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Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.

Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.

  • Friday, October 27, 2017

    A History of Handwork | Untitled #14

    Guest blogger Ana C. Ledgerwood, class of 2017, wrote this post as part of her coursework for ARH 280: Photography and the Politics of Invisibility taught by Post-Doctoral Fellow Anna Lee. This course informed the current exhibition A History of Handwork: Photographs from the SCMA Collection on view on the Museum’s second floor until December 3, 2017.

     

    Michal Mackü. Czech, born 1963. Untitled #14. 1988. Collaged gelatin silver tissue on rag paper. Image courtesy of Smith College Museum of Art. Purchased with the Hillyer-Mather-Tryon Fund.

    Czech photographer Michal Mackü created Untitled #14 using an unusual technique called gellage —a fusion of the words gelatin and collage— which he invented and perfected during the late 1980s and ‘90s. To make a gellage image, Mackü begins by developing a photograph using a glass plate covered with a thin layer of gelatin, a typical method of late nineteenth-century photography. Once the glass plate is chemically treated to develop and fix the image, Mackü, rather than making prints from this developed plate, instead dips the plate into a second chemical solution to separate the gelatin layer from its glass backing. Mackü then transfers this delicate film of gelatin onto a sheet of white paper. While both the gelatin film and the paper are wet, Mackü can slide, scrunch, fold, and tear the gelatin with his hands to create the various types of textures seen in Untitled #14. The artist sometimes spends several hours manipulating the gelatin film to achieve his desired result. The piece is then allowed to dry so that the gelatin will permanently stick to the paper.

    Mackü’s art focuses on three-dimensional structure. He has compared his work with photography to sculpture, a medium he appreciates for the way in which it allows the artist to create in a direct, hands-on manner. His early gellages, such as Untitled #14 are rich with complex textures. In a later series of gellages, titled The Multiples, Mackü pushed the physical limits of the technique further by layering multiple gelatin films on top of one another, producing images with even more pronounced structure. Both the early and later gellages speak to Mackü’s love of experimentation. They also call attention to the physical characteristics of photographic materials, characteristics that are not apparent in traditional photography.

    Mackü almost exclusively uses his own body as a model for his gellages, preferring to work with a subject that he already knows well: “It enables me to do focused work, in effect discovering the self, the physical manifestation of one’s being”.* Here, the subject appears to be peeling off his face, leaving himself without an identity. There is a tension in this gellage between individuality and anonymity: the artist has a deeply personal, intimate connection to the subject of the image (and to the process of its creation), while the viewer sees the subject as an anonymous figure.

    * Michal Mackü, interview with Jindrich Streit and Ladislav Danek, 1996.

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  • Tuesday, October 24, 2017

    STUDENT PICKS | Whole Encounters: Partial Impressions

    Chuck Close. American, born 1940. Lyle. 2003. 147 color silkscreen on paper. Image © Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery. Gift of the artist and Pace Editions, Inc.

    In this show, through a selection of portraiture in various media, I aim to emphasize the presence of veiled relationships and emotions present in a rendering of a person. Every portrait in itself is subjective—relative to both the image maker and the viewer’s own perception of the work. In other words, everything we encounter is prompted by an individual, unique interpretation—every person will interpret an event differently based on one’s distinct past experiences and history. In application, what an artist chooses to depict in an encounter with their sitter is only an impression, not representative of the whole person being captured, but solely how the image maker sees/relates to/emotes with them at a fixed moment in time—only capturing a fragment of their self. With the show consisting solely of various portraits, I urge the viewer to look deeper beneath the surface, and search for underlying ideologies and emotions that guide the presentation and one’s own reading of the work—thinking critically about what the portrait says not only about the sitter, but of the image maker and ourselves as viewers.

  • Thursday, October 19, 2017

    A History of Handwork | At The Lion's Cage

    Guest blogger Emma Crumbley, class of 2019, wrote this post as part of her coursework for ARH 280: Photography and the Politics of Invisibility taught by Post-Doctoral Fellow Anna Lee. This course informed the current exhibition A History of Handwork: Photographs from the SCMA Collection on view on the Museum’s second floor until December 3, 2017.

     

    At the Lion's Cage was made in England in the 1870s, when photocollage was at the height of its popularity. The anonymous artist, only known as “J.F.,” was most likely an upper class British woman Victorian photocollage was almost exclusively made by upper class and aristocratic British women, and was intended to be circulated among a close circle of friends and family, so it makes sense that J.F. did not sign her whole name. Although this image seems simple at first--an amateur drawing of a lion in a cage next to cut out photographs of two bored looking girls-- J.F. has used symbolic elements of Victorian culture to infuse it with meaning. J.F. would have cut the photographs of the girls out of a portrait in order to place them into her drawing of the zoo.  Her decision to create a photocollage set in the zoo is reflective of the high society in which she likely lived.  Not only an important arena for aristocratic socializing, the zoo itself was a monument to the way in which humans were able to dominate over even the fiercest of wild animals, reflecting the imperialist attitudes from which the British aristocracy benefited. In At the Lion’s Cage, the young girls’ blasé response to the lion roaring at them could be a reflection of the distance that visitors in Victorian zoos felt from the animals in captivity, which itself could be seen as reminiscent, whether or not J.F. wished it to be, of the distance between the aristocracy and the people who were oppressed by Britain’s imperialism.

     

    J. F. English, 19th century. At the Lion's Cage. c.1870s. Photo-collage with pen and ink on cardstock. Gift of Judith Antevil Nygren, class of 1959, and Edward Nygren.

    J.F.’s decision to place these girls next to the lion is also perhaps a reflection on her own oppression as a woman in Victorian England.   At this time, cats were frequently pictured alongside women and girls, and used as a warning to women who desired to be free of the confines of domesticity; they were wild creatures who lived at the whim of their untamed sexuality and innate immorality.  The inclusion of the lion, then, as the biggest, strongest cat of all being kept in a miserable, tiny cage, is symbolic of the faults that J.F. found in these sexist claims. Alongside the lion, the two young girls, standing with open land spread out behind them, represent a freedom that most aristocratic Victorian women only felt in childhood--before they married, had children, and were burdened with the labor of domesticity and social fluency. Perhaps within this direct contrast between the freedom of youth and the captivity of adult womanhood, with the aristocratic zoo as a backdrop, is a statement which J.F., was able to hint at in this seemingly simple image.