This exhibition will contain new examples of the artist’s ongoing experiments with photographic techniques invented in the earliest days of the medium’s history. Since 2010, Opera has reworked traditional 19th-century processes such as the anthotype and cyanotype, adapting their peculiar characteristics to the language of contemporary images and abstraction. Opera’s work pushes against the program of traditional photography and its histories, while simultaneously investigating its infinitely mysterious qualities as a chemical, physical, and even biological expression that points to as well as distorts our perceived experiences in the world.
John Opera is a photographer and educator in Buffalo, NY, where he is an assistant professor at the University at Buffalo. He received his BFA at SUNY New Paltz (1998) and his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2005), and was based in Chicago for over a decade. Opera has exhibited his work nationally, and his work is included in 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. His diverse body of work has included landscapes, abstractions, and a series shot in Western New York inspired by the paintings of Charles Burchfield. He is represented by DOCUMENT Gallery in Chicago.
Contact: Anna Wager, Ph.D. The Clarence A. “Dave” Davis ’48 Visual Arts Curator The Davis Gallery at Houghton House Hobart and William Smith Colleges firstname.lastname@example.org 315-781-3483
Reception: April 15, 2017 5-8pm
Exhibition continues through May 27, 2017
Document is pleased to present Technical Images, John Opera’s first solo exhibition at the gallery. This exhibit continues the artist’s photographic experiments with the cyanotype process.
For this series, Opera has constructed light-emitting instruments of two basic types: tube lights and lasers. Each instrument produces specific photographic marks, different patterns exposed over extended periods of time.
With the tube lights, fluorescent bulbs burn lines into the emulsion based on precise intervals set between bulb and canvas. The resulting marks shift from sharp to soft focus, resembling effects caused by shallow depth-of-field settings on a camera’s lens. With the lasers, the projector lens through which the light passes becomes photographically transferred directly to the cyanotype canvas, recording both the curvature of the lens and the particles of dust present on its surface during the exposure event.
Opera subsequently builds upon this indexical foundation, adding painted layers that frame and shape the photographic material while also creating foreground/background relationships within each composition. The original cyanotype is already something of an abstraction, and becomes doubly so when organized into a hybrid of painting and photography. The photographic medium’s nineteenth-century iterations enter into dialogue with painting’s universalist apex—the “geometric abstraction” of the Bauhaus and beyond.
Overall, the pictorial references in Technical Images are based on the mechanics of light: oculi, mirrors, openings, and binocular vision. Some works directly recall Thomas Young’s double-slit experiment of 1801, illustrating the wave-particle duality of light (often cited as one of the most puzzling observable phenomena ever discovered). In this show, Opera has pared complex ideas into an elemental visual vocabulary that explores the fundamental qualities of light, photographic reality, and the broader field of representational flatlands.
Unfixed: The Fugitive Image
January 15th - April 3, 2016
Although photographic images existed long before, the birth of photography is marked by the date when we learned to “fix” a representative image on to a light sensitive surface permanently. Since then, the truth of photographic representation has been often questioned and much discussed. Less debated, but just as questionable is the permanence of the photographic image. Of course, eventually, all surfaces decay and all images fade, but the artists in this exhibition embrace the fleeting nature of the image that is created by light and is eventually destroyed by it. By using inherently unstable light-sensitive surfaces or by intentionally sidestepping processing steps that would preserve the image, these artists demand that the viewer consider the physicality of the photographic object as it changes and fades over the time of the exhibition. Unfixed brings together objects and images that cause us to consider mortality and entropy, time and memory and the beauty of moments that can never last.
UNFIXED features artists who are exploring the ephemeral image in a wide variety of ways with and without cameras and in still images as well as video. Many of the works in UNFIXED have been created specifically for this exhibition.
Artists include: Eric William Carol, Françoise and Daniel Cartier, Phil Chang, Matthew Gamber, Brian Ganter, Dustin Grella, John Opera, Tom Persinger, Paul Shambroom, Luke Stettner
980 Madison Avenue New York, NY 10075 212.249.6100
Dates: October 8 - November 7, 2015 Opening: Thursday, October 8, 6 - 8pm
Higher Pictures debuts Radial Compositions, a new series of unique cyanotype-on-linen prints by Chicago-based photographer John Opera. This is the artist’s first solo exhibition with the gallery.
Here, Opera uses tube lights and a turntable setup to create his composition, a precise double fan pattern that appears as lines emanating in opposite directions from a single point. The canvas height is the same length as the bulb and reciprocally defines the full arc of the bulb’s possible rotation within each frame. At a glance, the works look like identical screenprints on variously colored grounds, but close inspection reveals differences that hint at Opera’s process: variations in the patterns at the composition’s center, where the bulbs overlap, and blurring along the edges of the bars that vary with how far each bulb sits from the surface of the linen. Opera defamiliarizes the cyanotype while operating firmly within its photochemical parameters: instead of objects glowing white against a telltale cyan background, dark forms are set graphically on textured linen grounds tinted with acrylic paint to colors in the visible light spectrum—red, yellow, blue, blue-violet, red-violet, grey and “white” (raw linen). Even the liberties Opera appears to take with his medium are based firmly in a photographic logic.
Opera has been working with the cyanotype-on-linen process since 2011, rigorously exploring the visual and conceptual possibilities opened up by the elision of photography and painting. His thinking and art-making are also informed by the Czech philosopher Vilém Flusser’s description of the metaphysical and mechanical apparatus of photography, positing that the photograph both generates and reveals the circumstances of its own making. Another touchstone is German photographer and theorist Gottfried Jäger’s writing on concrete photography, defined as fundamentally self-reflexive—photography about the photographic process.  Firmly tethered to the fundamentals of photography, Opera throws his work into a dialogue with the tradition of painting without disavowing his primary medium’s most essential properties.
John Opera was born in Buffalo, New York in 1975 and earned his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005. 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. Opera is currently teaching Photography at DePaul University. He lives and works in Chicago.
 Vilém Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography (London: Reaktion Books, 2000), 65–75.
 Gottfried Jäger, “Concrete Photography,” August 1, 2004, http://concrete-photography.org/credo-eng.html.
“Photography Sees the Surface”
July 1 2015 – August 7 2015
This knockout show combines new and vintage photographs and straddles abstraction and representation. Organized by the artist Aspen Mays, it juxtaposes pictures by Minor White, Man Ray, and Frederick Sommer with works by young newcomers, several of whom make impressive débuts here. John Opera’s big, blue-black cyanotype image of melted venetian blinds has an eerie presence, and Jackie Furtado’s picture of a man’s face in a nearly impenetrable shadow finds an odd echo in a piece by Nick George that suggests a featureless George Condo portrait. Through Aug. 7.
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July 1 - August 7, 2015
Opening Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Higher Pictures presents Photography Sees the Surface, a group exhibition organized by the artist Aspen Mays.
Artists: Ben Alper, Molly Brandt, Ellen Carey, Lynne Cohen, Linda Connor, AnnieLaurie Erickson, Ben Fain, Jackie Furtado, Nick George, Ann Hamilton, Peter Happel Christian, Whitney Hubbs, Lowey & Puiseux, Jessica Mallios, Man Ray, Casey McGonagle, Eileen Mueller, John Opera, Gina Osterloh, Justin James Reed, Meghann Riepenhoff, Melanie Schiff, Adam Schreiber, Frederick Sommer, Sonja Thomsen, Minor White, Jeff Whetstone, and Anonymous.
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May 14, 2015
My visiting artist lecture at Illinois State University is now available on itunes.