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Sketchbook of H. Craig Hanna

 

H Craig Hanna
Sketchbook by H Craig Hanna
8.5 x 12″ 232 pages Hardcover
Editions Somogy. 2008
$72.00

 
Reviewed by Tim McLaughlin
 

 

 

 

 

 

His portraits are […] diptychs where, on the one hand, the absolute of a substance or color takes the place of the gods of old, and on the other, the figure has lost the hands of the prayer.

Laurence Lhinares

 

These reviews usually focus on photography and photobooks. However, it would seem that the best photography owes it’s power to the ability to represent something which portrait artists, working in traditional media, accomplish much more naturally. Attempts to define, even vaguely, what this “something” is usually fail, but the attempt itself can be interesting. It is this ‘something’ that separates draftsmanship from art, and it is precisely this elusive nature that makes one return, again and again, to an image in an attempt to feel what it is that tips the balance.

In the Sketchbook by H. Craig Hanna almost every page has this inexplicable quality. The images don’t represent the world, they reconfigure it. Hanna has taken his refined, renaissance skill and then backed up a bit, distressed the image slightly, and through his manipulations amplified the power of these works to communicate both as portraits and as artifacts on paper. One is caught as the face forms out of marks made by the hand. The result is a masterful play between technique and visage. As Laurence Lhinares states in the introductory essay to the book:

Craig Hanna opposes or approaches, we don’t quite know how, pure painting and a taut description of the figure. The counterpoint can play with the opposition of a face in front of two parallel lines, or of a naked body with a simple flower in front of the striations of a wooden panel, a material that the artist overtly displays.

Sketchbook contains the pages and traces of an artist’s life. The spiral rings of the original are just visible and show the edge of the territory. Some pages are filled with Hanna’s scrawl, a writing that unlike his images, has no sense of beauty. As if the image exhausted him and he could not bring himself to control the letters. Some of the work is deliberately loose, as if Hanna were holding back his considerable ability to delineate the objects of the world. The tension between skill and looseness hints at a dramatic power struggle, perhaps one that take place between different parts of the same man.

Hanna’s work is widely exhibited in the art centres of Europe. He earned a commendation in the 2001 BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery in London. And his work is on regular exhibition at Laurence Esnol Gallery in Paris. Sketchbook is available there or online from the usual sellers.

It is rare that one can call a book unreservedly brilliant. This one is.

Sketchbook by H Craig Hanna Sketchbook by H Craig Hanna Sketchbook by H Craig Hanna Sketchbook by H Craig Hanna Sketchbook by H Craig Hanna Sketchbook by H Craig Hanna Sketchbook by H Craig Hanna
Sketchbook by H Craig Hanna Sketchbook by H Craig Hanna Sketchbook by H Craig Hanna

Eric Antoine
ensemble seul
At the Laurence Esnol Gallery
October 18 – November 30, 2013

Reviewed by Tim McLaughlin

All photos stop time, but it is true that some of them arrest its flow in a more profound way than others.

The photos of Eric Antoine, on exhibit at the Laurence Esnol Gallery until November 30, 2013 are images of this type. Produced through t the wet plate collodion process with vintage lenses, Antoine’s images bring us face to face with a haunting darkness. The frames on the wall contain ghosts and their shadows that have been pulled out of time. It is as if, forsaking reality, Antoine has managed to photograph memory itself.

Eric exhibit

Some of this effect is due to technique. The preparation of the plates by the artist’s own hand gives these photos a crafted, artisan quality. With the collodion process the photographer coats a glass plate with the light-sensitive emulsion. The plate must be exposed before it dries. The resulting negative, when viewed by reflected light against a black background, appears as a positive. Most of the works on exhibit are ambrotypes – made by coating the glass negative itself with a black varnish. Like a painter who has learned to grind his own pigments, Antoine has taken control of the entire mechanism of image-making. The results are a set of extraordinary, premeditated art objects.

His subject matter is as considered as his process. Most of the images have been taken in the bucolic setting of a single house in the French countryside. There are pure moments: a hand on a book, a woman on a swing, the same swing alone and vacant, two hands grasp the trunk of a tree covered by ivy. And yet, inexplicably, the images have something of the contemporary world about them. It could be that the artist is a modern man – and so even though the images are timeless, he himself is still present.

Eric Antoine from the exhibition at the Laurence Esnol Gallery

Ambrotype by Eric Antoine from the exhibition at the Laurence Esnol Gallery

Eric Antoine was born in 1974. For over fifteen years he worked as a professional photographer publishing in magazines and moving quickly through the vast centers of Europe’s capitals. His embrace of antiquarian processes is a very conscious decision both aesthetically and in terms of lifestyle. As he states in his biography:

The soft and unique aspect of the photographs shot with the 19th century lenses reinforce the romantic and mysterious atmosphere. These are just a few organic glass plates against an endless flow of digital images. Everything is shot as it was 150 years ago, in no rush, with long exposures but in a modern way, in a place just a little remote from the actual world.

It is now eleven years since Lyle Rexer’s anthology Photography’s Antiquarian Avant-Garde: The New Wave in Old Processes. The same motivation for the photographers in Rexer’s anthology is present in Antoine. A concern with the history of the medium, a need to manipulate materials by hand, and a fascination with the qualities of images made through the photochemical process. Like Antoine, these photographers have used the process itself as a catalyst to access a new depth of personal connection to their work.

Comparisons will also be inevitable between Antoine and Ian Ruhter, the American photographer who converted a van into a very large format camera (mounting the lens in the back and making the entire compartment of the van the inside of the camera). Antoine and Ruhter have gone in opposite directions. Antoine residing in one place and exploring it intimately; Ruhter driving across the United States and working large format, both photographically and geographically.

The Antoine exhibit greatly rewards a visit. And the Laurence Esnol Gallery is the perfect space to mount this show. The gallery is best known for featuring the work of master portraitist H. Craig Hanna. In this exhibit Hanna also appears in the muted tones of one of Antoine’s images. For me, it is Antoine ‘s portraits that have the most vital force – and the pairing with Hanna is a complementary one as both artists reconfigure the individual through the genius of their work.

Ambrotype by Eric Antoine from the exhibition at the Laurence Esnol Gallery

Ambrotype by Eric Antoine from the exhibition at the Laurence Esnol Gallery

The Ambrotypes of Eric Antoine are also the subject of a short film by Willem Vleugels.