Arts preview: Photographer Barbara Vogel uses her scanner darkly

By Jackie Mantey
From the October 3, 2013 edition

Barbara Vogel bought her scanner wand with the purest of procedural intentions. 

Purchased before her journey to Vermont, where she would be living on an Ohio Art League artist residency, the scanner was to provide an activity during downtime — documenting art, paperwork and jottings of future plans otherwise easily forgotten. 

Soon, though, the scanner became a tool to make art. A longtime teacher of the form and a hospital photographer, Vogel was a tried-and-true practitioner and promoter of good technique, clean shots. The scanner and its unpredictable fluidity beckoned.

She started scanning it over plant life and capturing images that way. Then she turned to portraiture, a natural transition for the photographer. Nearly 30 of those portraits as well as photo scans from life in her garden will be on view at Sherrie Gallerie through Nov. 9.

“I’ve always been drawn to portraiture,” Vogel said. “I am somewhat hard of hearing. So I read lips and I read faces a lot. I’ve always enjoyed watching people.”

After a lot of trial and error she learned that the best images were made by having the subjects hold a glass in front of their faces. One scan takes 30 seconds to process — a stark difference in time compared to the point and shoot she was used to.

“That’s the thing that’s really different with the wand scanners,” Vogel said. “I was always trained to look for that magic moment when you click the shutter. I used to think there was this really decisive moment where you can capture a person’s character and click down. This is like, you drag the wand in front of a person’s face. It took forever. But I think that did something where the portrait is still revealing of each individual.”

She also likes how dark the portraits feel. Vogel accentuated their honest, atrophied, raw features by applying an encaustic wax on top of the prints in a free-form style. The wax cover muddies the faces a bit more, an effect that calmed the artist.

“I went through a period of depression where everything was out of focus,” Vogel said. “And when I used to teach I was always teaching how to get shots very crisp. With this it was like, ‘Aw, heck. I’m just shooting. I don’t care. Let everything be out of focus.’ I’m not so worried about technique as content anymore.”