Friday, June 18, 2010

A (Whimsical) Self-Review

Do you remember the luminous black-and-white images you saw at famous museums when you were a kid? Many prints by the most famous photographers, Adams, Weston, Stieglitz, Steichen were made by the platinum or palladium processes. They were famous for their range of "blacks" and wide tonal range in general. But with the advent of newer, more controllable techniques, the platinum and palladium processes fell into disuse. (This is a platinum print of Robert Louis Stevenson from an article on the processes.)

In recent years, however, they have been resurrected by those interested in the special qualities of the two media -- the cooler blacks of platinum and the warm tones of palladium. The latter process (palladium) is alive and well -- and well represented -- at a new show which opened at the SCA Project Gallery in Pomona, California, June 12th. The title is Sense of the Past: Palladium Prints from Digital Images by James Manley. The show evokes the past through early associations of black-and-white images, but also of ancient and remote geographical areas such as the area around Dunhuang, China, which 2,000 years ago, was the place where caravans on the Silk Route entered China through the Jade Gate and proceeded east along the Great Wall.

The vistas themselves are sweeping and impressive, but poignant in the well-crafted palladium shadings which mask the colors of modernity. Clockwise, Up is an 11" x 14" composition which records the movement of camels as they might have appeared 1,000 years ago, or 2,000, up and over the dunes into the Gobi desert. Camels is quite striking as a vertiginous exploration of point-of-view as well as a design composition using swirl-lines from the dunes. This last print is 32" x 40" and is a "Quad-tych" created from four 16" x 20" palladium prints, consistently developed. There is a "Diptych" of the Great Wall in two adjacent prints, which, together, suggest supple movement.

The photographer attempts to tie the time, objects and places into more of an historical perspective that would be typical in a photography exhibit. As a professor emeritus, this might well be expected, though the result is perhaps more poetic or philosophical rather than historical. The presence of Buddhism comes through loud and clear, however, in the omnipresence of meditation huts (one can imagine the "meaning-of-life" guru being sought out in one of them) and in the face of the temple-attendant.

A surprising percentage of images invite a return look. The Tiger's Nest (Tak Sang Monastery in Bhutan) is one such on a far southern branch of the silk route. This is where Buddhism allegedly entered Bhutan from the north in the 6th century. The show is complemented by a handsome catalogue done by the author using Blurb. The images around Dunhuang comprise the first part, but the second explores the sense of the past in California's Missions, in particular La Purisima Mission, in Lompoc. The third focuses on natural landscapes. One hopes that it will be possible to see these images in a southern California gallery sometime soon. The show was excellently hung by Robert Pece the SCA's Curator. Prints are available through the Gallery. Contact Cheryl Bookout at the SCA Gallery Bookstore: 909-865-0252
The Sense of the Distant Past is up until July 3rd. A Last Saturday reception will be held June 26 from 6-9 at the Gallery, 281 South Thomas Street, Pomona, California.


  1. I am curious about the connection between Buddhism and the commerce of the Silk Road. Did Buddhism enter China with the travelers? Were the meditation huts for the use of the travelers? (I had assumed they were retreats rather than waystations). --- Dick Johnson

  2. Dick, Bhuddhism did enter China via the Silk Road. I don't know about the meditation huts for travelers. My impression is that they would typically be occupied, but that wouldn't preclude meditation with the "guru." But Dunhuang itself was a set of Buddhist temples built essentially for the travelers, who would visit them again and again on their many trips.