New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 34 October 24 to 30, 2012

Long Exposures
John Neff
Ed Barnas
4/18/11 by John Neff. Source:
John Neff, "4/18/11"

While multi-media artist John Neff has used such photographic elements as cyanotypes, negatives, and unfixed prints in his past artwork and installations, the current show at Golden Gallery presents a much more traditional photographic experience – at first glance.

Nineteen pieces are on display. Monochromatic inkjet prints on 16 x 13-in. sheets, the image size varies with each but generous borders never crowd the simple black frames. The subjects are everyday objects and portraits of friends and/or lovers.

The prints are presented unlabeled – the caption sheet only lists dates and suggests that the visitor view them starting clockwise from the office door. There is no obvious storyline that I could discern other than a record of daily life observed in still-lifes and portraits. The images stand as individual photographs, although there are visual similarities in many of the portrait poses. One pair of images struck me in particular – a photo of a sketch of a nude on a table (4/18/11) hung next to a photo of two men in a somewhat similar pose (9/27/11 on the caption sheet but 9/7/11 on the gallery website).

But these images were “born digital” not in the current quick and easy sense. Neff has taken traditional view cameras and combined them with commercial flat-bed scanners to create a digital hybrid that writes to a laptop rather than a memory card. Using commercial rather than photographic scanners also introduces artifacts into the images, scan lines and cross-hatching that reminded me of “distressed” negatives (cf. Bruno Bertend-Frezoul’s contributions to “Walking the City” recently shown at Sous Les Etoiles Gallery). Capturing an image with this rig requires a lengthy exposure as the scanner head slowly traverses the frame, making the process of image capture more like that of the mid-nineteenth century than the quick digital snaps of today.

1/22/11 by John Neff. Source:
John Neff, "1/22/11"

The need for stillness during the long exposures resulted in images that are quiet and sedate, especially the portraits. The subjects, almost all male, sit relaxed or lay in bed for the duration of the exposure. In these portraits there is a subtle undercurrent charged with sensuality. (It reminds me of the sensuality in Marie Cosindas’s color Polaroid work of the 1960s, particularly her image of two bare-chested sailors.)

It is the long exposures that seem to create the essence of these images. By itself, the choice of a view camera alone imposes a deliberate-ness to the photographic process that stands apart from the speed of the hand-held camera, whether using film or digital media. I suspect that the success of these images is tied more to the aesthetic impact of the slow view-camera process rather than the use of a digital hybrid construct.

John Neff

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