Time Travel for Photographers


“I’ve always been into the labor-intensive nature of photography,” Mr. Brandt explained. “With digital, it’s all zeros and ones; chemical photography is becoming obsolete. But that’s why I like it. I like the pathos of it.”

Thirty-five miles from Amsterdam, in the city of Utrecht, the Dutch artists Jaya Pelupessy and Felix van Dam, two more contributors to the Foam exhibition, were putting the finishing touches to their latest project. I found them in Mr. Pelupessy’s studio — a large, concrete-floored space jumbled with books, prints, and photographic apparatus, and flooded with cool northern European light.


Felix Van Dam, left, and Jaya Pelupessy in their studio in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Credit Marcel Wogram for The New York Times

On one side of the room was a bulky, ungainly bellows camera on a tripod: a homemade contraption that the artists, like Victorian photographic amateurs, had built to their own specification. Using this kit, they produce silkscreen prints of household objects that resemble blocky, bitmap computer graphics.

The process involves hand-coating mesh screens in UV-sensitive emulsion and exposing them to light, which creates an image that can be printed by hand. Shutter speeds are in the vicinity of 40 minutes, with color filters used to add different tints.


Mr. Pelupessy and Mr. Van Dam developed a new technique with a large-format camera that combines photography and silkscreen printing. Credit Marcel Wogram for The New York Times

“One image takes days of work,” Mr. Pelupessy, 28, said, adding that it had made him understand the work of pioneers like Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins with fresh respect. “When we started the project, everyone we talked to said, ‘Why?’ ”

But the appeal was irresistible, he said. Instead of hitting a digital shutter, he and Mr. van Dam spent hour after hour building up images, layer by painstaking layer — playing with light, shade, and form like the men and women who created photography, never quite knowing what would result.

After all, Mr. Pelupessy reflected, the word “photography” literally means “drawing with light.” “There’s something magical in the process,” he said. “These techniques are old, but they’re also new. They still surprise us.”

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