Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Oshkosh Plein Air Festival

For the last two years, the Oshkosh Fine Arts Association has sponsored the Plein Air Festival. Artists paint or draw a work in Oshkosh over a four day period in the open air. This year they publicized several event venues where the artists would be clustered and the public could visit, watch them work and interact with them.

One of the things that has attracted me to pinhole cameras with small negatives is that the low resolution, grainy images they produce are reminiscent of painting. In case Alfred Steiglitz or Ansel Adams is reading this, I really don’t want to get into an argument. The photos from my little cameras are, I think, still distinctly photographic.

On Friday and Saturday the air was particularly plain and the big star high in the midsummer sky had free rein.

I thought my new Manic Expression Cube was particularly suited to capture this event. Despite the fact that it hadn’t been tested in full sun, I optimistically ventured forth to see what I could get. It turns out this camera can’t be trusted out in the brightest conditions and some of the exposures were fogged to some degree. I’ve never been one to give up on a negative. It turned out that the editing required to bring back these fogged frames produced images that had an abstracted quality. That seemed appropriate for this theme.

The venue on Friday was The Waters on the shore of Lake Winnebago. The rising front, which is the culprit in the questionable light-tightness of this camera, demonstrates it’s value in this first image.

There was one family with young children that was going from artist to artist. By the time I got the tripod set up, the older ones had run off with dad in pursuit and left just mom and baby to watch the painting.

As a photographer with just one angle of view available, I was a little surprised when I saw how narrow an angle this painter was rendering. I asked her about the opaque umbrella.  She said it did modify how the colors and detail of the painting appeared but admitted that a good deal of it’s value was just shading her from the heat of the sun.

The umbrellas were very popular but some chose to brave the deluge of photons.

A variety of media were eligible for the competition but this was the only person I saw working in pencil.

Although each day a particular venue was specified, they could paint anywhere in certain designated areas of the city. As I rode downtown, I encountered this fellow in the dappled light among the grand Victorian houses on Washington Avenue. The distorted colors and contrast caused by the fogged negative turned out to be serendipitously appropriate. There was a guy cutting up the sidewalk with a concrete saw just out of the frame.

Saturday’s location was the weekly Farmer’s Market on Main Street. I started at what turned out to be the most popular spot to paint, the intersection of Church and Main.

Exposures in the shade were five seconds and I was hoping I could record the artist looking back and forth from her subject to the painting. It appears she spent more time looking at the work than at the scene.

When I first heard about the location, I expected tables of colorful vegetables to be a common subject but no one I saw was facing the farmers.

I first walked south down Main Street and didn’t find any more participants in the festival. When I passed Jim Evan’s Art Haus, although it wasn’t associated with the festival at all, it seemed an appropriate subject.

When taking the previous picture, I was right next to a face painting booth. Works on flesh weren’t eligible for the festival, but she was painting in the open air.

Returning to the north end of the market I found the rest of the painters. As usual, I was surprised when asking people if I could take their photograph how unremarkable it seemed to them that I was doing it with a little cardboard box. I did speak to one or two about pinhole photography, most of which consisted of them asking if I was familiar with some other pinholer they knew. When this one heard me extending the tripod, he said “Oh, you have a real camera“ before he turned around to see what I had. “Oh, yeah,” I said, “I have a real camera.”

The painters themselves were generally ignored by the crowds around them but occasionally you would find someone pausing to study how they worked.

The pencil artist from the previous day was also being unusual by choosing this low angle of view.

I usually only take one exposure of a subject but decided to also get close up to this painter to capture the colors of his palette. I forgot to wind the film and got a double exposure, which is often considered artistic.

The Fine Arts Association had a booth with materials for the public to try their hand at painting but it was a hard sell with the passers by.

I really liked the way the sky and the reflection off the front of Roxy’s Supper Club highlighted this painter’s face.

Her image included a turret at the corner of Main and Park but everyone else I saw that morning was depicting the round Queen Anne turret of the 1895 Webster block back at Church and Main.

All with the Manic Expression Cube.  .17mm pinhole 24mm from 24x24mm frame on Kodak Colorplus 200.

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