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In the Moment

“In my case, I must confess, I am trained and I can tell whether there is something beyond that face or not. And that’s where I attempt to light that feature in such a way that I can elicit the true character of that person.”

-Yousuf Karsh

In the Moment is an exhibition featuring the works of twelve Alberta photographers—from 1977 to 2010. The seventeen silver gelatin black-and-white photographs from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts’ permanent collection are the work of artists John Fukushima, Douglas Curran, Orest Semchishen, Eleanor Lazare, Harry Palmer, Randall Adams, Sima Khorrami, Tim Van Horn, Craig Richards, Harry Palmer, George Webber and   Gerald Hewko. These portraits capture a variety of captivating characters situated in intriguing environments from all over the world. Some have been taken right here in Alberta’s backyard, and some were documented as far away as Thailand and Guatemala.

Photography has drastically changed since the evolution of the smartphone. Years ago, people would witness something and say, “I wish I had a camera.” “To see and experience the world, we don’t only look at images; we take them, and often. In 2011, it was reported that Facebook’s 750 million users uploaded and shared 100 million photos every day.”[1] Everyone has a camera, and it seems as though everything is documented: from breakfast sandwiches to double rainbows to cats doing funny things. Rarely do these pictures actually leave the device they were captured on, unlike during the time when film cameras were the status quo.

So what have we lost and what have we gained through photography’s technological advancements? Is the quality of digital prints comparable to silver gelatin photographs? The first photographic paper using a gelatin emulsion was invented in 1873: 145 years ago. The photographs in this exhibition were taken over four decades and captured on 35mm film cameras. The artists developed their images in a dark room using the silver gelatin process. “Gelatin, an animal protein, is used as an emulsion, to bind light sensitive silver salts to a paper or other support. After a brief exposure to a negative (under an enlarger), the print is immersed in chemicals to allow the image to develop, or emerge fully.”[2] When this process is successful, it produces a true black-and-white tone. Unlike digital prints, silver gelatin prints have a physical presence. The black-and-white imagery is evocative. Subjects within the image are enchanting—they draw the viewer into a time and space.

“Photographs engage us optically, neurologically, intellectually, emotionally, viscerally and physically.”[3] The people documented in these works were captured in a moment: the two young women laughing in Eleanor Lazare’s Jeannie Dominey & Katherine Doreshenko #2, or the women reading the paper in Randall Adams’s Jeannie – Silk Hat Restaurant. They remind us of our own moments, and to take time to reminisce and celebrate the human spirit.

[1] Marvin Heiferman, Photography Changes Everything (New York: Smithsonian Institution and Aperture Foundation, 2012), 8.

[2] http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/adw/gelatinsilver.htm.

[3] Marvin Heiferman, Photography Changes Everything (New York: Smithsonian Institution and Aperture Foundation, 2012), 16.