FARGO - Meghan Duda gets in close to one of the pieces in her new exhibition, “Trailer Obscura,” at ecce gallery here.
Using her pinkie finger, she points out a small line of light that shows through a gap between two sheets of the silver gelatin print where their corners curl slightly.
The gap is intentional. The various papers used to assemble the piece have been given space and allowed to curl in order to invoke the physicality of the photographic print and play with the light.
“And that’s what photography is, right?” Duda says. “It’s drawing with light.”
Duda, an assistant professor teaching photography at Minnesota State University Moorhead, says she’s fascinated with the idea of the photograph as an object and cites digital media and smartphone technologies that have radically changed our relationship with the photograph.
“It’s always been an object until these last 10 years or so. Now, it’s this image on a screen. It’s a shift in how the world is operating now,” she says.
That notion runs through Duda’s career. Her recent work displays laser-cut images that remove objects from photographs and replaces them with negative space.
These technologies have also fundamentally changed the way photographs are captured, an idea Duda also addresses in the 12 pieces in “Trailer Obscura.” All of the images were taken with a large pinhole camera, a simple camera setup that uses a small hole in a box to fix an image onto photographic paper.
Duda took this idea a bit further, using large shipping crates as cameras. She also converted a 5-by-8-foot trailer into such a camera, then drove it down Interstate 29 between Grand Forks and Fargo. The resulting images recall an abstraction of the horizon lines and landscape, featuring dramatic contrasts and soft textures as a result of long exposure time and motion blur. She presents the pieces in cases custom-made by her husband, Regin Schwaen, a North Dakota State University Assistant Professor of Architecture.
For ecce gallery director Mark Weiler, the complete narrative arc of these pieces – from their initial capture through to their presentation – transforms them from prints into sculptures.
“This process requires her to physically be inside the camera, and to fix the light in order to create her work, and that’s important,” Weiler says. “I think that there’s a certain grit present in her final work. Once you understand the tools and materials used as a whole, with the frames/
presentation as sculptural object, it adds such a gravity to the result.”
The laborious process to arrive at these objects also adds to the idea of photography as an art form. This is another concept being lost thanks to digital media, Duda says.
“When I was younger and thought about artists, I thought that everything took a lot of time and it was always done the hard way. I don’t think this process is hard because I enjoy it, but it would be hard for somebody else. That’s what’s nice about it,” she says.
Duda has recently updated her tools to include a digital camera and acknowledges that there is a place for digital photography, adding that she is beginning to see digital artists use their images in interesting ways. But Duda admits she’s a bit scared of the digital camera and would miss the peaceful Zen of the dark room and the thrill of seeing a print come to life in her hands.
“I’d like to think that I know exactly what I’m doing with this process,” she says, “But really, I don’t know what I have until I process it. With a digital camera, the result would be instant. I think that takes some of the fun out of it.”
IF YOU GO WHAT: “Trailer Obscura,” new work by Meghan Duda
WHEN: Through Sept. 7
WHERE: ecce gallery, 216 Broadway, Fargo