“Now for Ruin” exhibition at START Gallery

Steph Pringle fuses the historical with the contemporary.

As the stylistically evocative photography of Stephanie Pringle will indicate, sometimes being at the vanguard of artistic expression means journeying into the past to recover so-called ‘obsolete’ technologies. A fourth-year fine arts student at Mount Allison, Pringle unveils her exhibition entitled “Now For Ruin” at START Gallery Friday that explores the method of wet plate photography and the artistic liberties that this unique medium provides.

All of the pieces in Pringle’s exhibit have been captured using ambrotypes, tintypes, and glass plates, which are all forms of wet plate photography that were widely used during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Because the plates must be prepared with water and chemicals beforehand and handled carefully as to not disturb its surface, it is clear that obtaining a photograph using these methods is much more complicated and time sensitive than contemporary cameras. “You’re basically working against time,” Pringle explains, due to the small window between priming, taking, and developing the photograph. For this reason, portable developing studios have been crucial to the project, particularly for outdoor pieces such as those taken in Amherst.

Despite the added difficulty of wet plate photography, Pringle chose this medium for a very particular reason, as it allows for creative expression not conventionally available to users of digital or film cameras. In particular, the meticulous detail captured by the plates allows for even the smallest images to be enlarged several times over.

“They’re extremely detailed,” says Pringle. “You can really blow them up [to large sizes] and still have that sharpness to it. I wanted [them] to have that impact.”

In addition to detail, the liquid surface of wet plate photography has allowed Pringle to experiment with the real, the imagined, and the passage of time. Some of her pieces deliberately invoke the supernatural and the uncanny by making reference to ectoplasm photography, a fabricated phenomenon from the late Victorian period in which a séance would attempt to conjure forth spirits and capture their presence on camera. Although the practice was a hoax, Pringle is interested in exploring the relationship between the paranormal and the photograph through a historical and artistic medium. “[The wet plate method] really lends itself to the look I was going for,” says Pringle, explaining that the subtle murkiness of the photographs disorients the viewer by blurring the lines between the intentional and the natural. “I like having that interaction between the viewer and the piece.”

After her graduation this coming May, Pringle aspires to combine her passions for photography and cosmetics by pursuing an avenue of makeup design for film. She hopes to attend a one-year film makeup program at Sheridan College in her hometown of Oakville, Ontario.

 The reception for “Now For Ruin” will begin at 6:30 pm on Jan. 17 at START Gallery.

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