by Brittany Law
I’m not an artist. I can’t even take a decent picture for Instagram. I am clueless about photography, but as a writer I know a great deal about setting a scene, and Stephen Takacs’ Brownie in Motion gallery is quite the scene. Upon walking into the Cultural Arts Center, the surreal images of the camera obscura evoke a sense of wonder. The camera obscura has a personality that easily caught my attention and drew me into the images; then, as I ventured further into the gallery, I was confronted with the camera obscura, and I was truly a part of this surreal exhibit. The photographs that lined the walls were those taken with the camera obscura, and I was enveloped by this world Stephen created. Compared to the vibrant and surreal digital photographs visible upon entering, the black and white photographs surrounding me then seemed grounded, as if they were bringing me back to earth. They evoke this feeling of nostalgia, despite being taken in the last couple of years. I had to periodically remind myself that I was not looking into the distant past.
The portraits in particular caught my attention more than anything else. One that I particularly enjoyed was Sue Cavanaugh: Fiber Artist. On first glance, the image feels regal, this stern woman looking down on me. But the longer I look at her the more I see in her. Through her sunglasses I can see half-closed eyes; she is not looking on with contempt, she seems exhausted, like a woman who has done what was hard and now just needs to rest. The corner of her mouth had a slight upturn, suggesting that what I first thought was a scowl were just the signs of a long life playing across her face. She is not a queen looking down on her subjects with derision, she is a mother looking on to her children, appreciating the work she has done.
The portrait Big Mike: Ropemaker really grabbed my attention as well. When I saw the photo, I was both humored and impressed by Big Mike. He is definitely large in stature, but the emotional presence he evokes is large as well. His face is stoic. From his size to his facial hair to the rope he works with, Big Mike is masculine. Not only that, but he is a particular kind of man. Big Mike represents a standard of masculinity that is disappearing. The image that men must be big, strong, and unfeeling is fading from our collective consciousness, and with it so is Big Mike.
As I left the gallery I admired once more the individuals, practices, and ideals that are disappearing from our world. I looked again into the fading world of the camera obscura before reentering the vibrant reality of the digital photographs, and I left the gallery wondering how long before my way of doing things would die out as well.
Brownie In Motion: Traveling Picture Show is on view at the Columbus Cultural Art Center until March 19th, 2016.
Hours: Friday & Saturday 9am – 4pm
139 West Main Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215
Beginning Photography students at Otterbein University had a truly special opportunity when Stephen Takacs brought his Brownie In Motion project to the Art Department in September. Students learned about the camera obscura in a photo history lecture earlier in the semester, but being able participate in the magic in person was an unparalleled experiential learning opportunity that will not soon be forgotten. Students were excitedly able to walk inside of Takacs’ room sized camera and see the scene outside of the lens projected onto a screen. They were then able to be part of the development process and assist in making the class portrait. Additionally, students were inspired to consider an expanded notion of photography, one that engages with the camera as an art object itself and promotes collaboration between artist and sitter.
Amanda Le Kline graduated from The Ohio State University with her Master of Fine Arts in 2014, and currently teaches at Otterbein University. Her work combines the mediums of photography, video, sculpture, and performance, and her research interests come from the fields of anthropology, mythology, and women & gender studies.
Guest Writer: Janet L. Pritchard
The Brownie has been an object of curiosity at King’s Saddlery during the past week; a multi-generational family business in Sheridan, Wyoming, King’s is known for their hand-crafted leather work and quality ropes. As an artist in residence at Jentel in Banner, Wyoming, Stephen took advantage of his close proximity to make images of saddles, leatherworkers, and ropes. Testing the newly re-released Ilford Direct Positive paper Stephen began work with a heavily tooled saddle. The saddle turned out to be the perfect subject for testing his new paper, which seems to have a slower emulsion speed rendering it useless for portraits but OK for still life, because it never moved or complained.
I stopped by to visit Stephen while he was photographing this saddle, the last saddle master craftsman and family patriarch Don King ever made. Although this was not my first visit to King’s, my current photographic project on the real and ideal landscape of Yellowstone National Park has brought me this way in the past, their focus and commitment to quality western tack always impresses me. The Don King museum is a one of a kind treasure and not to be missed if passing through town.
It took Stephen much of the first day to nail his set-up and learn the new paper, but then he was hitting his stride and making great work. King’s staff helped him select and move saddles from both shop and the museum. He had his pick of classic western saddle craft with exceptional hand tooling. Members of the staff generously posed for portraits as well. A few days into his work Stephen was able to turn the camera and make some overall views of the shop with its extensive collections of saddles, ropes, and taxidermy. Today is his last day and Stephen hopes to make a multi-generational family portrait of members of the King family. (I’m sure he’ll post photographs soon.)
Tomorrow Stephen will take the Brownie to Sheridan College and present as a visiting artist. Our time at Jentel is rapidly drawing to a close and the Brownie will be back on the road soon. We post this blog to show you a small selection of Stephen’s time in action at King’s Saddlery.
Guest blogger Janet L. Pritchard teaches at the University of Connecticut. You can see examples of her current project More Than Scenery in Fraction Magazine, here: http://www.fractionmagazine.com/janet-pritchard and here http://www.fractionmagazine.com/janet-pritchard-76.
Hello everyone out there in cyber space,
If you’re tired of just seeing images of Brownie In Motion online and want to experience it in person, please come to the Columbus Arts Festival this weekend! I’ll be sharing the camera obscura with visitors from 11am – 9pm on Friday & Saturday and 11am – 5pm on Sunday.
If you’re in the neighborhood, I’d like to encourage you to come across the river to 400 West Rich for artist open studios starting on Friday from 7pm – 11pm and Saturday from 11am – 6pm. Although, I won’t be able to be able to participate in open studios this year (since I’ll be at the arts festival) I do want to encourage everyone to check out the work of some of my friends and explore the building where I spend so much of my time creating!
FYI – If you’re feeling really adventurous, the World Naked Bike Ride will be happening on Saturday evening starting from 400 West Rich around 9:30pm.
Have a wonderful weekend!
Reader of this blog may be wondering, “What happened to the Brownie In Motion team? Why did the story leave off so suddenly? Where are Micah, Steve and the world’s largest Brownie camera..?
I truly must apologize to you. I left you hanging and for that I’m very, very sorry. The journey is far from over! Please let me explain.
What happened was that I returned to Columbus. I returned to take advantage of the opportunity to teach my dream class – Alternative Camera Systems – at The Ohio State University!
It was a very busy but very rewarding semester! During this upper-level photography course, undergraduate and graduate students explored an a-typical amalgam of photographic systems, including pinhole cameras, plastic lens cameras, peel apart film and a variety of DIY tricks. Though the class officially ended in mid December, our experience will culminate in an exhibition titled, ‘The Great Camera Build Off.’
The Great Camera Build Off opens this Friday, January 9th at EASE Gallery in Columbus, Ohio and features photographs and handmade cameras created by OSU students.
Every artist participating in The Great Camera Build Off was tasked with creating a new camera using a piece of obsolete equipment that Bob Hite (the OSU photo lab manager) and I collected from dusty nooks, forgotten boxes and rarely touched cabinets at OSU and my own personal collection. The resulting exhibition features both the handmade cameras (many of which are quite sculptural) and the images produced by each.
Although all of the cameras and images were created using analog (ie. film-based) materials, the output varies and includes digital inkjet prints, as well as those made in the darkroom.
The Great Camera Build Off opens Friday, January 9th at EASE Gallery and runs until February 7th. If you’re local, please come to the opening reception tomorrow from 7-9 to say hello, meet the student artists and enjoy food and drink on us!
30 W. Woodruff
Columbus, OH 43210
The Brownie In Motion team will return to regularly scheduled postings very soon. Thank you for sticking with us!
A few miles west of the Oregon-Idaho border, after driving through Boise and what felt like a high altitude wind tunnel on Highway 84, we happened upon a little RV campground called Catfish Junction. On a less dramatic portion of the Snake River, the grounds are nestled in golden hills. There we met the tall, scraggly-bearded groundskeeper, Daren. Wearing a dilapidated black hoody and blown out denim jeans, his demeanor was laid back as one would expect from a cat fisherman and rural RV site overseer. He kindly lent us an old taped-up fishing pole and some fresh night crawlers. Seemingly, Daren doesn’t often meet many young travelers willing to step out of their RV’s, and was happy to chat with us about our adventures with Brownie In Motion.
On the boat dock, we cast out our lines while I played guitar to the rapidly shifting sunset. Ten minutes in, Daren got a bite. Casually working his fishing pole, he effortlessly reeled in a catfish over 2 feet long. “That’s your breakfast,” Daren said as he plopped the fish into a bucket for overnight storage. While removing the hook, he muttered, “Stupid cat,” over and over….
Friday morning, we mingled with Daren while I prepared our catfish and French press coffee breakfast. He regaled us with stories about the Junction: natives raiding travelers on the Oregon Trail, an eccentric who used to farm a small island in the lake, and his own experience working heavy machinery in L.A. As we drove off, I couldn’t help thinking of this adventure as our own little salute to the Oregon Trail.
Until Next Time
- Brownie In Motion Team
7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning we were rearing to get out on the Bonneville Salt Flats to make photographs with the camera obscura. Our frolic in the mud the night before had caused some apprehension but thorough testing of the ground assured us of a securely packed salt flat with only a little water from the rain resting on top. In cinematic form we sped through to the flats with our video camera rolling. The loaded down Ford maxed out at 93mph but driving on the famed salt was an experience non-the less. We made a beeline straight into the immense salty white expanse while I stared off, hypnotized by the road cones and mountain ranges swirling past us.
The road to Salt Lake City caught me off-guard. I knew Mormons had found the salt lake valley after wandering through the desert and decided it was a divine gift, but I was never aware or concerned with the logistics of this gift, nor had anyone ever described it to me with particular enthusiasm.
Cruising through the mountains was awe-inspiring. In the south near Route 70, the rocks are hard and craggy; large double trailer coal mining trucks speed through the hills. As you proceed north, the landscape starts to undergo dramatic transitions. Within 100 miles, you travel from the Moab desert, up into the mountains, and then down towards Lake Utah. The descent is nothing short of magical. At the top of the mountains, the landscape becomes more fertile; shrubs and trees to rise in frequency, changing the world from the dead whites and greys into deep greens, blues, and browns. For a moment, mind you, just a moment, I think I saw what the Mormon’s were speaking of when they thought they had found Eden; sunlight gleaming through majestic peaks brushed by clouds while mighty pines climb steeply upwards. We sped through Salt Lake City with the commuters on the 8-lane, mega-highway-mecca-Blvd. The city at night was impressive. We cruised down 80W towards Bonneville, still tired from Arches, doing our best to stay awake.
The further west we went, the stranger things seemed to become. At one point along the freeway we saw what looked like a giant illuminated cactus, the only structure for 50 miles. Our eyes started playing tricks on us. Apart from our headlights, there was nothing but total darkness and some industrial operations deep in the hills. My eyes locked onto something in the distance, maybe a mountain range, maybe a UFO; I had no idea. It turned out to be the lights from Wendover, the town nearest the flats. We pulled into the Bonneville Speedway around 1:00 A.M. and started exploring.
A sign filled with bullet holes, eerie wind, and a blanket of stars became our playground. I had noticed earlier that day while setting up at Arches National Park that the poles of the Brownie’s frame sounded like giant wind chimes when struck against the ground. I unpacked a few and hit them against the hard packed desert floor. The vibrations I had heard earlier sustained a long ringing enhanced by the wind and silence of the desert. Different lengths of poles created wild overtones, slowly receding in the expansive nothingness. Steve set up a remote sensor on a flash behind the bullet-hole-ridden Bonneville Speedway sign, revealing the negative space created by gun totting yahoos that regular the flats. We spent at least two hours in the cool desert night.
Finding any clear information about camping at the flats had been a bit of a challenge. The BLM website (Bureau of Land Management) make vague statements about camping being permitted on adjacent land. So Steve pulled of on the side of the road to set up camp. There seemed to be a great deal of space to explore and camp on even further off the road, so I egged him on. It turns out a van with front wheel drive does not fare that well in mud. About 40 yards from the road, the van stopped and wheels started to spin. We freed ourselves by emptying some of our photo sandbags to gain traction in the slippery mud. About ten minutes later we were back on the road. Crisis averted we headed onto a deserted desert road to camp.
A tarp behind the van on the shoulder of the road was our campsite and sleep came easy. Having learned our lesson about the mud we were ready for the flats. Tomorrow would be a day of photographic fun in the bizarre desert world. Or so we thought…
Until Next Time,
Team Brownie In Motion
Colorado was a blur and our workflow was irregular at best. Between visiting with friends and family, being rained out of several locations, and wanting to sightsee, the Brownie-In-Motion team managed only 2 camera obscura shoots in our 8 days there; the Genoa wind farm, and the Red Rocks Park. We fell in love with the rapidly shifting landscape, the color palates painted on various altitudes. It was with a heavy heart that we left Carbondale on Monday, quietly driving away from our little mountain paradise.
Our next location, Arches National Park just outside Moab, Utah. That evening we cruised through the park scouting locations for our shoot the next day. The surrounding landscape, epic in proportions, compared with nothing I have ever seen. To the south, Mt Peale darts into the clouds and the Moab fault runs into an adjacent valley seeming to stretch on forever. Deep reds, washed out greens, and endless blue skies serve to accentuate the stone formations that towered around us. Throughout the whole time at Arches, my sense of awe never diminished.
Overnight we camped out on Route 162 about 10 miles northeast of Moab. Route 162 is a scenic byway that runs down the Colorado river in Southeastern Utah, coming out of the Rockies and slowly dissipating into the desert. It was dark by the time we arrived, but our camp setup is rather minimalist and easy to accomplish in the dark. A hammock, sleeping pad, or simple tent make for good sleeping pretty much anywhere.
Our campsite was hot, humid, and riddled with insects of all kinds. Not 20 minutes after we set up and prepared dinner, a strong wind picked up and our non-rainproof camping arrangements started feeling quite inadequate. We rushed to get our things packed away again but before we finished the rain came on without hesitation. With one of our tarps and a nearby fencepost, Stephen created an impromptu lean-to that connected to the back doors of the van. With our aluminum Bud Light bottles and mac n’ cheese, we settled in for a nice, albeit wet, dinner. Laughing at the improbability of rain in a desert, we slowly got cold, drenched, and dirty. When the rain let up, we relocated camp to a picnic shelter down the road. On our nighttime drive through scenic 162, we laughed, shivered, and sang ‘Strangers in the Night’ to passing cars as we made our way down the lonely road.
By 6:15 A.M. the next morning, with only 3 hours of sleep, we were back at Arches ready to work. The only others inhabiting the park were clearly photographers, hobbyists & professionals alike. No one in the park seemed to interested in our giant camera; a few tourists scampered by with raised eyebrows but during our 6 hours there we only spoke with three people. Right as Steve was finishing what would be our final shot at the park, a ranger approached us. We narrowly escaped a $500 citation at the graces of the ranger, and were issued a verbal warning. Luckily the large paper negative Steve had just developed turned out to be perfect
After breaking down the camera, I encouraged a little more exploration since we hadn’t actually got to go up to the rocks much. I climbed around gaily while Steve snapped some pictures inside the Double Arches. The next destination for us, the Bonneville Salt Flats. Hopefully we catch some wild speed trials, or at least perform some ourselves.
Until next time!