Cabinet of Curiosities hearkens back to the origins of photography

A trio of photographers, Greg Gerla, Julya Hajnoczky and Jack Germsheid, have taken a classic approach to their photography as a part of this year’s Exposure Photography Festival at Calgary’s Loft 112.

As a part of the Exposure Photography Festival that concluded Feb. 28, Cabinet of Curiosities was a throwback to the Victorian collections of the same name that would display bizarre objects of nature, art, antiquities and science from around the world.

Cabinet of Curiosities, the photo exhibit, was a gallery of wet plate photographs of items that could be found in Victorian cabinets of curiosities.

Wet plate photography, or the collodion process, is one of the original photography processes and a precursor to what became film photography, according to Gerla.

Wet plate was developed in the 1850s and is much slower than regular film, as well as only producing one-offs of an image that cannot be reproduced like a negative could.

“These pieces here are a one of a kind,” he said.

The arduous task involves an array of chemicals placed in a view camera, and developing the photo before the solution has time to dry.

The required silver alone can cost around $300, according to Gerla.

Although the process may seem archaic the results can be amazing.

“You can see by looking at these images that there’s something about the quality of the image that’s very, very interesting,” he said.

According to Gerla, it took three or four months to create the 11 shots he has today.

“Part of it is finding the subject matter for this particular show.”

Gerla’s photographs consisted of bones, a mummified mink head, a taxidermy crocodile head and a variety of other similar objects.

Hajnoczky’s photographs were of flowers and feathers and used a different process in which she projected the images onto a glass or metal plate.

“The process actually sort of mimicked the use of a microscope,” she said.

While Germsheid had a similar theme to Gerla’s, but added a humorous tone.

“The cabinet show is a great display of the process from black glass to tintypes and prints from collodion negatives,” he said.

The space the Cabinet of Curiosities used was Loft 112 in Calgary’s East Village.

Both Hajnoczky and Gerla are graduates of the photo department at the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) with Gerla is a sessional instructor there.

Germsheid is a graduate of SAIT’s journalism program who currently creates fine art with antique processes and analog photography.

Loft 112 is normally a space for writers but Hajnoczky managed to procure the space for the photo gallery.

“I feel like different arts communities can sometimes get a bit disconnected from each other, so it has been wonderful to be in a space that accommodates writers, visual artists, musicians and many others,” she said.

Gerla estimates that around 150 to 200 people went through the Cabinet of Curiosities from the opening on Feb. 6 to Feb. 28.

“It’s really accessible for anybody off the street to come in,” he said.

Although a part of Exposure, Cabinet of Curiosities has extended its stay at Loft 112 to the end of March.

Gerla says he’s always had an interest in film photography as it’s what he learned when a student. The advent of digital photography has made it difficult to continue with film and analog photography.

These pieces here are a one of a kind. – Greg Gerla

“I’m intrigued and interested in the work of photographers who were sort of the starting echelon of people,” he said, adding it was great “to have an opportunity to jump back, not just back to film but back to prior to film,” he said.

The Cabinet of Curiosities will continue to run past the Exposure Film Festival’s end date and into March.

Visiting hours for the gallery can be found on the Loft 112 website.

About Julian Barber 2 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Julian Barber is working as a reporter for The Press during the 2014-2015 academic year.