THE CANVAS – August 2012
by Britta Konau
Tillman Crane | Lisa Tyson Ennis | Claire Seidl
The word “photography” derives from Greek and means “drawing with light.” Light, though, is not the only element essential to the medium, whether it’s traditional or digital photography. The time it takes to gather light has become a major artistic focus for photographers Tillman Crane, Lisa Tyson Ennis, and Claire Seidl. For them, time becomes enmeshed with the representational subject matter—and, in some works, it becomes the subject itself.
Tillman Crane studied history and religion during his undergraduate years at Maryville College in Tennessee. After working for ten years as a photojournalist, he taught his first class at Maine Photographic Workshops (now Maine Media Workshops) in 1987. Crane subsequently earned his MFA from the University of Delaware in Newark and taught at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. The artist has published four books of his photographs, and he is one of five photographers commissioned by the Portland Museum of Art to produce images using historical processes for the exhibition Between Past and Present: The Homer Studio Photographic Project, which opens in October. Crane owns the Tillman Crane Gallery in his hometown of Camden and is also represented by the Phillips Gallery in Salt Lake City.
As a photographer, Crane is fascinated by the complex relationship between humans and nature, and the related themes of protection and domination. According to Crane, nature always gets its way in the end. It is therefore not surprising that he has aimed his camera at old industrial structures, abandoned houses, and gnarled trees. These images evoke a sense of time past, and of time standing still. Compositional symmetry and balance underscore this feeling of immobility so that any of his photographs could be considered still lifes.
Consistent with his thematic interests, Crane uses traditional pinhole and large-format view cameras along with historical printing processes. His specialty is platinum palladium printing, which he values for its clarity, color, and tonal range. Because the photographic emulsion is brushed on, the image is actually embedded in the paper. Crane is very demanding about the quality of his photographs, and only about one percent of what he shoots gets printed and shown.
Cypress Swamp I is typical of Crane’s aim—he strives not to arrest time, but to show its effect. All is still and static. Time becomes timelessness. Shafts of sunlight reflect off the surface of standing water, contributing to a vertiginous layering of trees, standing and fallen, as well as upside-down mirror images of them. As with most of Crane’s images, this photograph has a distinct romanticism, which says a lot about an artist who readily admits that photography is his way of engaging with the world.
Cypress Swamp I, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Decatur, AL, 2012, platinum print, 8″ x 20″
Lisa Tyson Ennis
Lisa Tyson Ennis grew up in Wayne, Pennsylvania, but has lived in many parts of the country over the years. She received a BA in art history from the University of Delaware in Newark. Her photographs are in the collections of the Portland Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, and the Boston Athenaeum. Ennis is represented by the Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth, and she has shown at the Ralston Gallery in Rockport as well. Her work can also be seen at the Wexler Gallery in Philadelphia and at Gallery 50 in Rehoboth, Delaware.
For many years now, Ennis has been drawn to the beauty and rawness of northern Maine, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland. She is particularly fascinated by the water views these locales afford and by the local fishing industry. She has been deeply affected by the industry’s struggle for survival.
While Ennis certainly has the human experience in mind when photographing moored boats, fishing weirs, smoke houses, and magnificent bridges arching across water, she never includes people in her images. Instead, using long exposure times and low-light conditions, such as when sunshine is diffused by fog, features seem to emerge from a timelessness larger than humanity. Her photographs gather changes of light and water over time, resulting in lyrical images, indistinct aqueous surfaces and no sharp contrasts. Ennis uses black-and-white film with medium- or large-format cameras. Once in the darkroom, she enhances her images with handmade toners and manual light manipulation to emphasize what seems important to her.
Fishing Weir Study II was shot at Campobello Island in New Brunswick using a long exposure time. Weir fishing poles emerge from the mist and the blur of moving water. The traditional fish-trapping technique involves huge nets suspended between poles. The composition of this image is strikingly simple and pared down to elemental forms. Inspired by the historic traditions of the fishing industry, Ennis aims to look past representation to create symbols. In her quiet and atmospheric images, the change of light and the passage of time are the only events occurring.
Fishing Weir, Study II, 2010, toned gelatin silver print, 14″ x 14″
Claire Seidl grew up in Riverside, Connecticut, and started going to New York as a young teenager to look at art. She received her BFA from the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University, and her MFA from Hunter College at the City University of New York. Both degrees were in painting, but Seidl also took classes at the International Center of Photography in New York. She taught for years at Hunter College and at Hofstra University on Long Island. Seidl now lives in New York and Rangeley, and she regularly shows her work at ICON Contemporary Art in Brunswick, the June Fitzpatrick Gallery in Portland, and the Lesley Heller Workspace in New York.
Seidl has found artistic expression in two mediums: painterly abstraction and experimental photography. She started out as a painter but picked up a camera in 1985 when her family bought a camp in Rangeley. Seidl was looking for a more immediate way to capture her experience of the landscape during the day and at night. While she initially approached her photography like a painter looking for line, contrast, and values, now the current of influence is reversed and her subjects are people, time, and memory.
Seidl’s black-and-white photographs are tantalizingly mysterious. The artist makes ample use of reflection, movement, and darkness to create images with physical subjects that are sometimes difficult to decipher. Seidl often shoots at night with little available light, and her long exposures reveal the passage of time. Stars have moved, leaves have stirred in the wind, people have changed position or left. For some images, Seidl directs a light into the night, a technique that registers as an incandescent drawing. Time’s metaphorical connotations are deeply meaningful to the artist. She will often set up her camera during a dinner with friends and relatives, exposing the film for 30 minutes or even an hour. Figures thus turn into ghost-like apparitions, foregrounding our impermanence. Time as a narrative and memorial force gives these images great poignancy.
For Swimmer (Night), Seidl used a flashlight to illuminate her subject and exposed the film for almost a minute. While our eyes can only see incremental instants of time and can only focus at specific distances, Seidl’s camera takes in a record of movement across the entire observed space. The resulting image recreates a continuum of space and time not visible to the human eye.
Swimmer (Night), 2011, selenium-toned gelatin silver print, 14″ x 18″