Alternative Process: San Francisco State University School of Art

Harvey Milk Terminal 1

Departures — Level 2
Oct 20, 2020 - Feb 23, 2021

Student ArtworkStudent ArtworkStudent Artwork

Alternative Process
San Francisco State University School of Art

The artwork in this exhibition was produced by San Francisco State University students for the course Advanced Topics in Photography: Alternative Process. The class took place during the 2020 spring semester while the shelter-in-place occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As students adjusted to schooling from home, their artwork addressed the loss of in-person connection. A spirit of adaptation, invention, and finding new ways to retain a sense of community became the foundation of the class.  

The course combines analog, almost alchemical nineteenth-century photography methods, with the immediacy of twenty-first-century digital technology. Photograms, one of the earliest types of photographic images, are made without a camera. They more closely resemble x-rays or photocopies than photographs. Organic materials or other items are placed on photosensitive paper, which is then exposed to light. Cyanotypes, another historic technique first invented in 1842, require a chemical solution of iron salts combined with exposure to UV light in order to create blue prints. Some students made cyanotypes on fabric and further embellished them with stitching—and even lace. Several cyanotypes transform into mixed media by incorporating found photographs, glitter, and ink. The emerging artists also created lumen prints, another nineteenth-century technique that requires sunlight for development. A number of lumen prints in this exhibition depict ethereal, botanical imagery in muted colors that appear to glow.

Led by professor and photographer Sean McFarland, the artwork on display tells the story of a creative community continuing to engage in collaborative practice while deprived of the in-person camaraderie of studio art courses. McFarland and his students utilized traditional mail service to remain in contact, producing digital negatives that were sent back and forth. Students worked at home using casserole dishes as developing trays to process images. The completed artworks express how these artists are experiencing and responding to this complicated time period. 

San Francisco State University’s School of Art is an inclusive learning environment that promotes creativity and scholarship, and mirrors the wide range of cultural, artistic and scholarly interests in the San Francisco Bay Area. The School of Art provides students with intellectually informed instruction in the histories and practices of the visual arts and museum studies within the context of a liberal arts university. The guiding principle of its curricula and instruction is the belief that art and its institutions are an important means to interpret human experience, and a fundamental mechanism by which a society evolves, understands, and reflects upon itself.

[images left to right]
Untitled (mixed media–lighthouse)  2020
Coral Hale 
cyanotype, found photographs, glitter
Courtesy of the artist and Sean McFarland, San Francisco State University

Untitled (photogram–book pages)  2020
June McCaughey
Courtesy of the artist and Sean McFarland, San Francisco State University

Untitled (photogram­–plant-shape)  2020
Claire Burke 
silver gelatin lumen print
Courtesy of the artist and Sean McFarland, San Francisco State University

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