Michael Donner – Exquisite Truth

Michael Donnor, Manifesting the Moon, 2014 from the series Notes on a Paper Universe

Michael Donnor, Manifesting the Moon, 2014 from the series
Notes on a Paper Universe

Photographer Michael Donner is on a quest for perfect imperfection. Those fortunate to attend his recent artist talk at Panopticon Gallery were given insight into his thoughtfully precise creative process. Embracing limitation, while purposely ridding himself of distractions, Donner courageously sought solitude, slowed down by working with medium format film, and consciously used his time for experimentation and contemplation. The reward is two stellar bodies of work that reflect his organic and reflexive workflow, Notes on a Paper Universe and Silent Moan.

Donner proceeds as a miner panning for gold, sifting aspects of identity, to cull for raw material including facade and persona. He does not pre-visualize the shot but “carries an image forward” by instinctively following the path his concept reveals. Donner’s steadfast focus on being present reveals that which is not, aspects of the before and the after.

An artist who choses to work with the medium of photography, he does not create a pre-fabricated set but rather engages with an idea and attempts to control the ensuing chaos. He observes, responds then reflects. Interested in “building imagery”, his process involves manipulating the negative by hand with scratches, chemicals, wax and fire. To complete his thesis portfolio of 50 x 50 selenium toned prints, he turned his basement floor into a developing tray, employing mops and buckets to process the prints.

The silent, luminous moon features prominently in our solar system, as well as in Donner’s imagined celestial constellations. The relationship between our time and place in space is the theme revisited in both bodies of work. Donner found the moon a willing metaphor. John Updike expresses an analogous sentiment in his poem, Half Moon, Small Cloud; “It’s thereness is as mysterious as ours.” 

Inspired by Joan Fontcuberta’s subversive weaving of fact and fiction, Donner plays with the relativity of truth. HIs focus in these series is on understanding the interrelatedness of self, time, and the impermanence of both. As a result his work encourages us to do the same. Donner agrees with Wallace Steven’s ‘willing belief in fiction’ and in Carl Sagan’s conviction; “We are the way the cosmos experiences itself.” Donner postulates; “Is it there if we aren’t there to experience it?”

Donner’s images are on exhibit at the Panopticon Gallery until September 9, 2014.

J. Sybylla Smith

Smith is a curator and educator with twenty five years experience in the photographic arts. Smith has curated 17 exhibitions and created related programming featuring the work of 70 international photographers for a satellite gallery of the Griffin Museum of Photography. Smith has held adjunct professor positions at Hofstra University and Emmanuel College. She is a guest lecturer at The School of Visual Arts, Wellesley College, Harvard University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. An enthusiastic portfolio reviewer and thesis advisor, Smith consults individually with artists on concept development.

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Being There – Garry Winogrand at the Metropolitan Museum


©Gary Winogrand

©Garry Winogrand

It’s been two weeks since I saw the Garry Winogrand retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum. Random flashes of his luminous silver gelatin prints –delightful, intense, curious, intimate, madcap and improbable work visit me daily. He was a sheer force of nature for whom a Leica lens was an essential body part. This solid selection of 175 images, several printed posthumously, are a mere glimpse given that he developed 26,000 rolls of film over 34 years and died having not seen another 250,000 of his negatives. Winogrand’s compulsive drive to be there, shooting, is palpable.

“If you didn’t take the picture, you weren’t there.” – Garry Winogrand


©Gary Winogrand

©Gary Winogrand

A voracious observer he relished capturing the life force of his hometown. He shot ferociously and framed off-kilter. The ordinary,anonymous and famous were treated as equals, exposed in his signature unfiltered style. Less interested in answers, or reflection, he urgently froze moments of the human landscape. Equal parts intrepid urban game hunter, curious behavioral scientist and zealous preacher, Winogrand’s images shout like headlines, entertain like punchlines or sing like a hymn. Take in this wonderland followed by the Coney Island Cyclone – you’ll want to ride both these roller coasters more than once.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 11.07.31 AM

©Gary Winogrand

by J. Sybylla Smith


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New IR Workshop a Success

Infrared Workshop with Laurie J. Klein

Infrared Workshop with Laurie J. Klein

A clear, late Spring day in Massachusetts was a perfect setting for a digital infrared workshop with instructors Laurie J. Klein and Kyle Perler. The workshop, Digital Infrared Photography 101, was taught to a sold-out crowd of 15 photographers. The biggest surprise of the day was that over half of the participants fell in love with the magic and mystery of infrared  during the film days of Kodak HIE High Speed Infrared Film! These intrepid photographers used changing bags, red filters, and the quirky film to capture IR. Now they are embracing digital infrared and a much simpler production process.

This workshop was scheduled to coincide with an exhibit of infrared photography titled, Beyond the Visible Spectrum. The exhibition featured the work of 4 artists that use infrared photography to create images of ethereal beauty. The work of Laurie J. Klein, Ron Rosenstock, Tony Sweet and Carl Stoveland provided inspiration and a teaching vehicle to workshop participants. Laurie utilized the prints on display as her introduction to the art of IR photography.

As Laurie stated, “One of the most challenging aspects of infrared capture is being able to pre-visualize in a non-visible spectrum. Learning how to interpret in IR.  Foliage comes out white yet the bark of the tree branches come out dark so composing is different then with color or B&W capture.  Some black fabrics come out white, some black. Red roses come out white, purple flowers come out darker. “

Many participants admitted that one of the reasons they love IR is there is often a gift that happens, something they didn’t see in the viewfinder or expect. Because the photographer is not working with a light source she can see, not all outcomes are predictable, that is the “magic” of IR.

Laurie and class during hands-on portion of workshop

Laurie and class during hands-on portion of workshop

Laurie and Kyle also brought in a model for a few hours and went out shooting at a pond near Digital Silver Imaging. Laurie also brought a Cam Ranger, which she tethered to her camera and laptop so the students could instantly see what the images being produced looked like. This allowed Laurie to discuss composition, what a good IR histogram looks like, exposure, ISO and custom white balance.

After a group photograph, it was back to the classroom and Kyle worked with the group on after capture. Using a variety of methods from Photoshop, Lightroom and Nik Pluggins: Color Effects Pro and Silver Effects Pro.  Kyle stepped the class through several images from raw to final, spending a good deal of time on retouching eyes, as eyes can go very dark and have an extremely haunting quality to them when photographed with IR.

Participants responded to Laurie and Kyle’s instruction with overwhelmingly praise and we hope to have the team back soon for another workshop and perhaps even an advanced session.

Join Laurie J. Klein 7/13-7/18/14 in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico for her workshop : Creative Infrared Photography

Laurie’s new book: Photographing the Female Form with Digital Infrared


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