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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI Fine Arts Center Galleries -“BEYOND BLACK & WHITE” --Photographs by JONATHAN BAILEY

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“I confess I’ve rarely been completely satisfied with ‘straight’ black and white (gelatin silver) photography… Over the past 25 years I’ve employed numerous devices to extend the dialogue with my images… What I have endeavored to do is to make each step in the photographic process another beginning point – to use each result as a further point of departure.” – Jonathan Bailey

KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 16, 2005 -- With these comments assessing his development as a photographer, Jonathan Bailey opens his erudite 2-part article on split-toning (Camera Arts, December 2000/January 2001 & February/March 2001). He goes on to explain his infatuation with this esoteric, later 19th - earlier 20th-century process that he has utilized in his contemporary production for roughly the past 10 years.

The chemical (post-normal processing and fixing) photographic process known as split-toning provides for a visually arresting, variegated coloration dramatically altering the character of a black & white (gelatin silver) photograph. Split-toning is exceptionally distinct from the more familiar (even mundane) uniform coloration of sepia, for example. It is actually gold that plates the silver in Bailey’s prints, the density of silver being the delicate trigger for the tones elicited.

The look and feel of split-toning accords with Bailey’s aesthetic sensibility, lending what he calls “soulfulness and richness” and even a near 3-dimensional quality to his imagery. That fact that the deliberate creation of such toning is never completely controllable by the photographer; that is to say, cannot be pre-determined entirely, is an unpredictable aspect that enthralls him. Bailey’s affection for toning reflects an intuitive approach that finds expression in his use of the plastic “Diana” camera as well. The plastic lens and unsophisticated nature of this camera contributes to the romantic – distant in time and place – flavor of his work. Bailey’s photographs concern themselves with details of observed and felt reality, from Paris to Mexico to Maine and New York. They are interpretations, never documents, of shadow and reflection, natural and frequently odd, unintentional manmade patterns.

Bailey, who graduated from the University of Vermont with a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development, is a remarkably talented, self-taught photographer based in Maine. He also conducts weekly workshops in his studio each summer. “My interest in photography is not in making a document, but in serving an image,” he stresses, and his work - as the upcoming Photography Gallery exhibition will make clear - is uniquely poetic and inventive both in form and content.

Bailey is widely recognized for his nuanced effects, derived in part from 19th-century darkroom practice that he has re-discovered and resurrected as a prominent New Wave practitioner of the “Antiquarian Avant-Garde” movement (photography historian Lyle Rexer’s term). Jonathan Bailey is treated by Rexer among 60 leading contemporary photographers including Jayne Hinds Bidaut, Chuck Close, Adam Fuss, Sally Mann, Luis Gonzalez Palma and Jerry Spagnoli, all of whom discovered personally expressive potential in such 19th-century processes as ambrotype, calotype, cyanotype, daguerreotype, orotone, photogram and tintype. Thanks to these practitioners, these early photography modes are known as “alternative” and labor intensive ways of creating contemporary images. (Rexer’s important Photography’s Antiquarian Avant-Garde: The New Wave in Old Processes is published by Harry N. Abrams.)

Even when seen together with the larger group of “renegade” contemporary photographers with whom he is a kindred spirit, Jonathan Bailey’s self-defined role as alchemist, as a kind of spiritual medium nurturing the photograph into being, is admittedly self-effacing. Many contemporary photographers, after all, prominently those partaking of the digital revolution, work in physically large scale with studio assistants and/or production crews, and typically have the ambition to overtake the prior, dominant role of painting in the museum hierarchy.

For Bailey and a significant group of talented others, however, their philosophy of making photographs and their experimental means of doing so refutes the high-technology, elaborately collaborative associations of contemporary practice. Pointedly, to quote Bailey, “Making art is an act of faith. One must learn to trust the materials and the processes.”

February 1, 2005, 4:00 pm
Guest Lecture by Jonathan Bailey
Fine Arts Center Room F208 (floor above Photography Gallery)

Gallery Hours
Tuesday – Friday, 12 noon – 4:00 pm; Saturday – Sunday, 1:00 – 4:00 pm

All programs of the Fine Arts Center Galleries are open to the public without charge.