The Free Dictionary defines “Paramnesia” as “A distortion of memory in which fantasy and objective experience are confused.” It is the wonderfully apt title of an exhibition of dry plate photographs by Naomi Vanderkindren.
Ms. Vanderkindren eschews the title “photographer” and instead describes herself as an “art maker”. This makes sense: why would a “photographer” resurrect the technology of 1871? Only to accomplish a specific artistic goal. The process requires the laborious and imperfection fraught process of recycling window glass, cleaning the glass, applying a subbing layer, creating a silver halide/gelatine sensitized solution and manually coating the glass with the solution and heat treating the result.
The imperfections take the form of dust, fingerprints, poor adhesion of the gelatine to the glass, and incomplete coating. Vanderkindren makes no attempt to hide these imperfections. For her they are a necessary part of the image. In this she harks back to Julia Margaret Cameron who reveled in such defects as proof of the human element in an otherwise mechanical medium. Some 130 years later Vanderkindren does not need to prove anything about photography, instead the defects contribute to the illusion that these are images of a previous age.
Many of the subjects contribute to this illusion. A number of the images involve trees with branches cut off, tree stumps and scenes of logging. These could be subjects of the 19th century.
But eventually you run across an image in which the subject is indisputably modern, the real becomes an illusion, the illusion real. Paramnesia takes hold.
This image is emblematic of the effect. This could be a scene of modern urban decay, of abandonment. But note the logs on the mattresses. A tie back to the other images. Now what exactly was the subject of those images? Nineteenth century manifest destiny or modern triumphalism over nature? Destruction of nature provides the raw materials of urban civilization, but is the resulting dislocation also the cause of subsequent urban decay?
Selections from Ms. Vanderkindren’s series Paramnesia are on display at the Louie-Meager Art Gallery in the Gary Soren Smith Center for the Fine and Performing Arts at Ohlone College, 43600 Mission Boulevard, Fremont, CA. Admission is free. The artist will give a talk on her work on September 17, 2015 at 4:00pm in the gallery.