Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Generation X Goes Back to the Future 13: NeverEnding Pasts and Futures

Barret Oliver, who played lead character Bastian Bux in The NeverEnding Story (1984). Image Source: Suzy Turner.

Yahoo, among other sites, has posted a 'where are they now?' article about former Hollywood child stars. Favourite targets of this unwanted attention include the actors who starred in the 1984 film, The NeverEnding Story, a late Gen X favourite based on the 1979 German fantasy book by the same name. Ah, for the pre-CGI days when puppets were serious effects creations on movie screens. You can hear the film's sugary pop theme song by Limahl, here.

Barret Oliver more recently. Image Source: Showbizgeek.

Then-and-now articles focus on Barret Oliver, one of the lead actors in the above-mentioned film, and Yahoo is dismissive in the most superficial way about Oliver's occupation today:
Barret Oliver
Better known as: Bastian Bux in The Neverending Story
Last seen: Working as an arty photographer specialising in 'historic techniques'.
I especially like the scare quotes around 'historic techniques,' as though it is bad enough that Oliver became an arty photographer, let alone one experimenting with a style that is not considered contemporary. But is he really so out of step with the times?

An example of Woodburytype in a late 19th century photograph: Woodburytype of Octave Feuillet (1876/84). Image Source: The Art Institute of Chicago via Wiki.

In 2007, Oliver published A History of the Woodburytype, about a photographic technique and style that is synonymous with our vision of the modern past. The book's blurb reveals the background on the technique and its creator, Walter Bentley Woodbury:
In 1864 Walter Bentley Woodbury introduced a process for mechanically reproducing photographs that changed forever the way the world looked at images. Aesthetically beautiful, permanent and infinitely reproducible, the Woodburytype was the first process used extensively to photographically illustrate books, journals, museum catalogues, magazines and even campaign materials. More than a century after its heyday the Woodburytype stands as a pinnacle of photographic achievement. This book traces the history of Woodbury's process from the early technology and experiments to its commercial success and domination of the illustration field, and further attempts to adapt it to industrialized methods, and finally, to its eventual disuse. Also covered is the story of how Woodbury overcame daunting personal odds to bestow this beautiful photographic process upon the world. ...
Though the process continued in use for several years, the key period of its popularity, especially in terms of later being replaced by the half-tone process, was the 25 years after 1870. The Woodburytype has been noted by curators and librarians for years, but very little has been published on it or about how to identify the prints. Oliver is an independent scholar, and this is the first in-depth study of this process and of Woodbury. ... This book, beyond its technical aspects, broadens understanding of how photography became a truly modem medium of mass cultural import.
A deeper look at Woodburytype reveals that Oliver's famous movie role and his recent artistic preoccupation reflect each other. Like the meta-story The NeverEnding Story, there are layers of reality in Woodburytype. Imitations of Woodburytype today create a 'historic' look: there are sepia-toned quasi-Woodburytype photo apps on smartphones, cameras and image manipulation software. In short, Woodburytype is today's meta-photographic style, signifying early photographic technology and past times.

Video Source: Youtube.

You can read about the Woodburytype process, which involves photographic exposure of a light-sensitive gelatin film to create a relief surface on a lead sheet for printing, here; the process is demonstrated in the video above. The photomechanical print that results owes as much to print-making as it does to photography. The technique is a curious amalgam, in which Renaissance visual arts meet the modern era.

Artist Chuck Close, who has been active since the late 1960s, spent the 2000s decade experimenting with Woodburytype to produce beautiful portraits of famous people today (see more of his prints here and here). His Millennial-era work below can be compared with an 1880 original Woodbury print, also below, of an English actress who was at the height of her career in the late 19th century. Close's gallery, Two Palms, remarks that Woodburytype prints present the truest tonal values:
According to Barret Oliver, the master printer behind these Chuck Close Woodburytype portraits and author of A History of the Woodburytype, the process has never been surpassed for tonal rendition, for the beautiful, almost liquid-like delicacy in shadow and highlighted areas, and the supple surface relief texture and permanence in the prints.
These are the legacies of Woodburytype's shades of grey: layers of memory, imagination and reality which are emblematic of the past but resonate today.

A Woodburytype print of English stage actress, Ellen Terry (1880). Image © National Portrait Gallery, London by Alexander Bassano.

Chuck Close's Woodburytype portrait, Brad (2012). Image Source: Two Palms via Artsy.net.

Chuck Close's Woodburytype portrait, Obama 2 (2013). Image Source: Two Palms via Artsy.net.

Chuck Close's Woodburytype portrait, Kate (2012). Image Source: Two Palms via Artsy.net.

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