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JERRY SPAGNOLI


Exhibition: March 11 - April 22, 2012
Lecture: March 23, 4 pm

 

JERRY SPAGNOLI, September 11 Memorial  Dedication Ceremony, from The Last Great Daguerreian Survey of the Twentieth Century Series, ca. 1999–2004, daguerreotype, courtesy of the artist

 

 

 

 

spagnoli photograph

Jerry Spagnoli has made a career of delving into the qualities that make photography such a strong and compelling of both art and communication. He employs a wide variety of photographic processes and his work has been influenced by such diverse pictorial traditions as Renaissance sculpture and German Romantic landscape painting. Spagnoli has become best known, however, for leading the contemporary revival of the daguerreotype, which was invented in the 1830s and produces a unique image on polished silver.

He first came across daguerreotypes at flea markets in the late 1970s and was smitten by the haunting sense of presence in the minutely detailed images. The portraits—historically presented in tooled leather cases—can have such a strong sense of embodiment that nineteenth-century writers from Hawthorne to Poe struggled to describe the quality. Jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes called them “the mirror with a memory,” as if “the thing itself” was held captive on the daguerreian plate.

It was not until the mid-1990s that Spagnoli could uncover enough information on the process to develop reliable methods of creating daguerreotypes and dealing with the dangerous chemicals involved. His series The Last Great Daguerreian Survey of the Twentieth Century, captures detail-filled scenes, from the architecture and bustling crowds of New York to significant current events, such as the inauguration of President Barack Obama. “These are private historical documents which are meant to convey my personal impression of the moment,” he says. “When someone a hundred years from now looks at these images, I want them to feel that they are engaged with something personal as well as historical.”

Spagnoli also finds daguerreotypes unrivaled in capturing the texture of skin. Artist Chuck Close came to Spagnoli when he wanted to make a series of portraits of contemporary artists, leading to a two-year collaboration and the book A Couple of Ways of Doing Something (2003). Spagnoli has also made a series of anatomical studies of the human body, as well as portraits, using the process.  In all of his work, he retains a fascination for how photography communicates information.

In a series called Photomicrographs, Spagnoli took tiny sections of a film negative—as small as a an eighth of an inch square—and enlarged them until the grains of silver particles are clearly visible and the original context of the photograph is lost. Yet, it is still possible to read an human image. “I became interested in just how little information it took to communicate ideas through gestures,” he says. In his ongoing series Local Stories, he uses a wide angle lens to capture the diverse moments in time: the sheltering umbrella of a tree in bloom or a race track at days end. The only constants are the sky and the sun, which backlights each scene and lends a sense of monumentality—even a sense of the divine—to the mundane.

 

2011-2012 ROBERT C. MAY PHOTOGRAPHY ENDOWMENT LECTURE SERIES page
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