Category Archives: antique

Disappeared and back again

Toy camera fans, did you hear the news? The Holga is back.

One of the first posts on this blog, seven years ago, was about a roll of Kodachrome. As Kodak was discontinuing the production of its legendary film, the last lab capable of developing its unique process was ending its work, too. So I caught the chance and shot one roll of Kodachrome myself.

That last roll was actually also my first. While for most everyone else the pull of the film was nostalgia, for me it was something I could only define as second-hand nostalgia. I didn’t have access to Kodachrome while growing up, of course, but experienced its allure as part of the allure of the American dream – yet when I was able to access it, the dream had changed. Continue reading

Humble and archival in photography

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Beach cyanotype. Hung home style

Rascuache (or, in its Americanized version, rasquachismo) is a Mexican term for reuse and repurpose of things. It is a strategy for everyday life typical for the poor masses as well as a mark of resourcefulness for people in general everywhere. But in the last decades rascuache is also an artistic term meaning the use of humble materials and unexpected sources of supplies – like plastic for drawing, discarded metal parts for sculpture and others. That may sound like the usual found-object crafts that we often see in gift shops and  at artfests today but actually originate from the revolutionary practices of Chicano movement artists in the 60s. They used it not because it was cool but to make a political point and insert themselves in a process that was seen as the privilege of higher classes. Continue reading

Dangerous Heights

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If you follow this blog, you remember that last summer I started studying a series of photographs that today are part of the collection of the Photographic Archive of Milan. I may have not mentioned though what this series is and why this research project is so exciting.

The images are of the reconstruction of the Sforza Castle, Milan’s perhaps most emblematic historic building, and the building of the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, arguably the first shopping mall (and the concept behind all those “galleria” type malls we find in many American cities today, by the way).

The images are remarkable for different reasons. First, because they show the wave of renewal that gave Milan the face we know today; the physical process of how it came to be. Second, because the places are so emblematic. The Sforza Castle was the seat of Milan’s ruling Renaissance dynasty. Although of course it had lost its significance by the 19th century, being a castle in the era of industrial revolution, its near destruction by Napoleon’s invasion was still an insult. So the new state of Italy (unified in 1861) wanted to elevate its historic legacy with the reconstruction some 30 years later. The Galleria, of course, was to showcase the wealth of the new industrial society. Think fashion. That’s why both are closely related to Milan’s identity as a city.

But this is not exactly why they are exciting. Continue reading

Archive of Abandoned Dreams: new files

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If you are waiting to hear how the review went, it hasn’t come yet. It kept getting postponed, which is great for my worrywart soul but also prolongs the anxiety. Anyway, the project that has taken the most of my time is The Archive. As the best form of presentation, I decided to make an actual antique binder, covered with dark green cloth with metal corners and the photographs would be filed inside, stitched with thread.

If you have been following my blog you know that the Archive of Abandoned Dreams is based on the poetry of Dimcho Debelyanov, a Bulgarian symbolist who, after a brief life as a literature student and then clerk (in order to support his family after the death of his father), volunteered for World War I and was killed in a battle with an Irish division. The irony of his life, in which his forced choices were made against his worldview and beliefs points so well to the aesthetics of symbolists, who relished in the impossibility of communication and forged a code of metaphors that distanced them instead of bringing them closer to readers. Debelyanov himself lamented the impossibility of his dreams but then abandoned them willfully with a very symbolic gesture. This way of relating has so much to do with contemporary culture: a world of facebook mirages in which participants create willful representations of their lives that seem more compelling when ambiguous.  Continue reading

Mordançage, or the gentle beauty of the tortured print

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©Ellie Ivanova

As the New Texas Talent exhibition at Craighead-Green Gallery in Dallas is drawing to an end, I realize that I haven’t talked about my new work in the show. The images are done in an arduous process that took months to research and produce that it now deserves to be told about. It’s a process that makes for unique prints that also fits so well in the broader direction I’ve been following in the past couple of years. See some examples above. Continue reading

The Photographic Archive of Milan, Sforza Castle

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By Giorgio Zaccaria. A circus artist, ca. 1880, silver bromide print

I just have to write about the Photographic Archive of Milan, not only in aid to those who may need to do research there, but also because it is such a great metaphor for Italy in general. Located in one of the wings of the magnificent Sforza Castle, a brief walk from the Duomo, it is really a pleasure to wander around its vast cobblestone yard before venturing inside.

But, the first surprise: it’s open only in the morning. And materials are available by prior appointment. You need to go in person first and explore the card catalog, arranged by subject matter.  Said catalog is only partially digitized and can be found online along with all other public photography collections in Lombardy. Then you can place an order for what your heart desires. However, the staff is so extremely Italianly nice that they offered, in case I needed it in the future, to do any research for me and even send me scans of the images.

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Anyway, your patience and skill in navigating the system will be richly rewarded.  Continue reading

Hand-colored photographs

©Ellie Ivanova. Watercolor on a vandyke  print

©Ellie Ivanova. Watercolor on a vandyke print

I’ve been playing with the idea of hand-coloring photographs for quite some time. But it has been mainly daydreaming about it, researching it, being fascinated with it, without actually doing it.  Somehow I’ve been looking to discover the real reason I want to hand-color; to give shape to my ideology of hand-coloring first of all. Or maybe I’ve been afraid to ruin the prints 🙂

Before the advent of color film, hand-coloring served the purpose of adding color to black & white images. It was meant to restore reality where it was still technically lacking. And as happens with all photography tools, when technology finally catched up with a possibility, people embraced it for all the practical purposes but also disregarded it f0r art’s sake. Since the 50s, hand-painting on monochrome images has been happening for different reasons, mainly to alter the original color, to make a statement, or to embrace the aesthetics of times past.

Here are some approaches to hand-painting that have fascinated me the most: Continue reading