WILLIAM HENRY Fox Talbot developed the salt print in the early part of the nineteenth century. One of the first methods of producing photographic prints, it was a laborious process often resulting in failed or flawed images.
Today the salt print is considered an alternative process, an "arty" appendage of modern photographic techniques. However, in the skillful hands of Michelle Macfarlane, the salt print whispers a delicacy and sophistication unheard of in earlier times; rich in shadows - both seductive and forbidding - her prints glide from darkness into myriad tonal variations, culminating in bleached bone whiteness.Salt Lake City can now sample a collection of Macfarlane's salt prints, "Salt on Paper," at the Sweet Library (455 F Street), through July 13, during normal library hours.
To create a salt print, one must first apply silver nitrate to a paper sized with a gelatin and salt solution. When the paper is dry it is contact printed from a negative using ultraviolet light. It is then washed to remove excess silver. The paper is then fixed with sodium thiosulfate and given an archival wash. Because each paper is hand-coated, each image - even if produced from the same negative - is unique.
In her artist statement for the exhibit Macfarlane explains - concerning the image created by the salt print: "From my own perspective this causes an advantageous confusion. Where straight photography enables an equation of the photographic image with reality, alternative processes force the viewer to acknowledge artifice. The handmade quality of the salt print asserts its two dimensions. We recognize more readily than with straight photography that reality has been manipulated. I like forcing a breakdown of the equation between photograph and truth."
Macfarlane credits her achievements in alternative processes to her mentor, Art Brunisholz, an instructor at the Salt Lake Art Center. "He is a remarkable teacher," she says, "who is unselfish with his knowledge and techniques."
Born in Miami, Florida, Macfarlane came to Utah at 18 to attend college at Brigham Young University, where she majored in English and French and minored in art. She took drawing and painting classes but "got really discouraged after one quarter in a drawing class," she says. "So I just went into the darkroom and sort of taught myself." She came away from the experience with only one photograph she considered worth keeping.
Eventually Macfarlane produced enough quality photographs to get herself accepted into the Parson's School of Design in Paris. She studied under several celebrated instructors during the summer class but "there was a female photographer from Paris with whom I spent a lot of time. She had a more personal emphasis, a completely different style from the other teachers. I gravitated toward her."
When she returned to Salt Lake City, Macfarlane worked for a commercial photographer, picking up "a few more things along the way."
Having now exhibited yearly since 1985, Macfarlane still does all her photographic work in the studios and laboratories of the Salt Lake Art Center. (She has two small children at home and worries about them getting into the caustic chemicals used in the alternative processes.) But she hopes to have a darkroom "at our next home."
All the pieces in "Salt on Paper" are worth serious study. "We posed and I made him smile," "Mort" and "Mairead holds Rally" are especially nice. However, the print that excels in everything from tonal nuances to subject matter to design is "Roscoff." It is sensual, simple and a visual delight.
Macfarlane's salt prints are all quite small, so be prepared to stand up close and savor the experience.
"Salt on Paper"
Michelle Macfarlane exhibits her salt prints at the Sweet Library (455 F Street, 524-8276), through July 13.
Regular library hours.