Tucked beneath a veil of vines at the quaint Duncan Miller Gallery, photographer Jo Babcock's 22-piece first ever solo exhibition is more than just your average picture show. Under the framed photographs neatly hanging across the cream colored walls lie typewriters, ancient coffee machines, a letter box and even a retro tin of MSG all of which are the cameras responsible for the taking the photo they're coupled up with. Using low tech pinhole photography, Babcock has given a new perspective not only to cameras, but the photos they produce, giving insight to their real world doppelgangers and exploring the relationship between the object viewing the subject, according to curator Daniel Miller.
Pure Maple Syrup – The Log Cabin Bar, 1988
Babcock, a St. Louis native whose work has been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art at the Sao Paulo Bienal in Brazil has been making pinhole cameras from containers and photographing a view of the world according to the particular object for more than 20 years. This low-tech photography technique usually takes Babcock a week to perfect each pinhole camera and one-of-a-kind print, employing a light-tight area with a dark interior and a tiny hole in the center of one end, which projects an inverted image onto film fastened on the opposite side of box. Why make cameras out of objects? “I assemble photographic instruments from old parts, pinholes and discarded contains as topical commentary on consumer culture,” writes Jo Babcock in his book The Invented Camera: Low Tech Photography & Sculpture.
Auto fuses, Lucky Strike Cigarettes, Johnson & Johnson Band-Aids, Colirio Ocusan eye drops and Shinola shoe polish with their respective productions
“It's such a special and unusual exhibition,” says curator and gallery owner Miller. “We've never run anything like this before, it's more of a museum initiative than more of a gallery initiative.”
While pinhole cameras can be constructed from any tight-lid object, Babcock's own carefully thought out curation of cans and tins that evoke flashes of yesteryear add on an entirely new conceptual element to the show.
Band-Aid – Self Portrait, 1989
While the show's reception drew 130 people and even sold a few pieces (priced from $2500 to $8500), stitching together a photography exhibit that included more than just prints did have its challenges, with Miller taking a year to think the show through before bringing it to life. A good portion of the pinhole cameras are small in size, but bigger pieces like a vintage Bell & Howell Projector Case that accompanies a photo of the Roxie Theater in San Francisco and a 1962 survival supply can of drinking water issued by the Department of Defense in 1962 are also included.Babcock has also made cameras out of a Volkswagen van and an RV
Civil Defense – Burnt Building, Lower East Side, NYC, 1986
An ammunition box, gasoline can, Bell & Howell Projector Case and Accent: Five Pounds of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) fastened underneath prints
As vintage as they may be, all the pinhole cameras in Babcock's show are tangible items from every day life, from a Lucky Strike cigarette pack to Hanukkah candles from the Telshe Yeshiva, a famous Jewish educational institute that relocated to Ohio from Lithuania after WWII. Unlike typical photography shows, gallery visitors at the reception had the opportunity to interact with the pieces they had come to see, according to Miller, who added that people visited each piece and offered up their own interpretations of the objects and prints during the reception.
Chanuka Candles – Last Night of Chanuka, 1999
Lunchbox – Hammer & Fist, 1996
Mailbox – Pat, my mail carrier, 1989
A prominent piece at the gallery is a mailbox, complete with duct tape that was used in transforming it into a pinhole camera. Here, he captures his mail carrier Pat in 1989. Observers might notice the upside down outline of the photo, which is a classic inverted effect of the pinhole technique.
Boraxo Soap – Harmony Borax Ruins, Death Valley, 2004
With most of the objects having an analogical relationship to the subjects in the photos, this piece, featuring a camera made from Boraxo Powdered Hand Soap and a rusted train carriages a isn't particular easy to decipher. But with some insight from curator Miller, the connection becomes clear. The scene depicts the Harmony Borax Mine (now in ruins) in Death Valley, Calif., which became famous for in the 1890s for its use of Twenty-mule teams, made up of 18 mules and two horses that were attached to large wagons and transported borax out of the area to a railroad in Mojave.
Babcock says his work has been characterized as raw, rejected by the establishment because it doesn't flatter, fill a quote or make profit. “A critic described my photographic renderings as a 'punkish hell,' he writes in closing. “In these polarized, Machiavellian times, a punkish hell constitutes an appropriate response.”
Jo Babcock – The Invented Camera
Duncan Miller Gallery
10959 Venice Boulevard
Runs through April 23, 2011
Hours:Thursday through Saturday
11am – 6pm and by appointment
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