In photography, it seems, everything old is new again.
Some of the oldest photography techniques are enjoying something of a Renaissance as artists rediscover processes from the 19th century. Objects produced by these techniques — like daguerreotypes and tintypes — have found their way into recent exhibitions at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and several other venues around town.
Artist Meg Turner, however, isn’t interested in resuscitating long-neglected ways of making photographs just for the sake of nostalgia. Instead, as evidenced in “Tuff Enuff,” her new show of work at Scott Edwards Gallery on Decatur Street in the Faubourg Marigny, those techniques are tools she uses to create images that reflect a uniquely personal set of relationships and experiences.
The images in “Tuff Enuff” were created via a process involving several different methods. Turner begins by using a medium format camera to create tintypes — photographs printed on a thin metallic sheet. Those tintypes are digitally scanned, and the resulting digital files are then used to create positives for the plates, which in turn are used to print the sumptuous photogravures that constitute the show.
“The process uses every century of printing technology,” Turner said.
Both intensely collaborative and deeply intimate, Turner’s photographic objects also are created with the close participation of her extended “friend family” in the New Orleans queer community. More specifically, and candidly, Turner describes the subjects in her current show as “people who have held me while I’ve cried.”
That intimacy with her subjects extends to the process by which Turner creates her images. While Turner’s background included making photogravures and architectural photography before her current body of work, the work in “Tuff Enuff” was an opportunity to learn new processes and formats.
“Making tintypes and making portraits are both super collaborative processes,” Turner said. “My subjects are also the people through whom I’ve learned about making tintypes and making portraits. Focusing on the people closest to me has made it easier to learn about these processes and move forward.”
For Turner, the tintype process is integral to the effects she wants her photographs to convey.
“Tintypes are slow but immediate,” Turner said. “You see the results right away. The process involves a lot of limitations — with the light, the chemistry, the length of time it takes to make an exposure — so you have to be extremely deliberate.”
Poses are held for up to 20 seconds, which Turner said gives her subjects the opportunity to “ground” themselves — and which gives her portraits a particularly formidable presence.
“The portraits become images representing how people choose to inhabit their strength,” she said. “They’re transformative.”
Like many of Turner’s subjects themselves, the photographs exist in an “in-between” space: somewhere between documentary and fantasy. They’re images that look like they could have been produced two centuries ago and yet capture a particular slice of New Orleans life in the 21st century.
A series of dreamlike photographs taken on a secluded stretch of the Lake Pontchartrain shorefront known as “Goth Beach” depicts figures who seem to float in an indeterminate space between ground and sky. Like ghostly visitors from a not-too-distant past, they’re at once familiar and inscrutable.
Other highlights of the show include a pair of portraits depicting Turner’s friend, an amateur boxer herself, in poses that recall iconic images of African-American boxing legends like Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali. In other portraits, Turner’s subjects pose with objects — a trumpet, a motorcycle, a gun — imbued with personal significance.
But it’s the close relationships between Turner and the people she photographs that ultimately define the images in the show.
“I’m giving back to the people who have made me feel strong,” Turner said. “That’s the main story of this work.”
John D’Addario writes about art. He can be reached at email@example.com.