“Du mußt dein Leben ändern.” (You must change your life.) So ends Rilke’s famous poem about his encounter with a sculptured torso of Apollo. It’s a statement about art, of course, and the strange asymmetry we detect in ourselves when we walk away from a sculpture or poem or photograph feeling somehow more than who we were before.
Lindsey Beal’s alumitypes and ambrotypes have something to say as well. But the difference between the torso of Rilke’s poem and the torso of Beal’s Venus is that Venus resides within—somewhere deep within—the galleries of our own subconscious minds. These are not statues we approach. These are figures we dream toward.
For at least as long as we’ve defaced cave walls, the torso of Venus has been a human obsession, our subject of subjects: the Paleolithic Venus of Hohle Fels, for instance, carved from mammoth tusk some 35,000 years ago; or the Bronze Age idols of the Cyclades, those lean mystical geometries that seem to answer the unanswerable questions; or the draped caryatids of the Acropolis that bridge the earth and sky. Even the androgynous torso of Buddha seems to borrow its hourglass figure from that age-old archetype.
Beal’s Venuses are always somehow out of reach, unlike Apollo whose body presides like an anvil. Venus casts and recasts herself—never quite coming into her true form. For the sake of artists like Beal, let’s hope she never does.
In the summer of 2010, I set out to learn wet plate collodion. I knew returning to graduate school I wanted to learn historical photographic processes but it took two years into the program to find someone to teach me. I didn’t start with the usual cyanotype or Van Dyke brown—instead, I dove straight into the complicated and finicky world of wet plate collodion. Working with Heather F. Wetzel, I learned to make the wet plate chemistry from scratch and to photograph various scenes and still lifes outside without a light meter. As the fall light became weaker and shorter, and the semester progressed, I struggled to figure out what to do with this new skill and how to make it my own.
Pour, tilt, pour, rock. Dip, wait, pull. Place, slide, place, slide. Expose.
And if you’re in the neighborhood, check out two upcoming exhibitions in the New England area: New Light Through Old Windows, showing at the Newport Art Museum, January 21-April 16, and Singular Repetitions, showing at Umass Dartmouth’s University Art Gallery, February 6-March 16.