Western Exhibitions is pleased to present Underwater Highway, an exhibition of photographic works by Jessica Labatte that continues her investigations in photographic illusion, while respecting the material processes of photography. Labatte’s most recent body of work addresses and employs light and color as a model for space and time; the barely visible, such as dust particles; minerals as pigments; and digital or antique photographic processes. The show opens with a free public reception on Friday, March 13 from 5 to 8pm and will run through April 25. Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 11am to 6pm.
For “Figural Concretions,” a series of black and white photographs that sit upon pedestals in the gallery with large frames leaning against the wall, Labatte photographs rocks gathered from Bradenton Beach in Florida, identified by the proprietor of a seashell shop as remnants of an “Underwater Highway” that traverses the Gulf of Mexico. Although no evidence of such a roadway exists, the fragments of this fictional road speak to the hidden and undiscovered potential within our world– a magical potential found buried beneath the waves. The negatives of these images were left unexposed in the artist’s studio for four months, accumulating tiny hairs and dust.
Labatte again embraces dust, the natural enemy of the photographer, in her series, “Spotting”. In the analog darkroom, the space between the enlarger and the photographic paper hides all but the largest particles of dust. If a photographer is not meticulous about removing dust from all photographic apparatuses, they have to spend time “spotting” their final prints to prevent surface imperfections in the final print. “Spotting” fills in the dust spots with ink that will match the surrounding surface. Ironically, the high resolution scans that make large format inkjet printing possible illuminate every particle of dust that graces the surface of the film, even specks beyond the photographer’s vision; it can take hours to remove dust from a very large file. “Spotting” is work traditionally done by assistants as it is considered to be mindless labor. Contemporary digital technology offers a specific tool, the clone stamp, which has made “spotting” an incredibly quick and simple process. To honor the labor of the assistant in the retouching process, Labatte has left the “spotting” layer in Photoshop visible in the final print. This labor is not mindless, but reveals the individual decisions each assistant makes regarding brush size, gesture and what should be removed. The resulting marks acknowledge the virtual cutting away of the image, revealing a perfect simultaneous contrast of color and tone to the background layer.
In Labatte’s “Pond Weeds” series, Labatte has cut shapes from color photographic backdrop paper that resemble botanical elements. Using a multiple exposure process, the sculptural paper is shot several times in the studio with different arrangements layering two and three exposures on top of each other on a single sheet of film. The reflected light from the paper mixes directly on the film, creating new colors unseen by the photographer, allowing past and present to mix, creating a new colored space. The ethereal plant forms float between foreground and background, giving the illusion of floating underneath water.
Carbon printing is a historical photographic printing process developed in the 1880s. This antique process uses gelatin as a binder for pigment, which is sensitized to light. Originally black carbon from ashes was used to create luscious photographic prints. Working with the Geology department at Northern Illinois University, Labatte pulverized minerals (turquoise, lapis, and malachite) in a machine called a “shatter box.” Once pulverized to dust the minerals are used to pigment gelatin emulsions, which are used as the foundation for a new photographic series.
This is Jessica Labatte’s first show with Western Exhibitions and her first solo show in Chicago since her UBS 12 x 12 New Artists/New Work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Other solo shows include Golden in both New York City and Chicago and the Humble Arts Foundation in NYC. Group shows include Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, FL; Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst, IL; and Horton Gallery in New York City. She recently completed a residency at Light Work, Syracuse, NY and her work has been written about in The New Yorker, artforum.com, Art F City and Chicago Magazine. Jessica Labatte (b. 1981, Salt Lake City, UT) lives and works in Chicago, IL. She received an MFA and a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.