It’s been a minute since Eugene Weekly last checked in on the Eugene Darkroom Group. When we profiled the group in the spring of 2017, EGP was but a fledgling operation in its initial stages of formation. Four years later it has come a long way. The group now has a permanent darkroom facility at Maude Kerns Art Center, a slick website and a strong membership base of roughly two dozen local filmophiles. There’s even an EDG book.
Those are impressive accomplishments in a short period. For photographers there’s no better way to celebrate than sharing more pictures. EDG’s current exhibition Community Chest presents just the opportunity. It fills the intimate front gallery at O’Brien Photo Imaging with 21 photographs by 17 locals. Most are members of EDG, but not all. As its title suggests, the show encompasses the entire local film-based community, EDG and beyond. What’s more, it’s meant to be the first of a continuing annual exhibition. If the debut is any evidence, analog is alive and well in Eugene.
The fact that film has become an archaic medium — largely supplanted by digital methods — does not seem much hindrance to these photographers. On the contrary, it has provided wind to their sails. Whether they’re motivated by underground ethos, digital burnout or the sheer fun of tangible craftwork is hard to say. In any case, Eugene’s analog community has come out in force, their fingers in a gamut of process-baked pies.
Chris Moody’s “If A Tree Stands” (2020) explores the aesthetic possibilities of faux-Polaroid, either misdeveloped or in colored borders. Koa A Tom’s “Selective Pressure” (2021) combines silver gelatin with translucent giclée overlay. Elijah McFarlane’s “Wizard Tower” (2020) juxtaposes processing artifacts with subject matter into an eerie sunset. Karen Landey contributes two cyanotypes. Brenna Hansen’s “Earth Wobble #2” (2020) is a strange alchemy of negative/positive technique. The show is filled out with an assortment of traditional silver gelatin prints, with a few inkjet prints (scanned from color film) thrown in for good measure.
The contributors here tend to skew young. Most are in their 20s and 30s. The older artists are young in spirit, many new to film-craft, their vision not yet calcified into stiff habit. There’s a current of Zen mind, beginner’s mind on display, an outlook befitting the sometimes capricious nature of film.
One of the joys of analog is its idiosyncratic nature. Slight changes in chemicals, timing and light can create beguiling effects in exposure, development or printing. This fact is well leveraged in the show, not only by the images on display, but the wide variety of framing choices. Treatments range from ornate museum-style moldings to plain black wood to multi-beveled metal and more. Their only unifying element is size. Pieces were kept small due to space limitations.
Once a mainstay in the Eugene photo scene, Walt O’Brien’s gallery space has been forced into dormancy by the pandemic. This is the first photo show there in over a year, and a welcome comeback. Hopefully, it’s the first of regular exhibitions to come. But COVID’s course is difficult to predict, and the gallery scene remains in limbo until the situation settles. Who knows when or where future shows may occur? Eugene photographers are well advised to see this one while it’s up.
Community Chest runs through Oct. 8 at O’Brien Photo Imaging, 2833 Willamette Street, Suite B. Free. Hours are 1-5 pm Monday-Friday. Masks and social distancing required. Closing reception 6-8 pm Saturday, Oct. 2. More info at WaltOBrien.net and EugDarkroom.org.