Eve Sussman is a 2008 Visual Arts grantee for her project whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir, a fanciful blend of filmmaking, video and digital technology that follows a central character—an anonymous geophysicist code writer—who is stuck in a futuristic city. Its experimental narrative runs endlessly, driven along by the digital decisions of custom-built algorithmic software that edits the film in real time. It has no beginning, middle or end, never repeats the same editing sequence twice, and has its scenes and voiceovers paired at random by what the filmmakers call “the serendipity of the machine.”
When Eve agreed to create a limited series for Creative Capital’s 2012 Benefit & Auction and said she was thinking of combining some version of a stereoscope with black-and-white photography, we were intrigued and, well, surprised.
For those who don’t know, a sterescope is a device popularized in the late 19th century that uses lenses to combine two images to create the illusion of three dimensions, or causes one image to dissolve into another. Truly “old technology,” stereoscopes use optical principals first described in ancient Greece by Euclid when he observed and recorded the mechanics of binocular vision.
To us, it seemed a bit of a leap to go from creating a computer edited narrative film that never repeats itself to building an artwork that, conceptually at least, would seem more at home in a Victorian parlor than in a contemporary gallery. But it shouldn’t have surprised us that Eve would look to a technology that has been around for a couple of millennia to make a uniquely 21st century artwork. She is simply intrigued by technology, old or new.
The final project that Eve has created, Elevated Train, is a series of 120 stereoscopic viewers, each housing a pair of black-and-white panoramic slides that form a unique 3-D image. The slides were shot simultaneously—rendering stereo pairs—over a period of a week at train stations along the elevated J train in Brooklyn.
To capture these image pairs, Sussman built a mounting rig on which she attached two Hasselblad X-Pan wide-format 35mm cameras, allowing her to shoot two images simultaneously on Ilford HP5 black-and-white film. She then spent several nights taking photographs in and around the elevated subway stations in her Brooklyn neighborhood.
The film was sent to .dr5 Chrome Labs in Denver to be cross-processed, creating black-and-white positive transparencies, rather than the customary negatives used to make traditional silver gelatin prints on paper. Each slide pair is the original film stock that passed through the camera. They are one of a kind—not reproductions. These original photographs have no negative, existing only as the cross-processed positive. The film images were hand-cut, inserted into panoramic slide mounts and placed into collapsible Pana-Vista stereo viewers. The resulting 3-D image one sees through the viewer is a moment in the series that evolved over those nights watching life in and around the trains.
This work is an extension of Eve’s predilection for filming everyday life in search of implied narrative gesture and cinematic moments. As the series came together, it became evident that the imagery in Elevated Train relates to Eve’s whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir in its shared reference to film noir, a genre of cinematic melodrama, filmed (mostly) in black and white, which seem to always take place at night either in sinister interiors or against looming urban infrastructure. Classic noir films were rife with intrigue, menace, the opposition of light and dark, inky black shadows, distorted camera angles and narratives where nothing was as it seemed.
The images in Elevated Train share these cinematic qualities: somber, dark, dramatic, urban. When seen through the stereoscope viewer, the photographs become a single, three-dimensional image, a frozen frame of a movie that exists only in the viewer’s mind, suggesting a story that, for all its realism, may not be what it seems.
The Elevated Train series was created to benefit Creative Capital and is available for purchase through our Online Auction, PULSE NY Auction Preview (May 3-6) and at the Benefit party on May 10. Each unique viewer/slide combination ($500) is signed and numbered in silver ink by the artist. Published by Creative Capital Editions. Artwork © 2012 Eve Sussman.