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Into the Darkroom
At Ted Partin’s studio, Aperture Connect Members take a peek behind the curtain.
On Thursday, May 17, Aperture Connect Members met with photographer Ted Partin at his studio in Long Island City. The evening, which began with refreshments, was an opportunity for five of Aperture’s younger patrons to speak with Partin about his life and work. Partin, who received an MFA in photography from the Yale School of Art in 2004, introduced the small group to his first black-and-white photographs, made with an 8-by-10-inch camera. The group also looked at Partin’s experimentations with Cibachrome, a photographic process that yields film transparencies instead of negatives. Partin, rather than developing the images onto photographic paper, created unique, large-format transparencies with extremely vivid colors and light; for instance, an image of a standing woman illuminated in a lush forest struck the group as peculiar, surreal, and graceful. These resulting one-of-a-kind photographs have become even more rare since Cibachrome shut down production in 2012. (Partin keeps a stockpile of film in his freezer.) The studio and darkroom tour provided an opportunity for young photography enthusiasts to learn about the technical specifications of shooting with large-format film.
Aperture’s Connect Members particularly enjoyed an open discussion of the photographer’s large-format techniques in relation to an ongoing body of work. As members contemplated Partin’s framed color photographs of young, beautiful, and often nude women, the warm tones, intimate bedroom settings, and openness in the women’s gazes sparked a conversation about the relationship between Partin and his subjects. He explained that he will often meet the women and request portrait sessions via Instagram. Keeping in mind the stereotypical portrayal of women as passive subjects, Partin aims to create a collaborative, empowering exchange. The women in his photographs are self-possessed and unposed, and his large-format techniques facilitate a slow, methodical way of making pictures with the women rather than taking pictures of them.
Finally, Members gathered around images of women obscured in black, murky tones, as if Partin had snapped the shutter with the lights off. Following an error in the darkroom around 2011, Partin spent a year refining another unique large-format process, making what he calls “dark pictures.” In order to see the image in detail, Members had to view each photograph from different angles and distances, much like a nineteenth-century daguerreotype. The group then discussed the ways in which Partin’s “dark pictures” further subvert the viewer’s gaze and expectations of looking at women. After the studio tour concluded, the group retired to a neighborhood bar for a more casual conversation over drinks.
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