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Cyanonegative Photography: The Science of a New Antiquarian Art

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The staff of the Barlow Planetarium and the Weis Earth Science Museum, at the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley, are pleased to present the first of their Science/Art Fusion exhibits. “Cyanonegative Photography: The Science of a New Antiquarian Art,” by John Beaver, Associate Professor of Physics at UWFox. The exhibit features explanatory texts, displays and photographs and is scheduled to be on view from November 5, 2004, through January 31, 2005 in the Curler Science Gallery, adjacent to the planetarium on the UWFox campus.

A reception, which is open to the public, is scheduled to be held in the Gallery from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Friday, November 12. The Science/Art Fusion project was funded, in part, by the Opportunity Fund of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, Inc.

Beaver’s work integrates techniques from two centuries — the cyanotype photographic printing process invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842 and 21st century digital photography. Using coated paper and a solution of light-sensitive salts, the cyanotype process produces a rich blue positive image after exposure to sunlight. Beaver employs this process in reverse, creating “cyanonegatives” with a variety of homemade cameras. He produces a positive image by scanning the negatives on a computer, which alters the color from blue to sepia.

As a photographer and physics professor, Beaver says, "I have always been fascinated by the beyond-the-snapshot possibilities of photography. For much of my photography I use a unique process that combines cyanotype – one of the oldest of photographic processes - with homemade cameras and modern digital scanning and printing.

"Traditionally, cyanotype has been used only for making contact prints from large-format negatives. With the advent of modern digital scanning and printing technology, I discovered that it is now possible to use this process directly in the camera, as the negative ‘film’ itself. Since normal camera lenses block the kind of light cyanotype responds to, I have to make my own cameras for what I call Cyanonegative Photography,” Beaver explains.

Beaver's Work: Trees and  Ice“The paper negative image that results is then scanned and digitally reversed and printed. Color reversal turns the strident Prussian Blue of the cyanotype original to amber and sepia tones. I am especially drawn to the painterly qualities of this photographic process, to the odd combination of the new and the antiquarian, and to the magnification of tiny, non-photographic details. It appeals to my inner nerdy-child-peering-at-pond-scum-through-a-microscope," he said.

UWFox Associate Professor of Art Judith Baker describes Beaver’s photographs as “beautiful, enchanting, intriguing and mysterious.” She notes that his “contemporary, meaningful art” will surely raise questions “regarding both the meaning of the images and the process used in making them.” This exhibit will provide some of the answers about the process Beaver used.

Beaver has previously exhibited his photographs in Appleton, Menasha, Waupaca, Joplin (MO) and Columbus (OH).

Posted 11/8/2004