Thursday, August 9, 2007

Autopsy From Life: The Work of the New Daguerreians

The following is an excerpt from "Autopsy From Life: The Work of the New Daguerreians", by Jeffrey Baykal Rollins published in Genis Aci #40

A daguerreotype is like no other photographic object or image. Each is a one-of-a-kind direct positive, printed literally on the surface of a mirror. Small and intimate, hand-held like a book, we see ourselves reflected therein . Depending on the position of the viewer, the image on the silver-coated copper plate passes back and forth between positive and negative with extraordinary clarity. Often portraits, the figures appear, then dematerialize like ghosts, within a mirror that also contains our own fleeting reflection.

© Jerry Spagnoli, “Anatomical Detail #6”, 2001, daguerreotype 

Here is an image that is explicitly dependent upon the participation of the viewer, which is why daguerreotypes are impossible to fully reproduce. A conventional photograph remains always still, a fixed image, whereas reflection in a mirror changes with the position of each viewer. Furthermore, a daguerreotype plate “has an invisible substrate” explains contemporary daguerreian Jerry Spagnoli, which “permits the viewer to directly engage the subject”. Beholding a daguerreotype is tantamount to experiencing the initial moment the camera took in,  because “the substrate is a mirror and the subject is suspended within this optical medium”. According to Spagnoli the daguerreotype is therefore not a photograph at all, but an “optical system involving the plate, the viewer and light”(1).

The daguerreotype invites and facilitates personal observation unlike any other photographic process. Spagnoli keenly exploits this in a series called “Anatomical Details”. Works like“Anatomical Detail #6” and “Anatomical Detail #21” are differentiated in name only by number, making the titles as sparse and clinical as the images themselves. Placing pristine texture against empty light-less backgrounds, the artist zeros in on the surface of skin with the surface of silver. As these bodies recede into the blur of shallow depth-of-field, detail emerges out of darkness. Spagnoli perceives this conflict as “the push and pull of objective and subjective, of information and oblivion”. His is way of seeing, like the way after weeping, the world appears both blurred and far more clear.

© Sean Culver, "Presence Series (Cloud)", daguerreotype

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