Exhibitions 2013

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The Doors of Perception: Vision and Innovation in Alternative Processes
Featuring work by Ron Cowie, Jesseca Ferguson, Gretjen Helene, Scott McMahon, Mark Osterman and France Scully Osterman, and Jerry Spagnoli.

February 5 – March 23, 2013
Opening Reception: Thursday, February 7, 2012, 6:30-8pm
PRC Gallery, 832 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA

Ron Cowie, Ulysses from the series Leaving Babylon, platinum print, 2008.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he see all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

--William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790-1793

For nearly five decades, photographers have explored the technical and artistic possibilities offered by various historical, or alternative, processes. Whereas “alternative processes” once referred to historical processes predating the use of gelatin silver, the category is constantly expanding with further advancements in photographic technology. Despite the ubiquity and ease of digital technologies today, a number of contemporary photographers continue to return to photography’s rich and multifaceted history to reinvigorate the medium in the 21st century. The Doors of Perception: Vision and Innovation in Alternative Processes showcases contemporary photographers working with a diverse range of historic, or alternative, photographic processes, such as pinhole photography, daguerreotype, tintype, ambrotype, cyanotype, and platinum printing, as well as liquid emulsion. Employing these photographic processes from the past to create unique handmade photographic objects, the artists in this exhibition reinvest the photograph with what critic Walter Benjamin feared would vanish in the age of mechanical reproduction: the “aura” of a work of art.

The artists in this exhibition distinguish themselves not only as masters of particular historical processes, but also as innovators who have discovered new ways to use alternative processes to create their own personal artistic visions. Some of the artists achieve this by synthesizing different historical processes, or even combining historical and digital processes, while others use evocative imagery and titles to create multilayered meanings with their chosen alternative processes. By constructing new photographic objects and realities, all of the artists throw open the doors of perception and suggest that photography’s brilliant future depends on acknowledgment and reinvention of its valuable past.

Curated by Francine Weiss, Ph.D.



Ron Cowie is a master platinum printer and specializes in large format landscapes and portraits. He is a member of APA, and teaches 19th century photographic processes at the New England School of Photography in Boston. He has also taught platinum printing at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY and has been a guest lecturer on alternative processes at several colleges and universities.

He attended The University of Cincinnati where he received a BS in Anthropology and served as the photo editor for the University Newspaper. While in Cincinnati, he printed customized color and black and white jobs for commercial labs.

Ron attended the full time program at the New England School of Photography where he majored in Advertising and Editorial Photography. After graduation, he apprenticed with editorial and advertising photographers. He also learned the platinum printing process and worked as a private darkroom technician for a select group of Boston photographers.

Ron’s interest in the beauty of life in all stages is the focus of his camera and print work. His images celebrate the temporality of life and examine the permanence of change.

He lives in Charlestown, RI.

Jesseca Ferguson has worked with pinhole photography and hand-applied 19th century photo processes since 1990. Her pinhole photographs and collaged “photo objects” have been included in solo and group exhibitions in the United States, Europe, and the United Kingdom. International museums holding her work include the Bibliothèque Nationale, France; the Museum of the History of Photography, Poland; Brandts Kladefabrik, Denmark; and the Fox Talbot Museum, UK. In the US, her work has been collected by the Fogg Art Museum, MA; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, TX, among others. Handmade Pictures by Jesseca Ferguson, a solo show of thirty-five of her works, was on exhibit at the Fox Talbot Museum in England from January through June 2011. In winter 2012 she was a visiting artist-in-residence at the University of Southern Maine, Gorham, ME.

Ferguson lives, works, and teaches in Boston, MA.

Gretjen Helene was born in Fairbanks, AK in the dead of winter and spent 18 years in the snow drifts with frozen toes and excellent survival skills. Throughout those years her family would journey outside to catch a ray of sun and so began her interest in experiencing worldly adventures and bringing other cultures and customs into everyday view. She worked for the Fairbanks Daily News Minor in Alaska as an intern and later managed the Berkeley Beacon press as Head Photographer for Emerson College in Boston.

Gretjen moved to Boston in 1999 and began seriously considering her photography as a career when she gained attention and momentum in the field after returning from photographing in Nepal. Her travels have taken her to Russia, Nepal, Thailand, Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Canada, and throughout the continental United States. She received her BFA in Photography at the Art Institute of Boston and began teaching there following graduation.

Gretjen was the founding director and producer for Taking In, an annual juried photography publication that features the best student work from The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. Gretjen retired from teaching in 2008 for the sake of personal work, which has proven successful as she has completed showcases of her photography, installation, and poetry work in Alaska, New York, and around the Boston area.

She continues her personal photography projects while working for patrons involved in musical groups, theater performances, weddings, family events, non-profit events, and spontaneous creative endeavors.

Scott McMahon received his MFA from Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and his BFA from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He is currently Assistant Professor of Art at Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri. Scott was Artist-in-Residence at iPark Artists’ Enclave in East Haddam, CT in the spring of 2012 and the 2010-2011 Artist-in-Residence at Border Art Residency in La Union, NM, where he exhibited a series of work incorporating kinetic sculpture, video projections, photographs, machines and found objects. Recent exhibitions include: American Metaphor – Contemporary Pinhole Photography, Galeria Pusta, Poland; Forgotten Attributes, Three Columns Gallery at Harvard University, MA; Fireflies, Bridgette Mayer Gallery, PA (collaborative); and The Bioluminescent Firefly Experiment, University City Arts League, PA (collaborative). His work has been published in Pinhole Photography: Rediscovering a Historic Technique by Eric Renner, The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes by Christopher James, and Anthotype by Malin Fabbri.

Mark Osterman is the Photographic Process Historian at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, NY. He teaches the technical evolution of photography from Niepce heliographs to making gelatin emulsions. As an artist, his series, Confidence, based on a traveling medicine show he performed for twenty years, received high praise in Photo Review, After Image, and Zoom magazines. Mark’s most recent writings on the subject of early photographic processes include the 19th century chapter for the Focal Encyclopedia of Photography. He began research in historic photographic processes while attending the Kansas City Art Institute in the 1970s.

France Scully Osterman is an artist-educator, and lecturer at Scully & Osterman Studio and guest scholar at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, both in Rochester, NY. She has received glowing reviews of her Sleep exhibition in Art in America, Paris Photo Magazine, and the Village Voice. France is recognized for her extensive knowledge of early photographic processes including photogenic drawings, wet-plate and dry-plate collodion, albumen, and salt print methods. She gives lectures and workshops at museums and universities and teaches in their 19th century skylight studio.

The couple formed Scully & Osterman in 1991. The Light at Lacock series included in this exhibit is their first collaboration as artists.

Their work is featured in a number of publications including L’Objet Photographique une invention permanente, by Anne Cartier-Bresson (2013), Le Vocabulaire Technique de la Photographie by Anne Cartier-Bresson (2008), the third edition of Photographic Possibilities, by Robert Hirsch (2008), The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes by Christopher James (both editions), and Photography’s Antiquarian Avant-Garde, The New Wave in Old Process Photography by Lyle Rexer (2000).

Their images are in the collections of the Museum of Fine Art, Houston, TX; The Nelson-Atkins Museum, MO; George Eastman House International Museum of Photography, NY; Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, TX and other major and private collections. They are both represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC and Tilt Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ.

Jerry Spagnoli is currently working on several projects including two ongoing historical documentation series, Local Stories and The Last Great Daguerreian Survey of the Twentieth Century. The common thread among all his projects is the exploration of the interplay between information and knowledge. Taking the camera and photosensitive materials as the traditional standard for objectivity Spagnoli explores the ways that subjectivity is the inevitable basis of all knowledge.

A monograph of his work, Daguerreotypes, was published by Steidl in 2006, and his most recent book, American Dreaming, has just been published by Steidl. Additionally, his collaborations with Chuck Close have resulted in two monographs, A Couple of Ways of Doing Something, published by Aperture, and Daguerreotypes published by Gabrius.

His work has appeared in many books and publications, among them Watching the World Change by David Friend; Photography’s Antiquarian Avant Garde by Lyle Rexer; 21st: The Journal of Contemporary Photography Volume VI: Flesh and
; Vanity Fair; DoubleTake Magazine; Adbusters; Metropolis; and Graphis.

His work is held in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC; the Nelson Atkins Museum, MO; the Fogg Museum, MA; the Museum of Modern Art, NY; the Chrysler Museum, VA; the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; the High Museum, GA; the New York Historical Society, NY; and other major collections.

Spagnoli lives and works in New York City.


The PRC’s 2013 exhibition program is supported by a generous grant from the Lois and Richard England Family Foundation.