Robert Charles Mann


I hope one finds my photographs an experience rich in dreams and that they induce an exploration of the psyche. Several different lensless cameras are used to accomplish this. The pinhole camera has a way of suggesting objects rather than representing them because of the particular quality the pinhole image produces. This suggestive character carries with it a more profound mystery, which is not found on the surface of the image but rather in the possibilities of interpretation. The pinhole camera provides the aesthetic means needed for a subjective experience by the viewer. When this technique is combined with my themes and choice of subjects, the photographs begin to breath and become metaphoric environments.
A singular characteristic of pinhole photography is the fact that exposures are quite long, varying from seconds to several hours. This cumulative exposure produces effects that cannot be seen by the eye. Moving objects become translucent, having a vibrating quality, and some objects may become completely transparent in the process due to displacement during exposure. There are objects in my photographs that produce effects that seem not directly associated with the object itself.
The Reflection Series is an experiment in both method and concept. Using the idea that moving water and a long exposure yield a cumulative image, I point the camera at a water surface in direct opposition to the sun. While standing in the water, I discover patterns of reflected sunlight, which are disturbed by currents and underlying objects. By using a red filter over the pinhole, the reflection is distinguished from the water as an abstract shape on an opaque background. These photographs, however, are not mere abstractions because their origins are entirely organic.
The Head Series was created with a hand-made pinhole camera using 4x5 inch black and white film and an orange filter. I direct and choreograph each subject through a single exposure of two minutes in length, that is to say the final image is not a montage of several different images, but rather a unique performance by the subject changing positions during the exposure resulting in the accumulation of all positions recorded on one piece of film. The inspiration for this series was indeed the work of Francis Bacon. The way he can twist, mangle and distort his subject's personas and still maintain their essence has always profoundly intrigued me.
The Window Series was created with a hand-made pinhole camera using 4x5 inch black and white film and inspired by an 18th century window found in the attic of my house in France. The window became the catalyst and my muse for this work in progress. Voyeurism is at the heart of photography. My intent here is for the viewer to be conscience of the voyeur in each of us as we examine the depths of our own thoughts.
My work is entirely an analog process; no Photoshop was used in any of these photographs. The prints for each image are made on either silver chlorobromide baryta fiber based paper or photo sensitized linen using a lithographic developer which yields its unique color and granularity due to the fibers of the paper being revealed in the surface image itself. Once I've edited a group of negatives, I then print them in a highly variable process. An image's significance may change with every choice I make concerning its qualities of contrast, density, and tone. A photographic image can be printed in thousands of ways, and the tactile quality of the print is as important as the choice of materials. These prints are developed in a caustic soda solution that is very sensitive to temperature, dilution, rate of oxidation, and duration of the print's immersion. After the print is developed, the final stages of the process ensure the archival stability of the silver chlorobromide paper stock I work with. The print constitutes half the aesthetic of the photograph. The thematic process that began before the exposure was made and a more spontaneous chemical experimentation both take place while printing the negative. The darkroom is truly a place of alchemy where conscious decisions are made to evoke an unconscious allure.
These photographs carry the possibility of many messages. They are enigmas born to be deciphered by the viewer.


20000206-02 from the Orbit Series, ©2014 Robert Charles Mann

19970223-03 from the Reflection Series, ©2014 Robert Charles Mann