March 4 - April 20, 2019
Sara Kay Gallery is pleased to present, Expired, curated by Maya Benton, on view March 4 – April 20, 2019.
The exhibition brings together work by five artists, Antony Cairns, John Cyr, Jason Lazarus, Susan Mikula, and Alison Rossiter, who work with expired photographic materials in a variety of media including expired printing paper and Polaroid film, images arrested on obsolete digital screens, the photo-processing tools of deceased photographers, antique cameras, personal snapshots that were considered too painful to keep - yet too difficult to destroy - by those who originally possessed them, and the scribbled annotations found on the versos of intimate vernacular images.
The digital turn in photography has transformed imaging and production techniques, raising questions about the fate of memory in a globalized and image-saturated world. The five artists in Expired embrace the accidents, imperfections, and chemical changes that continue after the production of materials has ceased, the aesthetic outcomes have become unpredictable , or the original story is no longer the one being told. In an age ofinstantaneous images, as millions of digital files circle the globe in nanoseconds - a process that effaces the materiality of the object - these artists share a dedication to elevating the materiality and historicity of photographic materials and tools. The work in Expired was made in the last twelve years, yet some photographic tools and materials used to create these images extend as far back as the last decades of the nineteenth century. By embracing the fugitive qualities of the medium and the material implications of time’s passing, these artists challenge contemporary approaches to photography.
Recordings (2008-Present), a site-specific installation at Sara Kay Gallery by Jason Lazarus, features the annotations inscribed on the verso of found photographs. “From the beginning of photography, handwritten inscriptions were originally intended for a small, often intimate audience,” Lazarus observes, “replaced now by hashtags that immediately become public, performative, and archival acts.” Recordings explores the shifting meaning of personal photographs, laying clues through the scribbled or carefully limned annotations on the versos of photographs that he describes as being orphaned, or at sea: the celebrated milestone that has passed, the name recorded, the cryptic observation, the inside joke that will remain a mystery. Lazarus visualizes the work as a rhizome, implicating the viewer through a non-linear installation that demands personal associations. You don’t need to turn the work over, he suggests, to have an epic visual experience. “These installations,” Lazarus explains, “ask viewers to engage the photographic imaginary in an era when ubiquitous images often fail to show us something new. It is in the margins of the photographic medium that I find nascent meaning.”
Installations of Lazarus’s Recordingshave been commissioned and acquired by SFMoMA and the Art Institute of Chicago, among other institutions; this is the first time that this work is being shown in New York.
Lazarus’s T.H.T.K. (2010-Present) preserves the painful memories that public participants have attached to private, intimate snapshots by serving as a repository and archive for images and photo ephemera that people have deemed “too hard to keep”: the love that is lost, the friend who has died, the house that no longer stands, the bruised cheek, the relationship that has turned ugly, the dream that was never attained, the promise unfulfilled. For the duration of Expired, Sara Kay Gallery will act as a physical drop-off location for submissions to T.H.T.K.
Alison Rossiter’s pioneering experimentations with expired photographic papers and camera-less prints bridge her decades as a photography conservator with a concentrated, innovative, and restrained aesthetic sensibility as a contemporary artist. The Latent prints (2007-2017) in Expiredare made with obsolete papers from the 1900s to the 1950s that have endured damage, degradation and transformation from a variety of circumstances including light leaks, oxidation and reduction (silver tarnish) from exposure to air, physical impact, humidity and mold from moisture, insects nibbling the gelatin emulsion down to the paper base, and overall aging.
Four of Rossiter’s Film Photograms (2010)- which are being exhibited in New York for the first time - are included in this exhibition alongside the expired papers for which she is internationally acclaimed. A tribute to the vanished 20thcentury sheet films for large format view cameras, photographers would have loaded these sheets, spanning the 1940s-60s – “Gevaert Gevapan, develop before October 1958," for example - individually into holders in total darkness. Each film had its own notch code to identify the film type in the dark to ensure it was placed in the proper position facing the lens inside the camera. Similar to Braille, it was an identification system by touch known only to photographers.
Expired includes the first sheet of expired photographic paper that Rossiter tested,in 2007, from a box of Eastman Kodak Kodabromide E3 that expired on May 1, 1946. The titles of Rossiter’s work reference the manufacturer, product name, and expiration date to indicate its original time frame, and the date that she processed the paper, signaling time’s passing. Herwork evokes historical events or personal memories that the paper had been created to capture; for example, paper produced between 1914 and 1918, but only processed in this century, take the form of minimal, rectangular abstractions in variegated stages of oxidation, yet they also evoke the trenches of World War One or wounded soldiers who might have been recorded on this particular gelatin surface. The weight of history and the unpredictability and serendipity of time’s passing become her subject, resulting in delicate, meditative and hypnotic minimalist abstractions.
Susan Mikula embraces the unpredictability of expired Polaroid film and antique Polaroid cameras. When she was a teenager in the mid-1970s, Erwin Land’s invention was at its commercial heyday. Prior to that, Mikula recalls, “Our family had a Polaroid 100 Land Camera in the early 1960s. Polaroid has been part of my early photography consciousness since childhood, that early color peel apart film that needed to be coated to stabilize.” Decades later, working with a mix of old and new technologies, she constructs her work within rigorous, self-imposed limits and a meticulous process: available light, modified vintage cameras, and a stockpile of film that is no longer made and often refuses to yield an image or, when it does, contains what most photographers would lament as imperfections, but which she embraces.
This exhibition presents two distinct bodies of work by Mikula; Picture Book (2013-2015), made with expired, fugitive Polaroid film, and on the Cruising Cloud—/The interdicted Land (2017) made with antique Polaroid cameras.
In Picture Book, Mikula’s antique camera and degraded film produce images that recall hazy childhood memories in vivid, saturated color. The effect gives her photographs a familiar, lyrical and intimate sensibility. Mikula plays with scale and embraces the shifts and degradations of the film. “There is magic and menace in implied narrative, using common childhood ideas that hold incredible power,” she observes. With her photographs evoking powerful childhood associations and dreamscape memories, Mikula asks, “What is it we sense in these totemic archetypes that populate our earliest stories and still lurk in our adult subconscious?”
In 2017, Mikula was commissioned by the U.S. Department of State to photograph the border town of Laredo, Texas, amidst polarizing national debates about immigration and border security in the American South. The resulting body of work, on the Cruising Cloud—/The interdicted Land (2017) - now in the permanent collection of the US Embassy, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico - is being exhibited in the Unites States for the first time. Mikula’s evocative, fraught, timely, and fraught images of Laredo, a city dependent upon cross-border trade – its border crossings form the largest inland port, and the second largest port of entry (after Long Beach, CA) in the United States – were taken in 105 degree heat at the Mexican border with antique Polaroid cameras that were tested to their limits. Established in 1755 – twenty-one years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and ninety years before the Republic of Texas was admitted into the Union – Laredo has forged a position of centrality and importance on the US-Mexico border that still endures. Mikula describes her photographs of this iconic border town as “rooted in that deep and complex history of shared cultures, shifting dominance and the present tense moment in relations along the international border.” Against this backdrop, the work – made with an antique camera that embodies the vision of America as it was in the 1970s and 80s – conveys a sense of foreboding and unease.
Mikula took the title for her Laredo work from Emily Dickinson’s “Heaven”–is what I cannot reach!, a poem that resonates for the photographer because it refers to “the idea of unbridgeable space, or prohibited ground combined with the incredible beauty of the cruising clouds soaring between the two countries.
Antony Cairns’s E.I. (2010-2016) series reflects his rigorous and creative engagement with new technological approaches to photographic printing. Deploying early generation e-reader screens and digital ink, Cairns’s abstracted, ominous dystopian scenes – shot in nighttime Paris, London, Tokyo, Osaka, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas – are arrested on petrified Kindle screens. While plugged into a computer, the selected image is uploaded to a salvaged e-reader, left untouched, and then disconnected. The screen is taken apart from the device, halting any interference from the electronic impulses that could alter the display, leaving a lasting image. Taking the city and urban development as its ostensible subject, Cairns explores the potential of technological developments utilizing outdated technologies, arresting eerie, abstracted images of uninhabited cities and underground architecture that feel both futuristic and evocative of the past.
Technology has now surpassed the early generations of e-readers. By re-appropriating and reanimating recycled materials that have become redundant, Cairns explores the potential of outdated technologies to present original, contemporary approaches to photography. This is the first time that Cairns’s work is being exhibited in New YorkCity.
John Cyr’s Developer Tray (2010-2014) series explores the accumulated history and subtle, minimal beauty of a quotidian, once-ubiquitous tool in a photographer’s darkroom: the developer tray. After years of consistent printing, the appearance of each photographer’s tray - once mass produced, utilitarian, sterile, and generic - becomes a direct reflection of its treatment and the preferences, quirks, and habits of its owner: frequency of use, maintenance, the type of developer used, the level of print agitation, accumulated tong marks, silver deposits and chemical stains reflect the user’s printing habits and predilections. Cyr’s spare, rectangular trays - each of which belonged to a legendary American photographer or was used by an anonymous photographer but found its way into a major American museum collection - preserve the unique habits and markings of its owner. Lillian Bassman’s process, and her penchant for stark contrast and blown-out highlights, are intimated by the remnants of potassium ferrocyanide she used in the developer while the print was being processed. Her tray looks like a cyanotype. Another tray represents the convergence of three giants: When Neil Selkirk started printing Diane Arbus’s work after she died, he did so using a tray that he borrowed from Richard Avedon and used until a few years ago.
“An essential aspect of the individual darkroom experiences of these photographers has been recorded for posterity,” Cyr explains, “each viewing of these thoroughly transformed utilitarian objects reflect reinvention of the object from tool to artifact.” Ansel Adams, whose developer tray is included in this series, famously opined, ““The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.” This tray, alongside his camera, was his most important instrument.
The artists in Expireddo not mourn the loss of a bygone era, nor do they bemoan the dying medium of analog film. Taking materials and equipment that are past their prime or have outlived their original purpose, they are given a second life. Flaws in the process are welcomed for expressive effect; loss and fading memories are concurrently resisted and embraced. “Time produces the work, and I develop it,” observes Rossiter, “One hundred years of dormant storage changes the characteristics of the light sensitive emulsion inside the light tight box.” The resulting works convey a renewed sense of emotional purpose, creating an alchemical redivivus. By welcoming the unpredictable and elevating slow, laborious processes and the presence of the artist’s hand, the works in this exhibition harness the expiration or deterioration of materials as a departure point for regeneration; materials transcend their original purpose.
Expired celebrates the modernist deployments of obsolete materials and traditions that result in a wide range of experimental and contemporary images. While much of the work is inextricably linked to the challenges of obsolescence - evoking memory, nostalgia, loss and trauma - the work in Expired is ultimately hopeful and poignant. Flaws, tears, creases, stains, accidents, oxidation, film that can only produce hazy sienna shades (or doesn’t work at all), old Kindle screens destined for landfill, and photographs of jilting lovers whose faces are scratched out of the frame: everything is fodder for transformation and rebirth.
Maya Benton, a museum veteran and longtime curator at The International Center of Photography (ICP), is collaborating with Sara Kay to organize a series of photography focused exhibitions at Sara Kay Gallery.
SPECIAL PROJECTS for EXPIRED:
T.H.T.K. DROP OFF LOCATION:
For the duration of Expired (March 4 – April 20, 2019), Sara Kay Gallery will act as a physical drop off location for submissions to T.H.T.K., an archive of photographs and photo ephemera deemed by the public participants as “too hard to keep.”
Submissions may include photographs, slides, photo albums, memory cards, unprocessed film, or any image-charged object. Lazarus does not need to know the reason that you cannot live with the photo or photo-object…the images are shown without explanation or attribution. “I am creating a repository for these images so that they may exist without being destroyed,” he adds.
Please dictate whether the photographs you submit to the archive may be exhibited in the future, with other submissions to the archive, or are private photographs that are only to be displayed face down. All submissions are exhibited anonymously.
JASON LAZARUS’S 202-456-1111SERIES for the ACLU and PLANNED PARENTHOOD:
Jason Lazarus has been creating unique photograms of the White House phone number – which had been disconnected when the current administration took power – since the inauguration of the 45thPresident of the United States. Made quickly, and in the dark, ten hastily scrawled digits fill the frame. Referencing the language of protest signs, they convey a sense of anxiety and unease. The artist has a rare congenital condition, arthrogryposis, which is the same condition affecting New York Timesreporter Serge F. Kovaleski – who was mocked by Trump on his presidential campaign trail. “The repetition of resistance requires close scrutiny,” Lazarus explains, “the lives of the targets of this administration are infinite, complex, and irreducible.” One work from the 202 series will be exhibited alongside Lazarus’s Recordingsinstallation.
Integral to the spirit of these works, all proceeds from the sale of Lazarus’s unique 202-456-1111 (2016-Present)photograms will be donated to Planned Parenthood or the American Civil Liberties Association (ACLU), at the selection of the collector who purchases the works.