Photography and Corrosion

By By Adam Fifield and By Adam Fifield

By Adam Fifield

Chic, young consumers are snapping photos of each other at the clubs on razor-thin camera phones, but some local photographers are resisting these digital and social trends by revisiting the original art of photography that is tied up with chemical processes and the balance between exposure and corrosion.

Jesse Canales, whose photographs are being shown at Nobrow Coffee and Tea, uses a century-old technique called Kallitype. Patented in 1889, this process involves brushing a solution over the exposed paper and utilizing silver nitrate and other metal salts to create a print unrivaled in permanence. Much like a ritual, the infernal artist mixes his chemicals and potions, where the moment of artistic brilliance occurs somewhere between the fact of illumination and the process of decay.

Even before the invention of photography, artists have dabbled with chemicals. William Blake, the famous English poet, developed what he called, “The Infernal Method,” a process in which he used corrosive acid to etch elaborate drawings on copper plates. In his literary and artistic work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake explains his process to aid his textual themes: “But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged; this I shall do by printing in the infernal method, by corrosives?melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.”

A similar correlation between process and product is evident in Canales’ photographs. The metals contained in the developing chemicals give the photographs a rustic look without taking away from the exquisite detail. This way, Canales alludes to a historical presence in his photographs without using a cheap simulation — he actually uses the methodologies that photographers have been using for more than 100 years. The Kallitype prints are also much more permanent than any new technological way of rendering photographs.

Images of leaves and forests, sometimes close-up and candid, in addition to the archaic feel of the print itself, suggest a more environmental theme. The tendency is to look away from civilization, and instead move toward a primitive state that might reveal more truth and permanence.

Again, the photographic process suggests a balance of growth and decay — something that is embraced in the wild and perhaps not in civilization. The represented image is only attained through chemical violence and equal parts corruption and transcendence are necessary to capture the photographic moment.

Artistic, journalistic and corporate photography is being swept away with new technologies, but digital photography must be classified apart from, yet always referring back to, chemical photography.

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Jesse Canales’ work is being dislpayed at Nobrow Coffee and Tea.