M.J. Sharp and the Power of Night

From the 1920s until the mid-’60s, the nearly indestructible Speed Graphic was the camera of choice for photojournalists around the world.

Now, photographer M. J. Sharp has found a new application for the long-retired camera once produced en masse by Graphlex in Rochester, N.Y.

She makes C-prints from night-time exposures that range from four minutes to four hours.

“I used to do photojournalism and I loved it,” she says.  “Now I want to be out in the dark purposefully.”

She’s drawn to subjects that are often abandoned or overlooked – a basketball backboard, a storage pod or a lone outbuilding stranded in a field – things that others might not give a second look.

“My hope is that these can be meditations – visual poetry that people can luxuriate in,” she says.  “Night shooting lets you get to the bones of a situation.  In the daytime, there are all these distractions.  At night, everything is very muted.”

She draws her inspiration from Minneapolis artist Teresa Handy, whose spare Midwestern landscapes, composed of bifurcated horizontal color fields, usually start out as digital photographs.  Handy paints in acrylic over top of her photos, seeking to create a dialog between print and paint.

Sharp, though, is strictly a photographer – and one who works in the dark.  “The easy part is going out into the world in the middle of the night with no agenda,” she says.  “The hardest part is to get the perfect print.”

That’s a long way from photojournalism, even if she is using that profession’s once-favored camera.

“In journalism, you’ve gotta fill that hole on the page,” she says.  “Now, if I know what picture I’m coming to, I have no interest.  It has to be a mystery.”

Her work is currently on exhibit at the Craven Allen Gallery in Durham, N.C.  She’ll be giving a talk there on Tuesday, Jan. 17, while creating a long-exposure  image and seeking interested audience members to help put the finishing touches on the composition.

The exhibition runs through Jan. 28.

For more on M. J. Sharp, goto: http://cravenallengallery.com/press/

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