CAMEOGRAPHIC and CAPTURING LIGHT: A HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHERS
The portrait as we know it is an image projected through glass. Human visages pass through a glass lens in the photographic act, then go forth again through glass, often as a miniature profile picture illuminated on the screen of a digital device. These small, glowing identities are the obvious descendant of an ancient form of personal memento carved in glass or shell—the cameo. In Capturing Light: A History of Photographers and Cameographic, Charlotte Potter makes explicit the inextricable connections between glass and photography, as well as the applications of these media toward an essential form of memory: the portrait.
Potter, a glass artist whose work frequently explores the performative and conceptual implications of her material, has addressed the connections between glass, photography, and image presentation. Her previous installation works featured exploding patterns of cameo lockets that documented the social media profile as an expression of personal identity. Moving toward an investigation of photographic image-making itself, Capturing Light: A History of Photographers presents one hundred and one influential photographers in a chronological timeline of multicolored cameo portraits. The resulting installation is an enchanting study of the history of photography, as artists who shaped the medium across two centuries assemble in a gathering of gemlike images, specific delicate parts that make up a variegated, voluminous whole.
Quintessential first image makers Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and Louis Daguerre initiate the horizontal diagram; from there, Capturing Light pulses toward the present moment in photography with color-coded portraits that reference each photographer’s subject matter. The colors represent informatic sets and subsets: red=person; magenta=person/abstract; blue=abstract/thing; cyan=abstract/place; green=place; yellow=people/place; black=innovators and inventors. Capturing Light presents a lyrical and aesthetically complex map of the photographers whose work has shaped our contemporary understanding of the visual world.
In the process of drafting Capturing Light’s composition, Potter came to a particular appreciation of the interactions between historical circumstances and creative development, from the chemical experiments of the 1830’s to the present moment of digital supremacy and selfies. “I wanted to figure out a taxonomy to visually quantify these photographers,” remarks Potter, “And what I discovered was that there are these wonderful subsections: Man Ray is somewhere in between Person and Thing. Weston lives there too. In between People and Place we have Dorothea Lange, Berenice Abbott, Gordon Parks.”
Cameographic, an installation work accompanying Capturing Light, is informed by basic photographic action involving chamber, glass, and light, and the range of early developing processes. Potter has stated: “My work begins with a historical model. I am constantly looking for historical references, relevance, and reasoning for using this material.” A grouping of larger oval portraits of early influential photographers, Cameographic is presented in black and white and framed in silver and tin, referencing early photographic methodologies. While Capturing Light follows a complex schema, the simpler layout of Cameographic is a more elemental homage, an engagement with the essential processes and materials by which nearly two hundred years of photographers have experimented with images of reality, following the work of engraver and inventor of the photograph, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.
Sourced from the Internet, applied to glass treated with digitally-developed decals, then hand-carved using traditional engraving tools, the cameos in Capturing Light and Cameographic are engaging, paradoxical objects whose existence owes to both ancient and contemporary technologies and desires. Potter’s works put human faces to the iconic moments of photography’s history—the historical camera is reversed. And the artist’s detailed attention to the processes, materials, and history of photography exposes an interdependent system: glass and light and the human face are revealed as integral intermediary forms, the pervasive materials through which we remember one another.