Friday, June 17, 2016

Eloquent Obsolescence

Eloquent Obsolescence

By Tom Wachunas

    “I’m fascinated by objects that outlast their utility, that are still around after advancing technology has long ago made them obsolete. Using a camera from the ’70s or a micrometer from the ’40s is an amazing experience. In a world where the camera you bought today was replaced yesterday, that's a rare opportunity. If I'm lucky, I'll outlast my usefulness too.”  - Jeremy Aronhalt 

    EXHIBIT: Older Than I – Photography by Jeremy Aronhalt, curated by Craig Joseph,  THROUGH JULY 17, 2016, at Studio M in MASSILLON MUSEUM, 121 Lincoln Way East, downtown Massillon, Ohio /  Museum hours: Tuesday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. / 330-833-4061 /   

   Standing alone recently in Massillon Museum’s Studio M, I was facing and looking at a photograph of a camera…through my camera. In that lens-to-lens moment, it seemed strange if not downright surreal to be making a picture of a picture of a thing that once made pictures. But I had decided to document this commentary on the photographs (Archival ink jet prints) by Jeremy Aronhalt, curated by Craig Joseph, in a manner more true to their physicality, their reality as art objects presently on a wall in a specific place, rather than presenting out-of-context, pristine digital reproductions.

   Speaking of ‘pristine,’ all of the photos in the exhibit are under glass, uniformly framed in black, each showing an object crisply focused and perfectly centered, or a small collection of objects elegantly arranged and balanced, and all appearing to be situated on a blank white “field.”  There’s something scientific about the presentation, suggesting inventoried  specimens from a bygone era.

   The analogy isn’t so farfetched. As Aronhalt tells us in his statement, these are pictures of objects that have outlasted their original functions. In that, they’re like so many fossils of extinct species. But as any paleontologist would tell you, fossils are neither useless nor mute.

   This exhibit, then, is certainly not an exercise in vapid nostalgia or pointless curiosity.  Aronhalt’s ‘fossils’ are largely of vintage devices used for seeing, measuring, or building, and as photographs they’re imbued with an oddly beautiful, sublime simplicity and precision.  Consider them as eloquent symbols that speak of the uniquely human desire and capacity to consciously connect with history. On one level, these photographs remind me that we can most intentionally and fully appreciate where we are now only to the extent that we can appreciate the ideas and technologies that got us here.

   So there I was, photographing photographs, noticing the interior of the room reflected off their surfaces, including myself, holding the camera, a  gadget for seeing, measuring, building a connection. Think of it as a merging of past with present, of artifact with artifice. Or better still, think of the art of photography as the useful pursuit of timelessness.

   PHOTOS, from top: Thread Gage / Handy Reference / Lufkin I.D. Mics / Dial Indicators / Installation view   

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