Old-School Revival: Adam Jeppesen

Adam Jeppesen

Exploring vintage techniques is something Jeppesen deems “an emotional translation of the experience of solitude and the confrontation with nature”.

Adam Jeppesen’s exploration of time-honoured printing techniques in his photographic work lends a fragility to his art.

Sometimes the most forward-thinking approach in art is simply a revival of an old school. A case in point is photographer Adam Jeppesen, who has been exploring time-honoured printing techniques and materials in his work. Although today’s photographic image can be technologically manipulated into polished perfectibility, Jeppesen’s body of work shrugs at that reality and the necessity for death-grip visual control. He experiments with the traditions of the medium, yielding images that convey and even memorialise immutable circumstantial details.

Exploring vintage techniques is something Jeppesen deems “an emotional translation of the experience of solitude and the confrontation with nature”. The connection between the psychological and the aesthetic is a rich resource. Jeppesen is indeed confronted with some of the most majestic raw nature there is: he currently lives and works in Argentina, with access to the Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world; and Patagonia, the vast region encompassing the southernmost tip of South America. There’s a sense of wonder about nature, a wonder further compounded by living very far away from one’s roots. Jeppesen was born on the other side of the globe, in Kalundborg, Denmark, in 1978; he graduated from Fatamorgana in Copenhagen, a photography school that mixes documentary and visual art.

What photographers tend to discard — timid fading, unwitting abstraction — Jeppesen celebrates. For his Ghosts series (2013-14), Jeppesen experimented with photogravure: a 19th century printing technique in which an etched copper plate is inked and pressed to paper. Jeppesen used the same plate in succession, without re-inking between prints, producing an image that gets fainter and fainter, muting the original landscape into mere wisps. For the series Scatter (2014-16), Jeppesen revisited negatives he had discarded for previously overlooked details. Recycling his own cast-aside material, the artist reinvests in graphic damages and coincidences. The so-called authority of the pristine print is of no consequence.

On view at a gallery in Antwerp, his series The Pond studied hands, in silhouettes transferred to linen using cyanotype. The cyanotype is a photographic printing process that replicates a photographic negative or object, simply and inexpensively. A photosensitive solution of two chemicals — ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide — is applied to paper or cloth surface and dried in a dark place. English scientist and astronomer Sir John Herschel discovered the procedure in 1842, and considered it mainly a means of reproduction, rather than an outlet for artistic expression. One of the first female photographers in the history of the medium, Anna Atkins, who was also a botanist, created a series of cyanotype limited-edition books with plant-life photograms, allowing light to create a silhouette effect upon specimens, like dried algae, placed directly onto coated paper. A rarity in today’s practices, it becomes a curiosity yet again.

Many of Jeppesen’s series feature remote, raw landscapes of secluded tranquillity and spiritual contemplation. The series XCopy (2011-12) and Parts (2011-14) consist of A4-sized photocopies pinned into place, depicting muted landscapes and stark silhouettes of trees. Jeppesen experimented with this photocopy technique in his studio; he decided during the creative process that this everyday proportion was the ideal size to quilt together a larger visual scheme.

Hovering in a space between documentary and dream, the imposing glaciers and diffuse skies of the Folded series (2014-present) are inkjet prints divided into A4-sized grids. They’re printed on rice paper, which was creased into subtle folding patterns multiple times. The landscape turns into something both flattened and textured.

There is something mystical in the silence of the images, and yet Jeppesen addresses the materiality of the photograph as an object, with its visible speckles and minor blemishes. Rather than a purely immersive landscape or topography, his analogue images convey the tangibility of surface.This choice rejects the seamless print: imperfection becomes a badge of honour, reflecting something human in the act of the reproduction, and in the act itself of capturing a moment that is alive and capricious. Jeppesen cedes to —and ultimately celebrates — the fallibility of physical elements, repurposing them as an allusive, fragile art.

Adam Jeppesen’s Out of Camp exhibition will be at Foam Museum in Amsterdam in summer 2017.

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