson is a professor at Stony Brook University, and the Senior Editor of Don’t Take Pictures.