Photographic Exploration to be The Focus at MCLA Gallery 51


NORTH ADAMS, MA - Beginning Thursday, Oct. 27, MCLA's Gallery51 presents "Photos of the Undescribed," by Ben Ripley.

Ripley's work uses a variety of actual and re-conceived 19th century photographic processes whose physical presence stand in contrast to the idea of an infinitely reproducible digital image, according to MCLA Gallery 51 Manager Ven Voisey, curator of the show.

"Photography is a challenging medium because of its prevalence in visual language and culture," Voisey said. "Its use in advertising alone presents the average city dweller with hundreds, if not thousands, of photographed images a day. I see Ripley's critical sensibility and his use of medium and process as metaphor as a counter-approach to the predominant dilutive and often misleading use of the photographic image."

The show includes the photograph, "River Journey," which Ripley created by shooting in onto a negative that is 100 feet long and 2 feet high, spooled across a giant 19th century brass lens. About 75 feet long, "River Journey" is a record of an exposure in a giant camera mounted on a boat traveling down a river.  

The handmade boat - also on display for this exhibition - that Ripley used to create this photograph is partially made of recycled banners from Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA).

"The photograph was exposed continually as the boat travelled, and the image carries records of the motion of the boat and the operator," according to Ripley. "The wavy lines and changes in the exposure of the photograph disrupt the idea of an objective image while at the same time provide a more accurate record of the camera's point of view."

Ripley explained that the practice of photography - as opposed to figurative painting or sculpture - is one of fidelity. Part of the attraction of photography, he said, lies in the quest for accurate reproductions as the film passively records the objects that are presented to it.  

"The experience of the viewer, however, is not that of an objective witness. Ideas of context, illusions, the viewer's own thoughts, memories and unique perceptions affect his or her experience of work more than the artist," Ripley said.

The importance of the pictorial image fades, and the viewer's own presence and experience becomes the center of the event, he added.

In "The Onomasticon I," Ripley uses scrap wood covered with a tiny, handwritten repetition of the word "one." This photograph traces the path of the artist's hand and attention over the wood. The viewer is given the opportunity to follow the same path, and the choice to pay attention to or ignore whatever parts of the piece he or she wishes.

"Stages of Trust" features a collection of four counting machines. When a machine registers motion, it produces a photograph of the word "one," and begins a new exposure of the word on the next photograph. The viewer's interaction provides beginning and end points for each photograph.

According to Ripley, the longer it takes for the machine to recognize the presence of another person, the more deeply the word one is etched into the paper. The photographs are records of the connection between the two viewers.

The public is invited to attend an opening reception on Thursday, Oct. 27, 5-7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. 

"Photos of this Undescribed" runs through Nov. 27. An artist talk will be held at Gallery 51 Monday November 7th at 5:30 pm. MCLA Gallery 51, a program of MCLA's Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, is open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call the Gallery at 413-664-8718, or go to  gallery51