Department of Art & Art History

Gallery Show > Colburn Exhibit: Ecliptics – Salt Prints by Jonathan Kline

Colburn Exhibit: Ecliptics – Salt Prints by Jonathan Kline

Jonathan Kline, Professor at Bennington College, will talk about his recent work on Monday, October 17th at 5:30 p.m in the Colburn Gallery. Kline’s exhibition of salt prints using film exposed in pinhole cameras will run from the 17th thru November 4th.


Working with long intervals of time to photograph the sun overhead offers the opportunity to trace its path across the sky, hinting at the rotating earth beneath us.  Each photograph becomes the direct, physical evidence of one lived day.

With the help of an amazing sculptor at Bennington College, John Umphlett, I designed and built a variety of portable/collapsible 20×24 inch pinhole cameras and travelled with them around North America between 2003 and 2007.   Art residencies in California, Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico, as well as at my own residence in Vermont, provided the time to make daily recordings of the sun in a wide variety of conditions and seasons.

The pinhole, unlike a lens, offers a distortion-free recording of the sun’s path across the sky.  The earliest surviving European illustration of a pinhole observation of a solar eclipse was drawn by Reinerus Gemma-Frisius in 1545.  The interior of a darkened room, the camera obscura, was ideal for observing the progress of the eclipse.  My own cameras were outfitted with neutral density filters mounted behind the pinhole to reduce the sun’s brilliance over these eight-hour exposures.  The sun’s path was recorded on large sheets of 20×24 inch black and white film.

This series of 17 prints was made using the salted paper process, one of the first photographic printing processes from the mid-19th century, discovered by the British scientist and scholar, William Henry Fox Talbot. The 100% cotton sheets of paper are first floated on a two percent salt solution and hung to dry.  This is followed by a second floatation on a twelve percent solution of silver nitrate that then makes the salted paper light sensitive.  After this is hung to dry in the dark, the paper is ready to be loaded into a large 20×24 contact print frame sandwiched along with the pinhole negative and exposed to daylight for several hours.  The salted, silvered pieces of paper require exposure only to daylight in order to become visible; no subsequent developer is necessary. The longer the sensitized paper is left in the sun, the darker it visibly becomes.  Processing the exposed paper involves a lengthy and thorough washing, followed by gold toning, fixation, and a final wash.  The entire printing process takes about a day per print, which is about the time it took to expose each negative in the camera.

In this project, process and content coincide: the sun was photographed continuously over the course of one day via pinhole, and printed out in the same amount of time with the sun as the source of exposure.

Jonathan Kline

September 2011



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