I owe Obscura Gallery's Jennifer Schlesinger a big apology: I should have visited her space ages ago. But now that Schlesinger's next group show dubbed One-of-a-Kind is set to open this week, it's a great excuse to make up for lost time and to tout the photographically -inclined gallery; Obscura, as it turns out, is astoundingly good.
Much of this is due to Schlesinger's skillful curation. A native of Connecticut, she came to Santa Fe to attend the now-defunct College of Santa Fe (RIP) where she studied under photographer David Scheinbaum. After college, Schlesinger worked in the -nonprofit sector at places like the Center for Contemporary Arts, but taking a job with (also sadly defunct) Verve Gallery 11 years back helped sharpen her skills further.
When Verve closed nearly three years ago, the long-gestating idea for Obscura was finally realized and, after a year and a half of working as a private dealer out of her home and online, Schlesinger and her boyfriend, the gallerist Brant Mackley, took up space in the old Goldleaf Framemakers building at Paseo de Peralta and Galisteo Street. They gutted the building and transformed it into the gorgeously appointed and brilliantly lit double-gallery it is today. Mackley's antiquities and tribal pieces inhabit the front space and Schlesinger's photos, plates and flat files take up several rooms deeper within. Sometimes exhibits overlap spiritually, but Schlesinger and Mackley mostly have their own -aethetics going on.
On the day we meet, Schlesinger is preparing to deinstall the show 30 Photographs by Danny Lyon, a Bernalillo photog with a penchant for motorcycle culture. In the back room, she's pulled various pieces from One-of-a-Kind prior to install. My eye is immediately drawn to a series of silver gelatin contact prints by Norman Mauskopf. I've primarily known Mauskopf as a lowrider shooter, but his images of rural New Mexico churches taken with a pinhole camera are unreal and, Schlesinger notes, he hasn't really shown his work this way before. Somehow more exciting is a copper plate and matching photogravure by Edward Sheriff Curtis from volume 12 of his pictorial book series The North American Indian. The copper plate is as clean as I've ever seen and, according to Schlesinger, was found in a basement somewhere in Boston.
Elsewhere, Caitlyn Soldan's bizarre mordançage—a process that creates unexpected and artfully deteriorated images from silver gelatin prints immersed in chemical baths—wrests my attention. It's a study of the Pedernal mesa, but looks strange and alien. Also, I'm told, large-scale prints of Namibian sand dunes by Kurt Markus will be displayed alongside photographs by Robert Stivers, Neil Folberg, Joan Myers, Susan Burnstein and many more. All told, One-of-a-Kind boasts more than 25 other artists and roughly 45 pieces total. As the title suggests, each is the only one of its kind.
"I thought it would be fun to say you could only get this through Obscura," Schlesinger says. "Only you will own this piece, one will never be made like it again, and that's an interesting concept for -photography, I think."
Much of the work is rooted in 19th- and 20th-century photographic processes. By their very nature, such methods made it harder for photographers to print multiples or exact replicas of the same image. Besides, many of the techniques went by the wayside unceremoniously.
"Photography rapidly accelerated from the time it was invented until now," Schlesinger explains. "There were these processes that happened so quickly, and I think people are going back to those processes because they weren't quite fully explored before the next thing came along."
Of course, this is the present wherein digital methods ease processes, but, Schlesinger says, many of her artists use hybrid techniques that take advantage of both older ideas and digital tech. Still, One-of-a-Kind, has a decided throwback feel. Schlesinger says much of what she shows is just about what speaks to her. If indeed she's selecting works based on gut feeling and emotional response, Obscura might be the most -exciting photographic gallery in town right now—and that's really saying something, as it stands alongside spaces like Edition One and Monroe Gallery. For now, One-of-a-Kind, or at least the admittedly small selection I've seen thus far, is a strong -contender for the best photo show this year. So, mea culpa, Jennifer. I should have come sooner.
5 pm Friday Nov. 22.
Free. Obscura Gallery, 1405 Paseo de Peralta, 577-6708