Friday, January 6, 2012

Barnard Firehouse photo exhibit shines infrared-hot

Jeremy Barnard remembers the bad old days of infrared photography, back in the days of film and chemicals. He remembers them well, the bad old days, remembers them as ... well, kind of like golf. Not because the work was mind-numbingly boring, like the so-called sport is for most, if not all, sentient beings, or because you are required to wear silly-looking clothes, but because of the way the game, and the style of photography, just takes it out of you — challenging you, taunting you, all but daring you to throw your clubs — or your camera — into the lake. Where they belong. Like most golfers, if you were working the infrared part of the light spectrum before the dawn of the digital age, you "stunk most of the time," says Barnard. Not for lack of talent or for an inability to keep your eye on the ball, but because the technology itself was, back then, unpredictable — and flawed.  "It drives you out of your mind, but then, just as you're about to quit, after all that frustration and disappointment, you get something that's decent and, masochist that you are, you think, 'OK, I'll suffer with this a little longer.'"  He eventually drifted away from infrared, but got back into the game when technology caught up with the format, with digital photography eliminating most of the headaches. When it came time to upgrade his equipment about three years ago, he replaced the low-pass filter in his digital SLR with a permanent infrared filter. Why? “Because something about infrared that speaks to me,” he says. The approach has an eerie effect in black-and-white photography, giving viewers blistering, eye-popping detail, sometimes on a surreal canvas, with leaves transformed plume-like on silvered branches and tree trunks. Or, as Barnard puts it, the images are like "an X-ray peering into the innermost life of Mother Nature ... allowing us to see more than we would with our naked eye." All of which you can see in "Beyond Our Vision," Barnard's new exhibit of infrared photography at the Firehouse. 

There's no magic, other than the creative impulse, the ability to "see" the subject, of course. Just boring science. Infrared photography captures an area of the light spectrum that is  invisible to humans. In black-and-white photos, blue skies turn black, clouds become brilliant white. Trees and grass look like snow on a sunny day, creating a dreamy-but-surreal palette. The subject matter is mostly Maine, some of it stunning seascapes taken from Barnard’s back porch.  The work is more than just tech-tripping. Barnard uses infrared to capture a wide range of moods: Stoic, like "Warren, ME, Station," an abandoned depot building set against a threatening sky; Humorous, like  "The Plea," which shows a metal statue stature covered with white, looking almost like a chia pet; majestic, like "Bay of Saints," a beautifully lit image of cliffs pouring into the bay, a twisted tree growing out of the rocks, big dramatic sky in the background; surrealistic, like "Biff 554," which takes its name from the license plate of a 1955 Ford Fairlane parked just inside the wrought-iron gates of a cemetery, the grass like an eerie white carpet, wispy, shimmering clouds in the background (“It's very Stephen King. If that isn't Christine, I don't know what is," he says, referring to the horror master's story about the Plymouth Fury with supernatural powers — My Mother the Car with a bad attitude); or dreamy, like "Wedding," which mixes a soft, trippy wash of light, but has a clarity of detail, showing a little girl running away from her father at an outdoor wedding of a family friend, dress billowing, as Dad gets out of his chair to catch her, big dramatic sky bathed in a strange, eerie light, hyper real, but dream-like.

 One of strangest, images in the exhibit is "Revenge of the Goats," a kind-of "Lord of the Flies" for goats. It's a fenced-in area at a Long Island farmstand where Barnard had stopped. Aside from the image, what he remembers most is the mud, the foul smell and the piles of the stuff that makes the foul smell. The image shows an island of rocks and stumps and goats, looking all superior and more than a little haughty and possessive — and a limb in the sky with a doll or puppet attached to the top, like a scarecrow designed to keep humans away. Many images, despite the black-and-white format, will have you picturing yourself on a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies, like "The Village," which captures the outside of a Sun City, Arizona, retirement home, framed with a row of trees looking like a bunch of psychedelic lollipops.

Barnard has been throwing himself into infrared for about three years, and, after getting past the technical sandtraps of the early technology, is shooting better than par, into birdie and eagle territory. The "nasty memories" of his struggle with film are fading, frustration being replaced by "the excitement that comes from being able to see what the bees see."

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: "Beyond Our Vision," infared photography by Jeremy Barnard, runs through Jan. 29 at the Firehouse Gallery. There will be a reception for the artist from 3 to 5 p.m. Jan. 7. It is free and open to the public.

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