Student Spotlight: Aaron Sorber “Making vs. Taking”

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Aaron Sorber, a student in my Spring 2012 PH67 “Digital Negatives for Darkroom Printing” class at CCSF, is the current “Student Spotlight”. The worked featured here spans assignments from the semester ranging from learning to use the flat bed scanner as a camera, practicing contact printing by experimenting with lumen prints and making photograms in the traditional darkroom and then finally – making digital negatives to print in the traditional darkroom. Working with these hybrid processes inspires and informs. Information ranging from questions of resolution to Photoshop prep and then working back and forth from analog to digital is exciting for students and believe it or not, often realistic in the real world to obtain when trying to obtain unique and organic looking effects. Congrats to Aaron for making some beautiful imagery with a true craft and mastery. -Prof. Erika Gentry

Aaron Sorber, A Statement
I have been taking pictures of flowers for years. Often with macro lenses. I find it fun experimenting with color, shape, and form. And of course it’s a lot easier to capture the motionless. People don’t ever stand still. Of course, botanicals can also move around on you in an outdoor setting. None the less, I often find it calming to work with plants. There’s no expectations. I sometimes just get what I get, be it good or bad. Afterwards there’s a bit of judging and editing of the images and hopefully one or two that are actually well composed, interesting images.

This new work has the same reasons for being. It’s a fun experiment, it’s calming, it’s challenging, and it sometimes produces interesting images. It just doesn’t use a camera. Plants are placed directly on photographic paper and exposed in the sun to make a photogram. Currently this technique is called a Lumen print. Just like making contact prints, the closest part of the image to the paper has the most detail. I use various sized contact printing frames to maintain the contact of plant and flower for the entire four to seven hour exposure time.The resultant images, being made on outdated black and white paper, produce color images, depending on paper type, exposure time, heat, humidity, and moisture levels on the paper. Of course getting these variables to work in order to produce an interesting image is where the fun and experimentation lies.

The images produced are not stable. As a result I scan all the images shortly after creation and keep the originals in a light tight box to preserve the colors until I fix or tone the originals. However, the colors created fade or deteriorate when fixing agents and toners are introduced into the process. Details can be lost. New versions of the images are made, different from the originals. Some images become hazy, colorless, flatter. To me, some images can loose their visual appeal.

These images were created from scans which  allowed for the capture of the details in the origional. They were retouched to remove spots and tonally corrected to produce a black and white negative on transparency film. This film was then contact printed onto black and white photographic paper using traditonal darkroom techniques. Using this technique allowed me not only to create multiples from a one of a kind image, but to enlarge the origional as well.

I see this as a way to make images utilizing a photographic process without needing much darkroom chemistry or enlargers. I can experiment with the process of photography again. It’s a hands on approach to making images that doesn’t constantly involve electronics and sensors and electrical cords. It’s a process that harkens back to the beginnings of photography with it’s use of contact printing and toning of the original images. It’s also a process that continues to allow me to experiment with botaincals as imagery.

The use of botanicals in imagery has been a constant since the the Egyptians painted the lotus flower. While initially decorative in nature, various flowers became symbols of famous peoples in the middle ages. And while some painters favor the symbolism, I tend to create these images to explore the tones and details produced in the process, be it the spots created by the humidity on the plate glass holding the flower down or the veins in the leaves. The images relate to botanical illustrations, especially when reproduced in black and white, as if they were someting out of an high school science book.

I often find my experiments are not always about the end result, but about what I can do the next time I create images using the same process. In this digital age, taking an image lasts for a fraction of a second. The images can instantly be shared online and deleted just as easily. And then it’s on to the next image, whatever it may be. Experimenting with a process involves pre-conceptualization, patience, and often repetition. It involves reflection and thought, more than just seeing and clicking. And it involves using hands go create. I enjoy the process, sometimes as much as I enjoy the end result. Sometimes it’s just about making something more than taking something.

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