Alibi V.22 No.16 • April 18-24, 2013 

Arts Feature

Photography as Sculpture

Thelander’s “Photoetched Rail Yard Exposition”

Eric Thelander

A welder by trade, one of Eric Thelander’s favorite activities is experimenting with existing materials and creating new and different processes: “You know, going from ‘I think this could work, I think this could work …’ to that moment of, ‘Wow! It worked!’”

Thelander’s dedicated experimentation resulted in his development of a photo-etching technique combining technology from screen-printing and intaglio print-making. The process involves etching a photograph into galvanized sheet metal, and then plating it with copper. The resulting sheet of metal—and its photographically detailed relief—is virtually indestructible. “The first thing that people usually do when they see these, is they touch them. ... you can feel the relief,” says Thelander. He’s absolutely correct. When we met, I immediately picked one of his pieces up and ran my fingers across its surface: “See? It has all the depth and clarity of a photograph, but it’s a real metal object.”

Learning how to successfully manipulate a new amalgamation of materials has been a fairly time-consuming process for Thelander; there’s a lot of trial and error involved—both in the mechanics of the process and in teaching himself what photographs can most successfully make the transition from a two-dimensional color image to steel and copper relief.

For the past 10 years, he’s been working as a sculptor’s assistant for local public artist Evelyn Rosenberg. (By the way, she creates large-scale metal sculpture using plastic explosives.) He gives Rosenberg a huge amount of credit for providing a working environment where he can do what he loves: discovering exciting, different and new ways to use existing elements.

Last month, Thelander launched his first successful Kickstarter campaign to raise money to cover the initial cost of materials for his “Photoetched Rail Yard Exposition.” He met his goal of $1,000 within two weeks. Albuquerque native Thelander hopes this project will broaden awareness of Albuquerque’s Barelas rail yards and support the preservation and restoration of these buildings. He notes they “just kind of hide out there,” and he wants people to view the buildings as worthwhile historical artifacts. As he explains on his Kickstarter profile: “This great abandoned complex in the heart of Albuquerque is unspeakably beautiful; it is an industrial cathedral.”

Truly, the rail yards lend themselves perfectly to his medium. His use of industrial materials to transform digital images of sites of commerce and production into solid, permanent art objects carries more weight—literally and figuratively—than a modern, digital photograph. The detail in these pieces is astonishing. In one of his images, you can see light stream through hundreds of tiny windows across a beautiful expanse of abandoned open space. “You can even see the light,” says Thelander. “At 8 in the morning, that place is like a disco.”

If you miss the opening reception on Saturday, April 20 at Studio 134 (134 Harvard SE) from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., you can still check out Thelander’s work, as it will hang downtown at Java Joe’s from May 15 to June 15. And he’s beginning to diversify his subject matter; look for a mixture of his best rail yard images as well as new experiments.

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