Unusual methods unite artists in JAHC show

Folding camera, firing at high temperatures among the techniques featured in photography, ceramics show

Posted: Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Through his photography, Joe Sonneman brings the technology of the past and the present together.

Using folding cameras from the 1930s and 1950s, Sonneman captures black and white images - then copies them with a digital copy machine.

"The overall process suits this particular movement in history," Sonneman said. "I sort of have one foot in the photo-film-chemistry camp of the past and the other foot in the digital-computer camp of the future."

Sonneman's images will be on display in a photo show entitled "The Pencil of Nature," showing at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council gallery beginning July 5. Also on display will be "Ceramic Canvas," an exhibit of porcelain and stoneware by father-son team Paul and James Voelckers.

The ceramic-making process he and his son use is different from the norm, Paul Voelckers said. Pieces are fired at exceptionally high temperatures of about 2,350 degrees Fahrenheit, which lends them a softer, more satin-like sheen.

"It's a wild event," Voelckers said. "The kiln is so darn hot and it's burning natural fuel, so flames are shooting out of the spy holes and stuff and you can barely see anything. That's one of the appealing aspects of this. The whole firing process is very, very active rather than passive."

Voelckers has been involved in pottery-making for much of his life; he and James have been working together since a middle school class roused James' interest. For the show, they plan to display a variety of pieces with an emphasis on large platter shapes.

"(We're) trying to do a little more two-dimensional fun and using the ceramics as a bit of a palette," Voelckers said. "Trying some expressive color, not just functional work."

Their pieces should provide a strong complement to Sonneman's photographs, Voelckers said.

"They're very sort of subtle studies in monochrome," Voelckers said of the photographs. "We're sort of objects and much more polychrome. There'll be some very bright color."

Sonneman's show centers around images of trees, houses and Native Americans. They're his most recent areas of interest; over the course of a long photography career, he's experimented with the idea of the camera as a barrier between photographer and subject and worked with panoramic and documentary photography.

"I spent a lot of time in earlier years looking at books of photography ... and studying the work of other photographers," Sonneman said. "Not necessarily to copy what those people did but sort of to educate my eye."

The notion of enhancing his photographs with the digital copier came after he took a picture of the Viking Hotel draped in a Visqueen tarp. Since New York "wrap artist" Christo - known for draping and wrapping objects to create unique images - was visiting, the photo seemed appropriate, Sonneman said.

"I handed out copies at the reception and all the Juneauites laughed and thought it was great," Sonneman said. He returned to Capital Copy to make more reproductions of the picture, and the staff there suggested he use the digital machine.

"That was the start of this whole process," Sonneman said. "The results were - it's hard to quantify quality differences - but I would say roughly four times better. Clearer, crisper, wider range of tones of gray."

Today, Sonneman often carries a folding camera in his pocket, ready to capture other images that strike his eye. However, the 40-plus photos he'll have in the show are not marked with name or location information.

"I'm hoping people will see this thing as art, see the image instead of asking Where is it? When is it?' " Sonneman said. "Some of these are kind of surprisingly timeless. You know it's sometime in the last 100 years but you don't know exactly where."

The exhibit will be on display at the JAHC Gallery at 206 North Franklin Street downtown from July 5 to 26.

Genevieve Gagne-Hawes can be reached at geneviev@juneauempire.com.

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