'Old School: Camera Obscura' Exhibit Opens At LCVA

Published 3:28 pm Tuesday, November 18, 2014

This exhibition is the first in an annual series that places contemporary art within an historical context. Old School: Historical Methods in Contemporary Practice – Camera Obscura launches the series with a survey of present-day photographers working in historical formats – camera obscuras, pinhole cameras, and view cameras. LCVA’s permanent collection is particularly rich in this area, and includes works by Pam Fox, Sally Mann, Jeraldine Rogers, and Willie Anne Wright. Beyond their interest in historical photographic techniques and the visually arresting and enigmatic quality of their works, these noted photographers share another commonality – they live and work in Virginia. This “locally sourced” undercurrent is evident throughout the exhibition. Richmond-based photographer Shaun Irving, a Hampden- Sydney alumnus and former student of Pam Fox, created his large-scale landscapes with a mobile camera obscura during a trip to Spain. Courtney Johnson works with a unique sort of pinhole camera – one that she uses underwater to capture the stunning natural abstractions of the ocean environs off North Carolina piers.

The idea of creating a camera obscura, the predecessor of modern cameras, was initially suggested by Michael Mergen, assistant professor of art at Longwood, and photographer Alex Grabiec (’07). The two had previously discussed the idea of turning the Main Street gallery windows of the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts into a camera obscura, and they were eager to give their theoretical musings material reality. Longwood University’s advanced photography students soon joined the effort, and are responsible for building the camera obscura in the LCVA window. “The students did really good work on designing and building the camera obscura,” said Mergen. “Moving out of the classroom, working with museum staff, and having their project be seen in such a public way has been very rewarding.”

The exhibition is also the first curated by LCVA’s new director, Rachel Talent Ivers, who joined the center in late June of this year. “Our Old School series intends to explore the motivations and responses of today’s artists through an examination of their chosen technical method from its origins through contemporary practice,” says Ivers. “The exhibition presents contemporary art’s dialogue with its traditional past, which we hope encourages our visitors to consider and analyze, form and share opinions, and respond to rather than avoid any perceived challenge they may encounter in our galleries.”

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Old School also includes a Focus Gallery curated by Emily Grabiec, LCVA’s curator of education, an area where visitors of all ages can explore early photography practices.

Courtney Johnson will be at Longwood University on Thursday, November 20, 4 p.m., at Bedford Auditorium as part of The Longwood Department of Theater, Art, and Graphic and Animation Design’s Visiting Artist Series. Additional related events will be announced during the course of the exhibition.

Old School: Historical Methods in Contemporary Practice – Camera Obscura is made possible in part by Candela Books + Gallery, j fergeson gallery, and Longwood University’s Department of Theatre, Art, and Graphic and Animation Design.

The camera obscura is a very dark inside. It will take three to five minutes for your eyes to adjust and for the scene to slowly become visible on the wall. It is worth the wait.