Corridor Catalog

Phil Nesmith is engaged in a rigorous exploration of some of photography’s earliest practices, creating a body of work that reclaims a connection to direct image-making that is now all but forgotten in our post-darkroom age of rapid and digital image reproduction.  Often using handmade equipment, emulsions he brews up himself, and glass plates similar to those used by early photographers in the 19th century, Nesmith produces images and unique photographic objects that possess an almost unfamiliar immediacy to light, space, and time.

Ina recent series entitled Flight Patterns (2009), Nesmith employed one of the earliest photographic processes to create striking images that evoke fragility and transience.  Flight Patterns is a series of dryplate photograms – images that are created directly on photosensitive black glass plates, without a camera or lens.  In the lineage of early 20th century artists like Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray, Nesmith’s photograms were created from the shadows cast by objects placed on plates that have been exposed to light.  Although the deliberate process of composing and developing photograms necessitates stillness, the subjects of Nesmith’s Flight Patterns appear anything but.  Birds, bats, and flying insects populate the compositions of Flight Patterns creating the illusion of flight momentarily arrested by a photographer’s shutter.  Although such movement is a fabrication in Flight Patterns, Nesmith skillfully orchestrates these works, engaging us to believe in the fiction of a rarified and fleeting moment.

Nesmith’s exploration of the expressive potential of early photographic techniques continues in Flow (2010), with a dramatic series that confronts the environmental realities of the worst oil spill in U.S. history.  Traveling to the Gulf of Mexico in the summer of 2010, Nesmith brought vintage large-format cameras, wet plate collodion chemicals, black glass plates, and a makeshift darkroom to enable him to create unique glass plate positive images of the aftermath of the effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill.  All the images Nesmith created during a three week period were shot and developed right from the vehicle that brought him to the Gulf’s oil-contaminated beaches and marshes and to the harbors where fisherman and clean-up vessels docked.  The vintage look to Nesmith’s images of shrimp boats, barges, deserted beaches, and fishermen creates a powerful tension with the contemporary subjects depicted and urgent work being done in these images.  Creating wet plate collodion images for this series, Nesmith chose a photographic process in use in the 1850’s at the same time that oil was first discovered in the United States when the nation’s lust for oil was still in its infancy.  Although making images through this early technique was demanding and arduous for Nesmith, it was vital to his larger conceptual intent focused on exploring the historic arc of US oil dependence.

The text above, from the Corridor catalog, was written by curator Irene Hofmann.  Two addition pages highlighting my work have not been included in this posting.  Corridor was a group exhibition at the Art Museum of the Americas in Washington D.C. which ended recently.  Flow is currently on view at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography Gallery in Missoula Montana.


~ by Phil Nesmith on July 7, 2011.

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