In 1997, Light Work lecturer and exhibitor John Pfahl '61, G'68 stalled on a project, so he called the folks at Light Work for help. He had photographed landscapes in England, Wales, and Italy, concentrating on areas captured by artists from the Picturesque movement of the late 18th century. Among the scenic locations were places visited by William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the inventors of photography. Unhappy with most of the photos, Pfahl wondered whether he could use computer imaging to create photos that looked like watercolor paintings. "It goes back to the beginning of photography when people wanted to reproduce scenes," he says. "I thought, 'What if all these watercolor artists had computers and cameras back then?'"|
One problem: Pfahl is physically allergic to computersusing them actually makes him sick. Another: He had no computer expertise. But by working with associate director Gary Hesse on the computer imaging parts, Pfahl succeededcreating a print that was essentially a mix between photograph, watercolor, and computer image. Light Work ultimately published Permutations on the Picturesque,a portfolio of Pfahl's prints funded by its Endowment Fund for Mid-Career Artists. "It was great because it was an untested work that probably no one else would have printed," Pfahl says. "Light Work was the only place where I could have done this."
Hesse believes Light Work's willingness to take chances benefits not only the artists, but also the students and community members who use the space. "The exposure to different ideas changes the way you think and work," he says. "When I first came to SU as an MFA student in the art photography program, I had no desire to touch computers. But being in a space with access to computers encouraged experimentation, and changed the way I worked."
A parallel universe|
For Syracuse University studentsparticularly those in the College of Visual and Performing Arts' art photography program and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications' Department of Visual and Interactive Communications (VIC)Light Work and the Community Darkrooms are a boon. Although VPA and Newhouse have their own lab facilities, their photography students often head to the Community Darkrooms when those labs are closed or during deadline crunch times. Many students enjoy the atmosphere and feedback they receive from community members and artists. They gain experience through assistantships, internships, and work-study jobs at the two organizations, learn about contemporary artists through exhibitions at the Light Work and Menschel galleries, and can display their own pieces at the Light Work Gallery. "For our program, it's great to have this parallel universe of activity that our students can tap into," says art photography professor Michael Recht. "It's definitely a bonus to have this kind of resource on campus and it's been terrific since it started."
Art photography major Lauren Braun '99 joined the darkrooms as a sophomore and has served on the board for the past two years. Working there, she says, helped her progress. Last semester, for instance, Ajamu, a visiting artist from England, took time to critique her work. As a sophomore, Braun received assistance from the staff with a Schine Center solo exhibition. "There are always people passing through, and everyone is open to comments and suggestions," she says. "It's a good outreacha lot of professional photographers work there and I got a lot of feedback."
Artist-in-Residence James Williams of Hamilton, Ontario, second from left, discusses his series of portraits of steelworkers with former lab manager John Freyer, left, and students Reena Bammi '97 and Robert Sayre '00 in the Community Darkrooms.