Chambers of Pure Enlightment
To judge by price at auction and in galleries, and its popularity through museum exhibits, books and photo fairs, fine art photography is now in the lofty realms of well, fine art. Granted these aren’t grandma’s snapshots of birthdays and vacation landscapes, but rather images from classicists like Diane Arbus, Jacques Henri Lartigue and Weegee who capture moments, people and places with both their eyes and techniques; outsiders like Miroslav Tichy who organically created his voyeuristic single print photographs with cameras made from discarded objects he discovered on the Czech streets like cans, boxes and eyeglasses, decorating with doodles the resulting work which originally created was only for himself; and Andreas Gursky who are redefining the genre through use of stitching, pixilation and other digital manipulation. Wayne Martin Belger‘s photographs and intricate, one-of-kind, hand-built cameras — themselves works of art, often set with gemstones and talismans; crafted with human organs and skulls, blood, bones and blood — boldly combine both the ancient and post-modern, using a viewing method that can be traced as far back as China in the 5th century B.C., to Aristotle, Euclid, and later Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) who refined the technique in his the 10th Century Book of Optics, before emerging as in 1850 as photographic device. The process begins with Belger first desiring to explore and relate to a concept and envisioning the photographs, then crafting a camera as the portal into the subject. He collects artifacts, relics and metals, and painstakingly builds the device with parts he carefully machines, the construction itself a form of meditation on and communion with the concepts and images, much like icon painters who first pray and meditate, then carefully prepare the surface, blend the tempera and delicately layer the colors. Using 4×5 film and existing light, Belger can spend anywhere from 10 seconds to 90 minutes with the pinhole aperture open to capture a single shot in the camera designed specifically for a series, with the goal “to be the sacred bridge of a communion offering between myself and the subject. All to witness and be a tool of the horrors of creation and the beauty of decay presented by the author of light and time.” To compare and contrast, 35mm movie film runs 24 frames per second, while high-speed digital still cameras can shoot 60 frames per second. With the emulsion film exposed for extended periods, Belger’s photographs become movies distilled onto a single frame. Photons from the stationary object of focus, as well as moving objects in the field, are absorbed onto the emulsion, creating softened, at times ghost-like, images.
Belger: With pinhole photography, the same air that touches my subject can pass through the pinhole and touch the photo emulsion on the film. There’s no barrier between the two. There are no lenses changing and manipulating light. There are no chips converting light to binary code. With pinhole what you get is an unmanipulated true representation of a segment of light and time, a pure reflection of what is at that moment.
Belger: The tools I create and work with are pinhole cameras. With pinhole photography, the same air that touches my subject can pass through the pinhole and touch the photo emulsion on the film. There’s no barrier between the two. There are no lenses changing and manipulating light. There are no chips converting light to binary code. With pinhole what you get is an unmanipulated true representation of a segment of light and time, a pure reflection of what is at that moment. With some exposure times getting close to 2 hours, it’s an unsegmented movie from a movie camera with only one frame. The creation of a camera comes from my desire to relate to a subject. When I choose a subject I spend time studying it. Then I start visualizing how I would like a photo of the subject to look. When that’s figured out, I start on the camera stage of the project by collecting parts, artifacts and relics that relate to the subject. When I’ve gathered enough parts and feel for the subject, I start the construction of the camera. I create the cameras from Aluminum, Titanium, Copper, Brass, Bronze, Steel, Silver, Gold, Wood, Acrylic, Glass, Horn, Ivory, Bone, Human Bone, Human Skulls, Human Organs, Formaldehyde, HIV+ Blood and relics all designed to be the sacred bridge of a communion offering between myself and the subject. All to witness and be a tool of the horrors of creation and the beauty of decay presented by the author light and time.
The Third Eye Camera:
Astonishing results: Can you see some weird ghostly face formed in the Third Eye Camera ”bright chamber”? Creepy? Maybe. That’s a very narrow minded way to see the whole concept. I bet that this ghostly face alone by itself was worth all the efforts that putting that camera together required. This little girl is going to be able to see images in her own skull again. Maybe it was her way of saying Hello!! and THANK YOU!!! The concept of this camera and the images it produces are to my humble opinion so out of this world!! I bet William Gibson and especially Burroughs would have loved this shit!!!!
Yama (Tibetan Skull Camera)
Designed for the study of exodus and for the research of modern incarnations of historical iconic figures. “Yama,” the Tibetan God of Death. In Tibetan Buddhism, Yama will see all of life and Karma is the “judge” that keeps the balance. The skull was blessed by a Tibetan Lama for its current journey and I’m working with a Tibetan legal organization that is sending me to the refugee cities in India.is carefully crafted from the 500-year-old skull of a Tibetan monk and retro-fitted with copper, aluminum and brass camera pieces machined by Belger, who painstakingly placed the camera’s dual pinholes in the exact position of the pupils. The camera’s internal mechanism is split, producing two exact images that when printed and viewed at a distance become three-dimensional. The skull is set with sterling silver and gems including several large rubies over the pineal gland/third eye, plus sapphires, opals, and turquoise. It rests in a large gilt-edged mirrored box, reminiscent of a memento mori, fittingly as Yama is the Tibetan god of death. The box sits atop a silk prayer cloth on a wooden table; below, a plumb/pendulum of brass filled with artist’s blood and mercury swings over a container of pearls and sand, a stunning installation that unites and transcends the concepts of form and function. This all might sound a bit morbid, but Yama’s countenance smiles knowingly, cheerily from his glass box, eager to be readied for his work. Or simply to be admired. Yama’s eyes are cast from bronze and silver with a brass pinhole in each. A divider runs down the middle of the skull creating two separate cameras. A finished contact print mounted on copper is inserted in to the back of the camera to view what Yama saw in 3D. Yama is made from Aluminium, Titanium, Copper, Brass, Bronze Steel, Silver, Gold, Mercury with 4 Sapphires, 3 Rubies (The one at Yama’s third eye was $5000.00), Asian and American Turquoise, Sand, Blood, and 9 Opals inlayed in the Skull. The film loading system is pneumatic. A 360 psi air tank in the middle of the camera powers 2 pneumatic pistons to move the film holder forward and lock it into place. The switch to open and close the film chamber is located under the jaw. Designed for two photo series. First series is of my interpretation of the modern incarnation of Southeast Asians deities. Second will take place in the Tibetan refugee cities of India, a home-coming through the eyes of a 500-year-old Tibetan. Picture taken:
Untouchable (HIV Camera)
Designed to study and photograph a geographic comparison of people suffering from HIV. For “Blood Works” his exploration and study of HIV/AIDS, Belger created the “Untouchable (HIV),” camera using aluminum, copper, titanium and acrylic. HIV+ blood from one of Belger’s friends-the blood is treated with heparin sulfate to prevent coagulation-pumps through the camera then in front of the pinhole, becoming a #25 red filter. For shooting with “Untouchable,” Belger holds opens calls, and has captured a wide range of HIV+ people across the United States, with plans to photograph HIV+/AIDS subjects throughout Africa this upcoming spring in advance of his participation in a December 2012 group show at the Royal Ontario Museum, which will also include his Third Eye, Yama and Heart cameras and the photos they produce. The show also features works from Joel Peter Witkin, Steven Gregory, Marc Quinn (whose models include Buck Angel and whose sculpture “Alison Lapper Pregnant” was installed in Trafalgar Square), Robert Krasnow, WhiteFeather, Francois Robert, Weiki Somers, Charles LeDray, Rosamond Purcell and Mark Prent. Belger produces a limited number of prints, usually fewer than 10 of each shot. Collectors of the unique, intricate devices receive one of each print along with the camera that created them, with the agreement that Belger can borrow back the camera to continue the series. In exchange they receive a copy of each new print. Other aficionados collect only the ethereal images. 4″x5″ camera made from Aluminium, Copper, Titanium, Acrylic and HIV positive blood. The blood pumps through the camera then in front of the pinhole and becomes my #25 red filter. Designed to shoot a geographic comparison of people suffering from HIV.
Yemaya (Underwater Camera)
Now I am aware that the concept on this one might seem less ”original” and I realise it,s far from being the first underwater camera but I still chose to show that one simply for the love of bold surreal chromed, sorta Captain Nemo look of this camera and reminds me of how great are the capabilities of Wayne Martin Belger not ONLY as an artist, but also as a crafty camera builder technician. This camera is as functional as it is truly magnificent.
Last but not least… This project documents mothers who are at least eight months pregnant. The 4×5 pinhole camera created for the project contains the heart of a child who died at birth. The heart, donated by a gallery owner who found it among a collection of old anatomy equipment, is preserved in a sealed compartment at the rear of the camera. Despite its chilling reminder of the risks of childbirth, Belger says he was surprised by how well the mothers took to the Heart camera. Word about his project spread fast, with expecting mothers now contacting the photographer to set a date. So far Belger has photographed portraits of 30 women so far. He’s even been invited to photograph women giving birth. Belger is able to capture only one frame, about a ten-minute exposure, and begins to expose the film just before his subject gives birth.