Blogs Centerpoints Walker Photography

Eric Sutherland and the Lost Art of the Darkroom

(3 darkroom photos) Eric Sutherland took these photos of his darkroom in the basement of the original 1927 Walker building so that a precise replica of the workspace could be created in the 1971 Barnes Building.  The same sinks and cabinetry were used until the photography department converted to digital technology in 2003.

In today’s digital world it can be hard to remember that photography once relied on cameras, chemicals, and a darkroom. For many decades the magic of an image did not just occur with the snapping of the shutter, but also in the darkroom where the manipulation of exposure could produce dramatic effects.  The Walker Art Center darkroom was the domain for many exceptional museum photographers in the last century.  But photographer Eric Sutherland had a special attachment to the Walker’s darkroom.

Sutherland was the Walker’s staff photographer from 1953 to 1978, shooting some of the center’s most iconic images, including Marcel Duchamp’s portrait, Christo’s Balloon Ascension (1966), and Dan Flavin’s corridor of lightUntitled (1971), featured on the cover of the  November/December issue of Walker magazine. In these photographs Sutherland captures the spirit of the moment with his meticulous attention to detail and his command of darkroom technique. This is particularly evident in the series of photographs that he shot of Duchamp. Duchamp with Bicycle Wheel (1913) captures the artist in what appears to be a spontaneous moment, with martini in hand and an impish grin. By contrast, the rarely seen image of Duchamp with his readymade Why Not Sneeze (1921), taken at the same event as the Bicycle Wheel shot, creates shadows that makes Duchamp look sinister.

Contact sheet for opening of Marcel Duchamp exhibition, October 19,1965

Contact sheet for the opening of Marcel Duchamp’s Walker exhibition, October 19, 1965. Left with director Martin Friedman; middle with Why Not Sneeze (1921); right with Bicycle Wheel (1913)

But in the darkroom Sutherland had precise control over the look of his final prints. Through the use of an enlarger he would project the negative onto chemically sensitive paper, process the paper through a series of chemical baths, then hang it to dry. He might make several prints before arriving at the exact effect he is looking for. Some areas of the negative would require more or less light to create the desired result. Sutherland created detailed “dodge” and “burn” tools in order to manipulate the amount of exposure certain areas of the paper received.

In addition to his darkroom wizardry, Sutherland kept copious records. His scribbled notes are legendary, rigorously jotting down film types, exposure times, chemical temperatures, and personal evaluation on negative sleeves, film boxes and contact prints. His thorough documentation preserves his method and and process and provides insight into how a photograph was once made.

Negative, sleeve and "burning" tool used to increase exposure in a particular area when printing while limiting the exposure of light to the remainder of the paper.  The image is one featured in Design Quarterly # 81, devoted to the newly completed Barnes Building (1971) and its gallery and work spaces within.

Negative, sleeve, and “burning” tool used to increase exposure in a particular area when printing while limiting the exposure of light to the remainder of the paper. The image is featured in Design Quarterly No. 81, devoted to the newly completed Barnes building (1971).

Barnes building office suite, 1971 for Design Quarterly # 81, 1971

Barnes building office suite, 1971, for Design Quarterly No. 81, 1971

In 1968, when the Walker Art Center was preparing for a new building by architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, Sutherland turned his camera on his own darkroom. He took detailed photographs of the layout of his operation so that it could be recreated in the new building exactly as it was in the old building.darkroom_002 darkroom_001

(3 darkroom photos) Eric Sutherland took these photos of his darkroom in the basement of the original 1927 Walker building so that a precise replica of the workspace could be created in the 1971 Barnes Building.  The same sinks and cabinetry were used until the photography department converted to digital technology in 2003.

Sutherland documented his darkroom in the basement of the 1927 Walker building so that a precise replica of the workspace could be created in the 1971 building. The same sinks and cabinetry were used until the photography department converted to digital technology in 2003.

It was an eerie experience to stand in the darkroom in the Barnes building and look at the photographs that inspired it: the two spaces were nearly identical, just as Sutherland planned. Today the photos remain an interesting and haunting set of images that detail a process that is no longer practiced and document a space that is no longer a darkroom. Thanks to these images and Sutherland’s notations we have a comprehensive and preserved record of how photographs were created in the 20th Century.

Circa 1976 staff gathering on terrace, Eric Sutherland far left.

Staff gathering on the Walker terrace, circa 1976. Sutherland, waving, at left.

Your moment of: Ping pong pajamas with Alec Soth

At his Tumblr blog Little Brown Miscellanea, photographer Alec Soth writes that part of the contract for the new book Rodarte, Catherine Opie, Alec Soth stipulated that he’d receive a pair of pajamas from Kate and Laura Mulleavey, the sister fashion-design team working under the name Rodarte. “Instead they sent me a box full of […]


At his Tumblr blog Little Brown Miscellanea, photographer Alec Soth writes that part of the contract for the new book Rodarte, Catherine Opie, Alec Soth stipulated that he’d receive a pair of pajamas from Kate and Laura Mulleavey, the sister fashion-design team working under the name Rodarte. “Instead they sent me a box full of PJ’s – one for every day of the week,” he reports. “In exchange for their generosity, I’ve made them this product endorsement video.”

Plant as Decorative Element in a Gallery

One aspect of my position as a photographer here at the Walker is to document the exhibitions. This has been an ongoing process dating back to the beginning of the Walker Art Center. While reviewing images of past exhibitions, I began to notice something now absent in the galleries, potted plants.  Up until the opening […]

One aspect of my position as a photographer here at the Walker is to document the exhibitions. This has been an ongoing process dating back to the beginning of the Walker Art Center. While reviewing images of past exhibitions, I began to notice something now absent in the galleries, potted plants.  Up until the opening of the Barnes building in 1971, potted plants were a staple in the galleries.  While there are few exhibition views containing patrons, the plants were always present.  In these images they seem to act as the stand-ins for the patrons, sometimes aloof and in the background or congregating around the radiator as if in discussion.  And then there are those that are really into the work, standing in front of a sculpture’s light, their shadows enveloping the work.

Due to a multitude of reasons, plants only reappear in the galleries if they are part of the artwork.  Many of the plants seem to have been around for many years and well taken care of by the staff.  Enjoy this look at Exhibition Photography and Plants from the Walker archives.

Impressionable Youth

I really enjoyed Walker photographer Gene Pittman’s recent post about his portrait of skateboard videographer Ty Evans.  I immediately got excited when I saw that old school Powell Peralta ripper graphic, and I commented that the graphic was one of the images that got me interested in art.  As a fiery young dork imprisoned in […]

I really enjoyed Walker photographer Gene Pittman’s recent post about his portrait of skateboard videographer Ty Evans.  I immediately got excited when I saw that old school Powell Peralta ripper graphic, and I commented that the graphic was one of the images that got me interested in art.  As a fiery young dork imprisoned in small town USA, I was riveted by the danger and recklessness that the image represented.  As an added bonus, Ma absolutely HATED it.  It got me thinking about other images that inspired my creative path in life.  Here are some, in no particular order:

 Picasso's Guernica

barrel

Oh no, what have I started?  I had better stop now.  What are your influential images?  Post them in reply.

Save Polaroid?

There’s something eerily familiar about this old polaroid ad from the 60’s… If you haven’t already heard, Polaroid Corporation is killing off all of it’s instant film production. It’s demise is likely to be complete as early as 2009. In fact, our local camera shop – West Photo – claims to be completely out of […]

1960's Polaroid ad

There’s something eerily familiar about this old polaroid ad from the 60’s…

If you haven’t already heard, Polaroid Corporation is killing off all of it’s instant film production. It’s demise is likely to be complete as early as 2009. In fact, our local camera shop – West Photo – claims to be completely out of certain types already and the distributor will not take any new orders.

If you’re seriously worried, be sure to check out savepolaroid.com.

Most consumer-fans of polaroid film shouldn’t fret too much as the patent will certainly be licensed to other companies willing to manufacture it. In fact, Fuji already makes a color version of the pack film for certain cameras, and it’s been rumored that they will be taking on more, most likely going after the fringe market of the 600 series and Time-Zero equivalents.

Some of us in the professional market won’t be so lucky. Most large format instant film will probably disappear, along with our ability to proof and check focus when shooting large format film. Believe it or not, there are still clients who demand 4×5 transparencies for reproduction.

What can we expect from artists like Chuck Close, Lucas Samaras, and Mike Slack who have made the medium part of their trademark styles? Even if they are able to hoard the last remaning boxes, the stuff has a shelf life of less than a year. As aptly stated at savepolaroid.com “Best before: It’s too late”

Shift lens in the garden

Photographer Vincent Laforet has recently been getting a lot of attention for his aerial work with shift lenses. After seeing his feature in a recent New York Times Magazine, I decided I’d take out a few of our old shift lenses and go for a walk in the garden. Typically used to correct distortion in […]

Photographer Vincent Laforet has recently been getting a lot of attention for his aerial work with shift lenses. After seeing his feature in a recent New York Times Magazine, I decided I’d take out a few of our old shift lenses and go for a walk in the garden.

desuv_shiftcherry_shift

Typically used to correct distortion in architectural photography, shift lenses can also be used to create a false sense of closeness by mimicking an extremely shallow depth of field. Such a shallow depth of field — or the amount of the image that is in sharp focus — is usually only attainable when viewing a subject from a short distance.

You can hear Vincent speak on his techinique and see examples of his work with shift lenses HERE.

Where credit is due

As Cameron has been posting some of the portraits that come out of the Walker Photo Studio, I’m sure you have a sense of how great the work Cam and Gene do truly is. We try to document all of the visiting artists that visit the Walker with a portrait, and I often get to […]

As Cameron has been posting some of the portraits that come out of the Walker Photo Studio, I’m sure you have a sense of how great the work Cam and Gene do truly is.

We try to document all of the visiting artists that visit the Walker with a portrait, and I often get to escort visiting filmmakers down to the studio for their portraits. It’s always a pleasure to watch Cam and Gene work, and makes me look forward to seeing the results.

Last night, Cameron was able to work a portrait of Li Zhenhua into his schedule. I took a few pictures to document the occasion.

CamLi.jpg

Zhenhua is in from China to present The Wave and to complete the installation of Virtual China. (Be sure to check this out, it is fantastic! Also, be sure to read his Artist in Residence blog, to read the account of his first visit to the US.)

CamLi2.jpg

I can’t wait to see the final pics.

Richard Hell

A recent portrait of punk rock pioneer and poet, Richard Hell. Despite his somewhat ominous appearance he was a very nice, easy going guy. He gave me a piece of Sugarless BubbleYum. (Actual wrapper shown.)

richard_hell.jpgyum2.jpg

A recent portrait of punk rock pioneer and poet, Richard Hell. Despite his somewhat ominous appearance he was a very nice, easy going guy.

He gave me a piece of Sugarless BubbleYum. (Actual wrapper shown.)

Jem Cohen

Jem Cohen came to the Walker photo studio the other night and, after some discussion, we decided to shoot his portrait with SX-70 (Time Zero) polaroid film and an old 70’s-era camera–a perfect format to capture an artist who works in, as he describes, “archaic mediums.”

jem_cohen.jpg

Jem Cohen came to the Walker photo studio the other night and, after some discussion, we decided to shoot his portrait with SX-70 (Time Zero) polaroid film and an old 70’s-era camera–a perfect format to capture an artist who works in, as he describes, “archaic mediums.”

Ping magazine covers

Photo editors are a picky breed. That’s why for a photographer, getting your image on the cover of a magazine is a huge compliment (Or, it was just better than any other available choice). This spring two magazines featured Walker-produced photos for their March 2006 covers. Art In America featured an exhibition view of Huang’s […]

ping_mag_covers.jpg

Photo editors are a picky breed. That’s why for a photographer, getting your image on the cover of a magazine is a huge compliment (Or, it was just better than any other available choice). This spring two magazines featured Walker-produced photos for their March 2006 covers. Art In America featured an exhibition view of Huang’s Bat Project IV (2004-2005) shot by Gene Pittman. Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art made a somewhat unusual decision to use an artist portrait on their cover with terrific results. Artist portrait of Huang Yongping by Cameron Wittig.

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