Shotgun Reviews

All That Glitters Is Not Gold at the Phoenix Art Museum

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Christina Nafziger reviews All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Platinum Photography from the Center for Creative Photography at the Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

Alfred A. Cohn. Untitled, c. 1920; platinum print. Courtesy of the Artist and the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona.

Alfred A. Cohn. Untitled, c. 1920; platinum print. Courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona.

In a world where modern technology has made many traditional artistic processes obsolete, the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson and the Phoenix Art Museum have launched a historical investigation of the platinum print. Referencing the artistic and fiscal value of this photographic method, All That Glitters Is Not Gold is an intimate, chronologically curated exhibition that begins with the invention of the platinum print in 1873, and follows its use and development in portraiture up through its revival in the 1970s and into contemporary culture.

Walking through this photo-historical time lapse, visitors see not only a shift in subject matter, but also a noticeable change in photographic quality. In a progression of dark gray to white, the colors of the walls become lighter to visually separate the time periods. Displayed on a dark gray wall is a small, untitled, dream-like portrait by Alice Boughton (c. 1900). Platinum prints are appreciated for their vast range of values and soft renderings, but even in this early moment of photographic portraiture, the indirect light and figure placement within the composition demonstrate a desire for experimentation. Through works of photographic experimentation, the exhibition unexpectedly addresses the status of photography as fine art.

The section dedicated to photographic pictorialism highlights 19th-century photographers who experimented with platinum prints and light to create works with aesthetic qualities similar to those of paintings or drawings. At first glance, Alfred A. Cohn’s untitled photograph (c. 1920) appears to be an illustration. An image of a busy street corner has deep black silhouettes and overlapping shadows that resemble layers of ink washes. Photography was initially used for documentation—to capture visual information. Because early definitions of fine art excluded photography, many people experimented with technique in order to overcome limitations and have their work taken seriously as art.

With the accessibility of high-quality cameras and the overabundance of found images from social media, the line between photography as a commonplace technological process and as a fine art continues to be blurred. While the exhibition recalls the history and development of the platinum print, it also sheds light on its revival within contemporary photography. For some contemporary photographers, a return to the outdated monochrome process used with platinum prints is appealing because it is a return to the notion that art should be unique. All That Glitters Is Not Gold allows us to rediscover the artistic process involved in film photography and appreciate the creative value of these one-of-a-kind platinum prints.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Platinum Photography from the Center for Creative Photography is on view at the Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, through March 1, 2015.

Christina Nafziger holds a degree in Art History and Museum Studies with a focus in Contemporary Performance and Photography. She currently works as the Program Coordinator at Xico, a Latino art and culture organization in Phoenix, Arizona.

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