Arts & Entertainment

Northern Virginia Art Beat

FotoWeek DC is now officially over, but many interesting photography shows remain around town in FotoWeek’s wake. This week we’ll look at several shows featuring work made with historical processes.


Phil Nesmith, “Flight,” 2009. Varnished dryplate photogram on black glass. 18 X 19 inches.

The Essential Photo

In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes Before the Digital Age, at the National Gallery of Art – West Building (4th and Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.). The exhibit runs through March 14. The museum is open Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. The gallery is closed on Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. For more information, call 202-737-4215 or visit

“In the Darkroom” surveys the historical development of the photographic processes from Henry Fox Talbot’s original silver salted paper images through to Polaroid images.

Mind you, all of this would be little more than wonky esoterica if it weren’t for the fact that modern art photographers are increasingly reaching back in time to find antique photographic processes with which to make their art. Needless to say, a show of this sort is a great opportunity to get up to speed on photography.

The supporting guidebook is an absolute must-have reference source for anyone with more than a passing interest in the topic.

Of Road Kill & Art

Phil Nesmith – Flight Patterns, at the Irvine Contemporary (1412 14 St. NW, Washington, D.C.). The exhibit runs through Dec. 12 and the gallery is open Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. For more information, call 202-332-8767 or visit

Richmond-based photographer Phil Nesmith has eight direct (and thus unique) photograms on black glass panels at Irvine Contemporary. Nesmith’s current compositions use small scale flora and fauna, often placed within glass containers or wire cages. This body of work deals with a general concern for the fate of bees, bats and the like. Nesmith also expresses a contemplative concern for genetic mutations due to environmental changes, as seen in his spider with cicada wings.

Vintage Modernity

Christopher Colville, at Insomniac Design (1219 Blagden Alley NW, Washington, D.C., off M or N Street between 9 and 10 Streets). The exhibit runs through Dec. 11 and the gallery is open Wednesday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., and also by email appointment (

Colville teaches photography at Arizona State University and uses a variety of historic photographic processes to create his mostly black-and-white images, which are then reproduced with more stable modern prints.


Colville’s “Raptor.”

In the case of his Cairns series, Colville shot the images on modern film, then produced the final wet plate ambrotypes in the darkroom when he got back home. That series depicts a series of small rock piles, often echoing the mountains in the background. In some ways it reminds one of Hokusai’s various views of Mt. Fuji.

Colville’s photograms are originally done on printing-out-paper with dead animals he finds while on long hikes, and exposed in the field. The final archival digital prints are made later.

He’s working with an interesting mix of “then and now” that seemed the obvious way to go for some time. Still, some photographers insist on making traditional color C-prints (which have significant fade and color shift five to 20 years after they’re made) when they could make 100-plus year archival digital prints. The digital prints seem like a no-brainer once you remove the word “traditional” from the equation, but that’s not always an easy word to subtract. Colville uses traditional methods, but isn’t enslaved by them.

Afro-Oceanic Chic

Man Ray African Art and the Modernist Lens, at the Phillips Collection (1600 21 St. NW, Washington, D.C.). The exhibit runs through Jan. 10, and the gallery is open Tuesday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., and on Thursday till 8:30 p.m. For more details, visit Admission is $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.

While the main feature here is the African and Oceanic primitive sculptures, there are a few Rayographs. Also notable are several printing versions of Kiki with African mask. Some of the more unusual and entertaining photos on view are of artists in African masks hamming it up for the camera, or Man Ray posing at home with painting and sculpture.