Death and Transformation: Natural Histories at firstsite (18th Sept – 23rd Oct, 2004)

SOURCE Issue 41, Winter 2004.
Essay by Mark Bolland.

Pinhole cameras, and the photographs that are made with them, frequently evoke thoughts of early photography and pre-photographic optical devices. The relative primitiveness of the often homemade or wooden, lens-less and shutterless camera excites ideas of WHF Talbot’s first “mousetrap” cameras or of the camera obscura. The softness of the images produced by pinholes seems to remind us of early Victorian photos and the long exposures required by pinhole cameras also recall a time, long before “decisive moments”, when only the dead were completely still in photographs. Pictures produced with the pinhole’s infinite depth of field, and the extreme close-ups that this facilitates, have a direct or unmediated feel to them: this too they share with much photography from the medium’s infancy, from the brief moment before its industrialisation.

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Firstsite papers: Jan Dunning

Produced on the occasion of Natural Histories, on show at firstsite 18 September – 23 October 2004.
Essay by Martin Clark.

Pinhole cameras are a curious technology. They recall photography’s early days, its antique origins, with their long exposures, their flat, imperfect focus, and the almost magical, alchemical nature of their operation. In fact this magical quality seems to stem from the fact that there is so little technology employed in that operation. Rather, they appear closer to natural, or should we say, supernatural, phenomena – just a simple box with a hole in it, nature apparently does the rest. Partly because of this they feel oddly anthropomorphic. They work almost exactly as we do, passively internalising an inverted image of the external world. Unlike us though, the camera can fix this image on to light sensitive papers, plates or film. Our gaze already objectifies the world around us, the people and things within it, but this action is frozen in the photograph, it reaches its perfect expression through the camera’s clinical, detached efficiency. In this way the camera becomes both an extension of our own perception as well as its mute, mindless double.

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Review: Jan Dunning, Eerie, 31 Grand, New York (Feb 13th  – Mar 14th 2004)

M: The New York Art World, March 2004
Essay by Lily Faust.

This curious show, appropriately titled Eerie, looks at the shared boundaries between fact and fiction. Utilizing pinhole photography, which is one of the earliest known methods of capturing images, Dunning creates a visual juncture where improbable dreamscapes materialize into colorful reality. Her photographs depict mostly mythological, hybrid creatures that are caught in the process of transformation; or exist in their own right, isolated in fields and wooded areas. Through the layering of clashing images and the juxtaposition of “arrested” movements, Dunning’s photographs work as convincing portraits of a cross section of the mythic unconscious.

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