Andrea Modica : The Mindfulness of Analog Photography

Author: Eve Laliberté

Eve Laliberté holds a BFA in Art History and is currently undertaking graduate studies in Edition. Since more than five years, she has been involved in the redaction, edition, and curation of several artistic projects. Through her researches, she is mainly interested in the notion of the situated body and the concepts of the immaterial, ephemeral and imaginary. Her texts have notably been published in Pica Mag, Échelles, Anniversary Magazine and some of her poems have also been published in the art book ‘‘rien d’ordinaire’’ by doux-soft club art collective.

In a recent episode of the podcast A Small Voice, Ben Smith met with American photographer Andrea Modica and discussed the potential of portrait photography to be a bridge of communication with her subject. We might not always have the key to know the exact parameters of the production context of an image, but sometimes — even in non-documentary photography — the strength of the work relies on the story and in the process that led to it rather than just the result.

Considering the photographic production as being conceptual is interesting when thinking about the context of the capture of the image, but it takes another dimension when we extend our idea of the creation process to the photo printing. For people of my generation, who have not lived through the rise and fall of analog techniques, it is not instinctive to include the materialization of the photo in the reflexion. But Andrea Modica, as well as a growing number of contemporary artists, continues to use traditional photographic techniques in her work, and this aspect is of interest if we want to understand the underlying forces of her practice.

Modica works with a large-format 8×10’’ camera, uses Kodak Tri-x film, and the final prints are platinum-palladium. Developed by William Willis at the end of the 19th century, the platinumpalladium process was used primarily by The Pictorialists, a group of photographers defending the artistic value and the emotional potential of photographs. Partly led by Alfred Stieglitz, the group left an essential heritage to photographic history that can shed light on some of the reasons why many contemporary photographers decide to work with analog techniques in their work,
even if there is a much simpler and faster way to develop pictures.

Of course, platinum-palladium offers a particular finish that can motivate the choice of some artists. Its delicate tones range from warm black, to reddish brown, to expanded mid-tone grays. Platinum-palladium is also known as being one of the most durable of all photographic processes. But for some artists, this choice goes beyond mere aesthetic taste and durability.

The physical aspect of the work can be attractive because of its degree of reality. As Modica stated in the podcast, there is a right and a wrong in the process of platinum printing and going through with it requires time, attention and care. In this kind of process, the role of the photographer is thus staggered over time, and the influence of its subjectivity can be exponential.

In the past years, the photographic process has almost become entirely intangible. For people working with digital, the only physical act in the process is the capture of the image and for some artists, this act can even itself be part of an intangible procedure. Artists of the post-photographic condition — Jon Rafman and his 9-eyes series, for instance — can reduce photographic creation to a completely digital process. While this is certainly interesting and opens the way to thousands of questions, some of which are brilliantly explored in the texts of Joan Fontcuberta, it draws a line for artists like Modica, who like to have their hands in the clay.

Putting so much effort in a photograph might be a way to reclaim authorship against machines which are dematerializing the whole photographic process and allowing for infinite reproductions. In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, an eminent visionary 1935 text by Walter Benjamin, the author addressed the loss of aura of the mechanically produced copies. Even if the text initially considered analog photography as being part of the
criticized mediums, we could now argue that in the 21st century, this technique stands for similar ideas than those defended by Benjamin.

Analog and self-developed photography today is one of the rare processes that still, in some way, resist the shift of mass production and reproducibility allowed by digital mediums. By perpetuating part of the Pictorialist tradition, techniques like platinum-palladium leave significant margins for artists to explore their subjectivity through a process that is spread over time rather than immediacy.