Phōtós – graphê

drawing with light”

We are looking forward to hosting Montreal-based artist Fiona Annis to the CRAG this summer in a thought-provoking solo show of her recent photographic work. This exhibition, Fiona Annis: a portion of that which once was everything, will run from July 11 to September 4. 

Annis recently completed a residency at the Museum of Astronomical Instruments in Naples, Italy where she explored the celestial themes of light and time and their relevance to photography. She combines and manipulates historical photographic techniques to create compelling images that challenge our conceptions of abstract art and photography. Her images are purposefully mysterious – we hope to provoke your curiosity to explore the unknown through this exhibit.

Double Moon Crossing, 2016, C-print enlargement of wet plate collodion, 30 x 30 in.

This image’s stark contrast of light and dark is thematic of Annis’ work. The central circles are clearly referenced by the title, prompting us to imagine planets and stars traversing the night sky in the abstract shapes, much like how we search for meaning in constellations. A closer look reveals various anomalies from the printing process. These peculiar forms in many of her works are actually a record of movements and light in the darkroom during the exposure process rather than an image of a physical object, bringing the unseen temporal aspect of photography to the fore as the subject.

Compare Annis’s work with a photograph of a lunar eclipse. http://www.nanaimoastronomy.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/LunarEclipseEnd.jpg

This image was produced using the wet-plate collodion process which was invented in the 1850s. It produces a clear, reusable negative on inexpensive glass. The hand-processed plates use silver nitrate, requiring Annis to rely on 19th-century recipes to mix the chemicals. The entire process from the few-seconds-long exposure to the image development in the darkroom must be completed in under 15 minutes. The chemicals are sensitive to blue UV light, making the images show up darkened in areas where warm colours would be and without differentiation between blue and whites.

Charles Bayliss and Bernard Holtermann, Lavender Bay, Sydney Harbour, 1875, collodion glass negative. State Library of New South Wales.

A “c-print” refers to a colour printing technique known as chromogenic printing, developed in the early 20th century. Three separate layers of gelatin with light-sensitive silver halide emulsion are first exposed. Colour developer and dye coupler are then added which oxidizes on the exposed silver to form the dye. A different dye (yellow, magenta, and cyan) is produced on each layer, resulting in a full-colour image.

Arts and sciences are often considered to be polar opposites, but there remains an inherent curiosity that drives creative expression and the quest for knowledge. This crossover is also evidenced by the material history of photography, namely the development of astronomical instruments such as telescopic lenses which were used in early cameras. Both astronomy and photography are still striving to expand the human capability for seeing and understanding. Annis’s work reveals just that. 

By using historical techniques, Annis can evoke a sense of mystery and wonder. However, photography was used to scientifically record from the beginning, not just as a creative medium. There were even debates as to whether photography could be considered an art, as it simply “replicated” reality without an artist’s hand. We now know that a photograph doesn’t fully capture reality as we experience it. By examining the process of photography and our historical relationship with it, Annis calls to attention how we so easily take our perception of reality for granted. 

Annis is interested in exploring and capturing what lies beyond the visible and observable.  Photography can make visible what isn’t to the naked eye through advancements in technology, just as art has the same capacity to express emotion and imagination.

View finder (the room of time), Museum of Astronomical Instruments (Naples, Italy), 2019, C-print, 10 x 8 in.

We invite you to attend the opening reception on Thursday, July 11 from 7 to 9 pm.

We will also be hosting an artist’s talk and guided tour with Fiona Annis and local astronomer Tony Puerzer from the Nanaimo Astronomy Society on Saturday July 13th from 2 to 3 pm in the main gallery. This event will open the interdisciplinary dialogue between the art and science communities and explore the complex meanings behind Annis’s images.