Welcome to WAM Updates

WAM Updates are short, informal posts that put the spotlight on small, but exciting, Museum-related projects, such as the addition of a new painting or sculpture to a gallery. They also serve as updates on staff, new services or programs, and other WAM news.

We hope you like reading the Updates! If you are interested in learning about something specific, or have a suggestion for a WAM Update, please update us at wamupdates@worcesterart.org

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Meet CMAI Artist Matthew Gamber

Each year, Worcester Art Museum’s Central Massachusetts Artist Initiative (CMAI) invites two artists who live or work in the greater Worcester area to have their art showcased in a solo installation in our Sidney and Rosalie Rose Gallery, alongside other contemporary artists in our permanent collection. The current CMAI artist is Matthew Gamber, an Associate Professor in the Visual Arts Department at the College of the Holy Cross.

Matthew Gamber’s series, This is (Still) the Golden Age, is a unique set of images created by pressing a piece of photographic paper to the screen of a cathode-ray television. The TV provides both the light source and the subject (a program or commercial) projected directly onto the photographic paper. The resulting still images are somewhat abstract–as the moving images are rendered into blurry shapes–yet still recognizable. He writes about the process and his inspiration in this interview with Lauren Szumita, Curatorial Assistant of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

Matthew Gamber, Leave it to Beaver, from This is (Still)
the Golden Age, 
2006, gelatin silver print, (c) Matthew Gamber
LS:  To start, how did you come to be connected with Worcester?
MG: I have been teaching at College of the Holy Cross since 2014, having taught at the school once before in 2008. In the time between those two appointments, I met many artists in the area, many of whom have become close friends and colleagues.

LS: We are excited to feature works from your series This is (Still) the Golden Age at WAM. Can you explain more about the process of creating this series?
MG: I wanted to create an image where the light was both the subject and the object. I began by thinking about the crossover between broadcast media and photography. On a primary level, photographs record the absence or presence of light. As contact prints (or photograms), these are a direct index of an object, but they also have the artist’s desire to have touched, which is an artistic gesture. What one sees is the recent absence of the object touching the light-sensitive surface–its residual shadow. The television image, the electronic image, its transmission exist in a continuum within the larger electromagnetic spectrum of which visible light is a small fraction.

LS: The images in this series date to the mid-2000s, but many of the featured programs, like The Brady Bunch, are much older. Were these developed from previous negatives, or were these re-runs that you caught on TV?
MG: Sports broadcasts, like Wimbledon, were captured at the time of the initial broadcast as if it were a decisive moment. However, several were reruns. Many postwar sitcoms, in particular, exist because they were first shot on film and then edited before broadcast. Our access to these programs could have only happened through A) the foresight of properly archiving the episodes and B) networks discovering an audience for resyndicated content. These shows replay continuously, and if one hasn't seen them, they can be rediscovered by a new generation. I am experiencing the episodes as my parents' generation might have first encountered them. When I made these cameraless negatives from the television, to me, it was as if they were broadcast for the first time.

LS: Since you captured the image by turning the television on, not sitting and waiting for a certain shot, did you have an idea of what the final product would look like?
MG: Before the widespread use of magnetic recording, which could transduce signals and could be replayed in the future, early television programs were broadcast into the atmosphere and lost—essentially live theatre seen at a distance. My technique requires that the television unit be in a completely darkened room. I am unsure of what the image will be when it comes up to full brightness on the cathode ray tube. This series was created from a long series of failures. For me, it was a discovery about what photography's shortcomings were in its ability to create a meaningful document of something in our everyday experience.

LS: I think one of the most exciting things about this work is that it's a type of cameraless photography. Can you comment on your practice?
MG: For me, it is the mistakes at the seams of intent that generate meaning in the artwork. I was interested in using photography for purposes for which it was not intended to be used. I tried to bring 19th-century thinking to bear on the 21st-century as a way to understand these what might be considered common uses of photography. In a sense, I wanted to create a kind of alternate history where Anna Atkins had tried to collect television broadcasts, rather than the wide variety of British flora. I wanted to imagine what it might have been like if one had skipped over the rise of Kodak and the development of what we know as photojournalism, cinema, or the vernacular.

LS: You seem to have this interest, in this series and others, in isolating different aspects of photography and exploring them a little bit further, maybe breaking down the value systems.
MG: Which came first: an idea or a technique? I'm not challenging any traditions of photography insomuch as I’m trying to understand why images are made the way are. I'm fascinated with the evolution of photographic conventions, whether intentional or entirely accidental. I'm interested in challenging rules we accept as a means to understand how conventions began.

LS: Is there anything that you hope viewers will take away from your work?
MG: I hope that viewers will make a connection between the photographs in the Photo Revolution exhibition. I was inspired by many of the artists whose work is in the show. I hope visitors see a shared dialogue in reevaluating what photography can show us. In the 1960s and ‘70s (in parallel development with MFA programs in academia), you find a number of young artists mining photography's past, challenging conventional uses of the medium. It was a means to explore aspects of lived experience that are not easily documented through a lens.

Works from This is (Still) the Golden Age will be on display in WAM’s Sidney and Rosalie Rose Gallery until March 29, 2020.

   Lauren Szumita
Curatorial Assistant of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs
December 10, 2019

Recent WAM Updates