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Saturday 23 August 2014

'Lost art' revived after 160 years with Guggi photos

Photographer Alex Sapienza used a Victorian-era camera for his latest show, says Mark O'Regan

Published 09/02/2014 | 02:30

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Old school: Dublin-based photographer Alex Sapienza used a Victorian-era camera to capture glass-plate portraits of artist Guggi, below, and others. Photo: Tony Gavin 7/2/2014
Old school: Dublin-based photographer Alex Sapienza used a Victorian-era camera to capture glass-plate portraits of artist Guggi, below, and others. Photo: Tony Gavin 7/2/2014

ARTIST Guggi has a chance to "glimpse into his soul" by way of a haunting image of him based on a photographic technique dating back to the nineteenth century.

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Photographer Alex Sapienza, a native of Rome but now living and working in Dublin, has resurrected the arcane art and magic of hand-developed portrait photography.

The exhibition opened yesterday and runs for four weeks in Bagots Hutton wine bar on South William Street.

Using a wooden camera from the Victorian era, a 160-year-old brass lens and 19th Century artwork, Alex is looking to resurrect the "lost art" of tintype and glass photography.

The camera, which was bought in London, uses a lens from an antique dealer in New York to take the images.

"What I am doing is unique. The exposure ranges from five to 20 seconds, so you almost tend to see the real person.

"There is kind of an aura about it. The poses are quite mundane but the results are stunning and they're quite ghostly images. In a way you can almost see the subject's soul," Alex told the Sunday Independent.

"That's due to the equipment I'm using, the chemicals and the fact that it's a long exposure.

"The lens is brass and there are two pieces of glass that need to be attached to the box. What you see is what you get. There are no electronics obviously – and there are no complicated mechanical parts. It is a couple of screws and bellows and a wood frame, that's all."

Aside from Guggi, other fans of the Alex's portraits include Brendan Courtney, Gavin Friday, and TV presenter Jennifer Maguire.

Tired of modern photographic techniques which make "all photos look the same", the photographer uses a technique dating back to 1851 called wet-plate collodion.

He has resurrected the photographic methods last used in Dublin when James Joyce was sitting for his iconic, first portrait.

In Ulysses, Joyce poetically described the glass-plate process used by the famous Dublin portrait photographer, James Lafayette.

He wrote how the "inspired pencil of Lafayette has limned for ages yet to come".

Lafayette photographed the British royal family and some of the best-known Irishmen and women of the age.

But the coming of the Kodak camera saw glass-plate superseded by new various new technologies.

When Lafayette's studios finally closed in the early 1950s, thousands of his unique glass-plate negatives were sold off to be used in suburban glass-houses.

Irish Independent

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