Reception: Friday, June 7, 5-8pm

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DOCUMENT is pleased to present an exhibition of new works by John Opera. The exhibit opens on Friday, June 7th with a reception from 5-8pm and continues through July 27th, 2019.

The Countess of Castiglione holds a small, oval frame over her eye in Pierre-Louis Pierson’s 19th-century photograph “Scherzo di Follia.” This gesture creates a secondary frame within Pierson’s portrait, doubling the realities available to the viewer. Two photographic worlds coexist in the same image: a full portrait of the Countess, and a small window that exposes her eye and a small twirl of hair. In John Opera’s experimental cyanotypes, painted oval and rectangular mats similarly mask and frame his photographs. Although these images suggest a traditional subject, Opera instead presents portraits of photography itself, revealing his subject and referent as one in the same.

This visual trick used by Pierson and Opera forces us to look at the photographers’ images as if we are peering through an apparatus. Opera paints precise mats onto his works of radial dots and unpredictable patterns, focusing our attention on the center of the image. This creates the illusion of an analog zoom, inviting us to view what lies within the frame’s confines with a studied eye. The central content comes into greater focus than the surrounding image, as if seen through a microscope or a magnifying glass. Opera’s works mirror the phenomena of nature, blurring the line between painting and photography in concept and appearance. The images make us question which aspects have been created by light or meticulously painted, a murkiness which reflects the curiousness of nature itself.

Through these gestures Opera attempts to frame the medium of photography, exposing the processes that yield each canvas-based work. His new pieces continue to reference the abstract experimental photography of the Bauhaus. Like László Moholy-Nagy, Opera’s artworks do not aim to capture the world through a representational image; instead, he uses photographic techniques to generate a world explored from within. His canvases are treated with photosensitive chemicals and exposed to light outside the camera body, alluding to early photographic processes or even pinhole cameras—which have been a part of photographic history even before their discovery by humans. These devices can form naturally in caves or other darkened spaces and can produce the psychedelic effect of doubling whatever lies outside. Opera relies on the light from his own invented systems rather than from a lens-based device, creating layered photographic hallucinations and invented psychedelia.

While his previous photographic works showcased the bold shape of the sun in single and double iterations, his new cyanotype explorations radiate with a more elemental motive, presenting this light source without reference to its orb. His radial works appear like sunbursts seen through a camera’s lens. Opera relies on the sun as a referent rather than an object, copying nature’s intensity without trapping it within a straightforward image. Subtle imaginings of the natural world are also achieved through color—soft yellow is attained through bleaching, Prussian blue of cyanotype mimics the sea and sky, and the green of sun-dappled foliage is obtained through layered tints. This process of developing, tinting, and painting does not just take time—it imitates its passing. Spinning like the hands of a clock, eight-foot-long fluorescent bulbs covered in dotted laser-cut vinyl are suspended over a canvas. Using a turntable, Opera creates a burn at ten o’clock, then at twelve o’clock, and sometimes one, continuing to twist the canvas in a circular motion until the perfect burst of dots appears.

His other works in the exhibition have a more natural pattern to their appearance that evoke the texture of marble, waves, or craggy rocks. To produce these, he shot a laser through antique glass, thereby highlighting the pane’s irregularities. Centering the laser on different parts of the surface diffracts the beam, resulting in unique, psychedelic patterns. For these to develop properly, and in focus, the light source must be left alone, uninterrupted by human movement for more than twelve hours. Nature is left to take its own course of action, activated while Opera sleeps.

Photography is known for capturing what stands before the observer, presenting a particular moment pulled from the world. The viewer can imagine what lies just beyond the fringes of the image, as many are snapshots of our known reality. Opera does not intend to capture something representational of the world but rather generate something completely new out of existing phenomena. He combines his photographic tools with painting, while still allowing us to approach and observe the works through our understanding of a photographic process. Using the photographic medium, Opera forms an alternate exploration of the world; at the same time, his painted oval and rectangular mats point to an environment we already know. Opera’s photographs use the colors, textures, and methods of nature to produce his own reality—unpredictable landscapes bound to a flattened plane.

During photography’s nascent years, the British photographer and inventor William Henry Fox Talbot published his treatise, The Pencil of Nature. It was the first commercially produced work to be illustrated with photographs rather than the artist’s pencil, and it described how photographs are produced by the agency of light alone. Opera inverts this assumption, using photography as his toolbox to create experimental works that touch on the realm of abstract painting. His work with early photographic methods produces phenomenological explorations, suggesting that the medium is perhaps more miraculous than what it can capture.

– Kate Sierzputowski, 2019

John Opera earned his BFA from SUNY New Paltz (1998) and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2005). He lived, worked, taught, and exhibited in Chicago for more than a dozen years. He currently is Assistant Professor of Photography at the University of Buffalo.

Opera’s exhibitions include: Hobart and William Smith Colleges (Geneva, NY), Higher Pictures (New York), Longhouse Projects (New York), DOCUMENT (Chicago), Shane Campbell Gallery (Chicago), Andrew Rafacz Gallery (Chicago), The Suburban (Milwaukee), The Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago), Transformer Station (Cleveland), Melanie Flood Projects, Portland (OR), Michael Jon Gallery (Miami), Macalester College Art Gallery (St. Paul), Nina Freudenheim Gallery (Buffalo) and The Burchfield-Penney Art Center (Buffalo). His work has been the subject of a two-person exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and is featured in the second volume of MP3, co-published by Aperture and the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago). His work is part of the permanent collections of the DePaul Museum of Art (Chicago), the Burchfield-Penney Art Center (Buffalo), and the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago), among other institutions.

Opera’s work has been reviewed by Artforum, Artforum.com, The New Yorker, Flash Art, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Rail, The Buffalo News, and Chicago Artist Writers, among other publications.

Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Paul Mpagi Sepuya (b. 1982, San Bernardino, CA) lives and works in Los Angeles, where he received an MFA in photography at UCLA in 2016. From 2000 – 2014 Sepuya resided in New York City, receiving a BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2004. Sepuya became known for his 2005 – 2007 zine series “SHOOT” and first monograph, “Beloved Object & Amorous Subject, Revisited” (2008), along with contributions and features in BUTT Magazine, and participation and collaborations in the re-emergence of queer zines culture of the 2000s. He went on to participate in Artist-in-Residence programs at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the Center for Photography at Woodstock, The Studio Museum in Harlem and Fire Island Artist Residency.

Sepuya’s work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the International Center for Photography, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Carnegie Museum, among others. Solo exhibitions include  “Double Enclosure” at Fotomuseum Amsterdam (2018), “Dark Room” at Document, Chicago (2018) and “Dark Room” at team (bungalow), Los Angeles and “Figures, Grounds and Studies” at Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York City (both 2017). Sepuya was recently featured in “Being : New Photography 2018” at the Museum of Modern Art and “Trigger” at the New Museum New York City (2018). His first museum survey of work from 2006 – 2018 will open May 2019 at CAM St Louis.

Sepuya’s work has been covered and published in ARTFORUM, Aperture, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Art Review, Frieze, Art in America, Monocle, Osmos, The Nation, and he is a recipient of the 2017 Rema Hort Mann Foundation’s grant for Los Angeles artists.

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Darkroom Mirror Study, or Aperture, 2018, Archival pigment print, 51 x 34 in, Edition of 5

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Mirror Study (2140278), 2018, Archival pigment print, 32 x 24 in, Edition of 5

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Mirror Study (0X5A1237), 2017, Archival pigment print, 51 x 34 in, Edition of 5

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Mirror Study for Joe (_2010964), 2017, Archival pigment print, 32 x 24 in, Edition of 5

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, A Ground (0X5A1495), 2018, Archival pigment print, 51 x 34 in, Edition of 5

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Black Mirror Study (_2110109), 2018, Archival pigment print, 24 x 32 in, Edition of 5

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Darkroom (_1980967), 2017, Archival pigment print, 13 x 10 in, Edition of 5

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Mirror Study (0X5A6568), 2017, Archival pigment print, 51 x 34 in, Edition of 5

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Mirror Study (0X5A0486), 2017, Archival pigment print, 51 x 34 in, Edition of 5

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Darkroom Model Study (0x5a2919), 2017, Archival pigment print, 51 x 34 in, Edition of 5

Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Dark Cloth (_2040880), 2017, Archival pigment print, 32 x 24 in, Edition of 5

Afterimage, Vol. 46, Number 2

Exhibition Review: Andrew Norman Wilson: Kodak

Andrew Norman Wilson: Kodak. Document. Chicago, Illinois: January 11–February 23, 2019| By Liz Park

Image 1. Still from Kodak (2018) by Andrew Norman Wilson; © 2018 Andrew Norman Wilson; courtesy the artist and DOCUMENT.


Andrew Norman Wilson’s thirty-two-minute video Kodak (2018) was the beating heart of his eponymous exhibition at DOCUMENT in Chicago. A series of prints that take inspiration from various Kodak products hung in an adjacent gallery while a stack of giveaway posters—of the company’s first digital camera from 1973 printed on recto and a text by Nick Irvin on verso—prepared those who entered a dark, curtained gallery. Irvin’s text introduced the video’s protagonist Rich as a mentally unstable former Kodak employee who became blind as a result of a workplace accident. These details emerge slowly, however, and in short bursts, like flickers of images that stitch together the stories of the character Rich and Kodak’s legendary founder George Eastman [Image 1].

“Your time is up,” alerts the high-pitched and tinny voice of a woman, beginning a narrative that is driven primarily by sound rather than images. A long minute passes with only darkness to accompany her increasingly aggravated chastising, dramatically peaking with “You have to stop now!” The first discernable image finally surfaces—a portrait of a bespectacled Eastman. A shaky voice that stands in for Eastman implores, “What is a photograph?” He answers himself: “. . . a dream, a reminder of how little you can actually capture.” Responsible for popularizing photography through consumer-grade technology, Eastman, as recorded in history and presented in this well-researched video, successfully tapped into the consumer’s desire to hold onto the fleeting moments of their mortal lives. Spiked with nostalgia, Eastman’s steady ruminations on life, photographic processes, and his business empire provide […]

Read the complete article here.

Aron Gent
Sibylle Friche
Gallery and Print Studio Assistant
Renata Cruz Lara Guerra

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Tuesday-Saturday: 11am-6pm

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DOCUMENT is a commercial gallery located in Chicago that specializes in contemporary photography, film and media based art. The gallery has organized more than 40 solo exhibitions since its opening in 2011 and actively promotes the work of emerging national and international artists. Operating conjointly as a professional printmaking studio, DOCUMENT facilitates the production of works by artists from Chicago and the US. At this time we do not accept unsolicited submissions.