October 22, 2014

Join us for a photo-tastic weekend! Photographers Will Wilson and Larry McNeil will be in D.C. October 25 and 26

This weekend—October 25 and 26—come down to National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., to meet photographers Larry McNeil (Tlingit/Nisga’a) and Will Wilson (Diné/Bilagáana) and be a part of their new work! The museum is hosting public programs with the artists in conjuction with the exhibition Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson, on display in the SeaAlaska Gallery on the museum’s second floor through January 5, 2015.

Both photographers will be working collaboratively with visitors—this means you—in the Potomac Atrium on the museum’s ground floor. Here's what each artist plans to do:

On Saturday, October 25, Will Wilson brings his ongoing project Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX) to the National Mall. Will has already taken CIPX to such museums as the Denver Art Museum and the Wheelwright in Santa Fe. In Washington, Will will use his old-fashioned 8 x 10 view camera and a 140-year-old lens to make tintype portraits of visitors to the museum. He will develop the tintypes in an outdoor darkroom adjacent to his makeshift photography studio, and he'll give each tintype to the sitter. In exchange, he asks for permission to add a scanned image of the tintype to his CIPX portrait gallery.

Will encourages his sitters to bring objects of personal significance to appear with them in their portraits. Please keep in mind that, depending on interest, there may not be time for everyone to be photographed. Will will be making photographs on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. and to 4 p.m. On Sunday, the portraits will be on display, and Will will be available to speak with visitors about his work. 

Larry McNeil will use this weekend at the museum to launch his newest project, Larry McNeil and the Art of the Digital Age. From the perspective of an indigenous photographer working in the 21st century, through photographs made with cell phones and circulated on social media sites, Larry approaches what he calls "the art of the everyday."

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Larry McNeil. © 2013 Larry McNeil

Larry's project is interactive, and he and the museum encourage everyone to participate. He is uploading his photographs to project sites he has created on Instagram and Facebook. There he invites us not only to comment on his work, but also to upload our own images. We hope those of you who can’t make it to the National Mall will take part from wherever you are. By inviting dialogue and exchange with us, Larry acknowledges the power of social media in shaping and re-shaping our understanding of photography. Larry will be at the museum on the National Mall Saturday, October 25, and Sunday, October 26, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

—Heather Shannon

Heather Shannon is photo archivist at the National Museum of the American Indian and curator of Indelible 

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October 17, 2014

The Art of the Digital Age: Sharing Photos!

By Larry McNeil

Welcome to the “Fun with Smartphones Project.” Pull out your smartphone and share your photos!

Photographer Larry McNeil (Tlingit/Nisgaá) 

The project's formal title is “Larry McNeil and the Art of the Digital Age." The National Museum of the American Indian describes it this way:

Through the use of a camera phone and social media sites like Facebook, art photographer Larry McNeil explores the art of everyday life as perceived by a contemporary indigenous person. Presenting hundreds of his own snapshots made around Washington, D.C., and informed by his unique visual aesthetic, McNeil invites NMAI visitors—in person and virtually—to add their own commentary to his photographs and to upload their own snapshots to his Facebook page.

I’d like to make this fun and interactive, because the emphasis is having us collectively figuring out what “the art of everyday life” means to you. I have some of the sites already online, and I’ll be at the Smithsonian National Musuem of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, October 25, if you want to show up with your smartphone and smartphone photos. We could play with different ways of making photos and just see what unfolds.

At various times I’ll likely ask you to photograph something thematic and share it on the site(s). I think that this will be fun and maybe even thought provoking, but we’ll see, because this will be a group effort.

If Saturday doesn't work for you, come by on Sunday, October 26, to see how the project is taking shape.

On Facebook just look for “Larry McNeil” to participate. Here’s what my page will look like:

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And here's the link to that Facebook page.

On Instagram, look for “1_photographic” to participate. Here’s what the page will look like:

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Link to Larry’s Instagram page.

When sharing photos on Instagram, please use the hashtag symbol #, followed by my username 1_photographic. It should look like this: #1_photographic.

If you find yourself in Washington, D.C., between now and January 5, 2015, please take the time to stop by and see our photography exhibition titled Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson!

Selfies are wildly popular on Facebook, so I decided to make one especially for this project. It’s me at the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C., and even cooler, made with a Nokia smartphone. How cool is that?

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Please join us by sharing photographs. Thank you, and get those photos uploaded! All user agreements are between you and the companies, not McNeil or the Smithsonian NMAI. All McNeil is doing is organizing a place to share photographs on existing social networking sites. No legal agreements or any agreements are made with anyone with this project and no liabilities may be extended to any party. The legalese language is made between you and the user agreements at the social networking sites.

We want you to take an active part in this project. But even if you're not a photographer, please come by the museum's Potomac Atrium on the weekend of October 25 and 26 and share your thoughts, or just your curiosity. 

Sharable calendar links for the project Saturday, October 25, and Sunday, October 26.

Directions to the museum in Washington.

Larry McNeil is a photographer, artist, and scholar. He has been teaching photography since 1992, exhibits his work on a regular basis both nationally and internationally, and stays active as a scholar with research and published material. He has earned many awards for his photography and scholarship, including fellowships and purchase awards for various museum collections. 

The original version of this post appears on Larry McNeil's blog. It is reprinted here with permission.

Story and photographs copyright Larry McNeil, 2014. All rights reserved. 

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April 10, 2014

Photographers Larry McNeil and Will Wilson Go for the Platinum

Will Wilson's finished platinum print portraits. Used with the permission of the artist. 

Photographers Larry McNeil (Tlingit/Nisga′a) and Will Wilson (Diné/Bilagáana) have been invited to speak about their platinum printmaking at an international symposium on the science, conservation, significance, and continued application of the historic photographic process. Presented by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), National Gallery of Art, Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the symposium will take place on October 22 and 23, 2014. The two photographers are scheduled to speak on the first day of the two-day program. Tours of photo collections held by the National Gallery of Art, Library of Congress, and the National Museum of American History and workshops on the the chemistry of platinum and palladium photographs are offered on October 21 and 24.

NMAI has acquired platinum works from both artists and is currently preparing an exhibition of these important photographs. Opening on June 7, 2014, Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson reminds us of the role platinum photographs played in late-19th- and early-20th-century representations of Native Americans. The exhbition further argues that McNeil and Wilson challenge this problematic history by integrating the process into their contemporary practice.

Larry McNeil and Shawna Hanel, his assistant, with a test platinum print of Elders. Used with the permission of the artist.

In preparation for the show, the two photographers have been hard at work in their darkrooms. Platinum paper used to be manufactured by photographic supply companies and was basically ready to use right out of the box. In fact, platinum printing was considered easy to do. This is no longer the case. The platinum process is now difficult and dangerous. McNeil and Wilson have to make their own platinum paper by mixing light-sensitive chemicals in a darkroom and applying the solution to the paper. The photographers use a printing frame to put the sensitized paper in direct contact with a negative, then expose the frame to light. Upon exposure, the image from the negative burns itself onto the paper in reverse. McNeil and Wilson must monitor the development of the print so as not to produce an over- or underexposed photograph. After exposure, they return to the darkroom to dunk the print in a chemical fixing bath.

I asked Will Wilson to describe the work involved in using a digital image to create a negative for platinum printing:

A contrast curve is the tonal relationship ranging from black to white. Establishing the contrast curve for a digital negative depends on several factors: the paper to be used for the final print, the platinum/palladium ferric oxalate ratios, the developer, the light source, and the negative substrate material combination. Humidity also impacts the curve. 

With my homemade platinum solution, I sensitize a Stouffer test wedge, which measures a gradient of tones in five percent increments from black to white, to do a series of tests to find the time that gets me to the dMax—the shortest time to develop the perfect black. I record this. Next I expose another test wedge at my perfect-black time, and this anticipates the entire tonal range of a platinum print. I let the new test strip dry and then scan it into Photoshop. 

Will Wilson's digitally derived negative of his self-portrait. Used with the permission of the artist.

In Photoshop I use the eyedropper tool while viewing the contrast curve of my scan to measure the contrast values at each of those five-percent increments. You “build your curve” by inputting these values into an inverted version of your contrast curve, which radically changes its shape. You apply this new curve to your test wedge and reprint. Now you run another test strip, scan, and measure. This time your contrast values should give you a curve that is much more linear, with a steady, predictable progression from black to white.

Based on this test you tweak the first curve you built and test again. Hopefully you are very linear at this point. Now you use the curve you built with its tweaks, applying it to all of your digital negatives, and you should be golden for your particular combo.

One more thing: Bostick and Sullivan of Santa Fe and photographer Ron Reeder should be credited for leading me down this particular wormhole. 

Larry McNeil recently posted to his blog on the cutting-edge technology he uses in aid of his platinum-printing and his thought process for titling his newest work, which will appear in Indelible.

The photography symposium has received support from the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Gallery of Art. For a complete schedule of the symposium and to register, submit payment, or apply for scholarship funding, please click here.

Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson will be on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., from June 7, 2014, to January 15, 2015.

—Heather Shannon and Will Wilson

Heather Shannon is photo archivist at the National Museum of the American Indian and curator of Indelible.

Will Wilson, a Diné photographer who grew up in the Navajo Nation, studied photography at Oberlin College (BA, 1993) and the University of New Mexico (MFA in Photography, 2002). In 2007, Wilson won the Native American Fine Art Fellowship from the Eiteljorg Museum, and in 2010 was awarded a grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. From 2009 to 2011, he managed the National Vision Project, a Ford Foundation funded initiative at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, and helped to coordinate the New Mexico Arts Temporary Installations Made for the Environment (TIME) program on the Navajo Nation. Wilson is part of the Science and Arts Research Collaborative (SARC) which brings together artists interested in using science and technology in their practice with collaborators from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia Labs as part of the International Symposium on Electronic Arts, 2012 (ISEA). His installation Auto Immune Response was on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York in 2006. 

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Some beautiful photos on display here. How's he'd edited them is something of genius.

The work used gold nanoparticles and titanium dioxide as a catalyst to speed the process and determined that water serves as a co-catalyst for the reaction that transforms carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. While researchers have worked with carbon monoxide oxidation using gold catalysts for years and have realized that water can change the reaction, none have previously been able to fully explain why it worked.

This is a great post.

Incredible you guys are larry mcneil and will wilson, you create an awesome opportunity for photography. you proved this is an art.