Cell phone photos become fine art

Vaune Trachtman's photographs, originally captured on the artist's LG flip phone, will remain on display at Spheris through Dec. 7.

Vaune Trachtman's photographs, originally captured on the artist's LG flip phone, will remain on display at Spheris through Dec. 7.

Photographs taken with a simple camera on a cell phone line the walls at the Spheris Gallery for its new exhibit “Out of Range.” Not the usual camera employed by a professional photographer, Vaune Trachtman’s four-and-a-half year-old flip phone was her instrument of choice to capture scenic images of rural Vermont. This method of photography presents an interesting take on modern technology while creating pieces infused with a sense of timelessness.

“The word of the night seems to be ethereal’,” Trachtman said of viewers’ initial reactions to her work at the exhibition’s opening reception on Saturday. At the opening, Dartmouth students and Hanover residents crowded the gallery to see the soft black-and-white photographs, blown up from their original size using Photoshop. This process of manipulating the originals results in the hazy aesthetic that characterizes Trachtman’s works in the exhibit.

“The cell phone files are really small, and I was blowing them up to a much larger size, so I had to think about how to make those enlargements and find the film grain that I wanted,” Trachtman said.

Trachtman’s piece “South Pond” perfectly demonstrates the manner in which her artistic process results in images that juxtapose a sense of modernity with a sense of eternity. The piece combines six photographs of a pond surrounded by trees against a backdrop of the mountains, all haphazardly aligned side-by-side. The edges of the photographs are tinged with a darker tone, suggesting weathering from time. A mist seems to rise off the water, but it is difficult to discern if this is merely a result of the unconventional camera used and the enlarging process. Meanwhile, the low resolution of the original photos is magnified in the enlarged final product, resulting in an image composed of simple forms pleasantly lacking in detail, with a misty grain that seems almost archaic.

“I want to make beautiful, resonant images on a scale that creates a pleasing cognitive dissonance, and I want my viewer to have difficulty comprehending that even though the images are large and sometimes seem not to be from our age, they actually originate on the tiny screen of the now-ubiquitous cell phone,” she said.

This exhibition marks Trachtman’s first show composed of her cell phone photographs. She said that has often worked with small cameras, however, and enjoys the freedom they lend her.

“I can do all types of street photography and people think I’m just working with a toy or something,” she said. “They didn’t take me seriously, so I felt like I could really get whatever I wanted to get I felt very comfortable using a small camera and I felt like the cell phone has the same type of quality I can take pictures of whatever I want, and I don’t feel like anybody’s going to notice me.”

Trachtman said she enjoyed using her cell phone for this series in particular because of its portability and ease of use, she said.

According to Trachtman, she hopes to uncover in her photographs the duality not only of time, but also of space. Thus, her images convey a sense of movement and stillness at the same time they are simultaneously familiar and foreign.

“These photographs are about that foggy, hard-to-see place,” Trachtman said. “I love the idea of fog coming in and taking part of the landscape away you can kind of see it and kind of not see it, so I wanted to capture whatever it was that I could see of it and think about what I couldn’t see [The photos are] very quiet but I also feel like there’s some noise in the air that creates tension. I’m after more than just a pretty image out in the country. It’s also about what’s right in front of you that you still can’t see.”

Despite the photos’ air of uncertainty, their quietness and lightness give them a sense of romanticism rather than a sinister or foreboding feeling of unknowing.

“All in all, I want the viewer to enjoy them,” she said. “I want them to get lost in them and have some sort of experience where they get pleasure from them and think of something else inwardly.”

“Out of Range” will remain at Spheris through Dec. 7. The exhibit will be the setting of a reading of short fiction by Brian David Mooney on Dec. 3.

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