Our Work: Modern Jobs – Ancient Origins
The Oriental Institute is one of the greatest scholarly museums in the United States. The entire atmosphere inside the ivy covered walls study the ancient Near East civilizations. In fact this is the home of the fictitious archeologist Indiana Jones. So when you walk in and see the well worn display cases holding objects thousands of years old, you feel you have gone back in time.
So I was very excited to be asked to help on a new exhibition opening soon. The Institute commissioned photographer Jason Reblando to take portraits of people whose jobs or variations of their jobs have origins in ancient Mesopotamia, Sumeria and Egypt.
Because this project was to connect each profession to its origin, Jason chose to use an early photography process known as wet plate Collodion. Creating a makeshift dark room out of a hall closet in the basement of the museum where he was able to make the film plate, walk to the studio set up in the large objects storage space to take the portrait, then go back and develop the tintype within the small window of time to make the process work.
The wet plate technique captures images that make you think back. Even though these are contemporary portraits, the tintype takes the people back, giving us a visual connection to the past.
Over the course of 4 months I would interview the subjects of the photographs after Jason captured the portraits, I was able to sit down and interview each about the experience, their work and the connection of their work. A manicurist, brewer, a clockmaker and twenty-one others journeyed down and gave me their thoughts.
I then selected 5 to follow. An urban farmer, a potter, a stone carver, a pastry chef and a cowboy let me follow them for short documentaries about their work. (see below) The were chosen for both visual interest and my interest in the subjects after speaking with them. Some were surprising connections like the cowboy and the pastry chef. Both of those professions seem to be more connected to modern culture that I felt then needed to be highlighted.
The exhibition Our Work: Modern Jobs – Ancient Origins runs August 20, 2013 to February 23, 2014 at the Oriental Institute, 1155 E 58th St Chicago, IL 60637