Striking Exhibition Comes to Fulton Art Gallery
The retrospective showcases photography by Natasha D'Schommer as turns her lens on rare books.
"Possessions..." curates photos from across Tangletown photographer Natasha D'Schommer's recent projects, offering an eclectic mix of a stunning images of antique rare books.
The subject matter may seem, if you will, dusty and dry, but D'Schommer's strong compositions and her eye for detail turn on its head the typical understanding of early modern books and manuscripts as nothing more than artifacts fit for scholars. As she pages through tomes in some of the state's and the nation's most significant rare book collections, D'Schommer focuses her lens on small details in illustrations or text, sometimes digitally manipulating the image after the fact, but always coming away with an excellent photograph that takes these books as art.
Some photos in "Possessions..." highlight the vibrant and modern-feeling color palette deployed by illustrators of old. Others, such as a back-lit monochrome negative print depicting a letter from composer Felix Mendelssohn to a soprano he despised, captured the beautiful curves of Mendelssohn's handwriting, contrasting it with the letter's cruel contents.
Still others revel in the exhilaration of constant discovery, like a photograph of an etching depicting a Armenian princess striking a powerful pose (see image above). The etching is only partly in focus, though, and partly crowded out by the half-open pages of the book it comes from. A neon pink place-marking ribbon runs down the left third image, contrasting the princess's femininity with her commanding posture.
The photos are made all the more powerful by being printed on aluminum plate. Every detail is sharp, like the image from an ultra-high definition screen, and no glass reflection interferes with the pieces.
D'Schommer's images are beautiful, but also intellectually engaging. In a series of photos of "trees of life" from 16th-century texts, D'Schommer ran her original photograph through many filters—digitally manipulating colors, the introducing random imperfections by printing the images on small blocks of stone before making the final photograph. The final product is many layers removed from the original, reflecting the tortured, subjective, and haphazard journey many of D'Schommer's subjects took from creation, through history, and ultimately into the hands of their current owners.
In an interview with Patch, D'Schommer said her pieces have a lot to say to our current time, despite being mostly focused on subjects hundreds of years old. The 16th and 17th centuries were an time when western Europeans' heads were "exploding," she said.
"It really was a moment in life where times changed, where all of a sudden people's understanding of the world and access to that knowledge expanded incredibly quickly," she said. "In many ways, the only thing you can compare it to is the spread of the internet today."
"Posessions..." will be on view at Gallery 360 from March 2 through April 14.