Freeing herself from the photograph

Schulman's 'reverse painting' seems to blur reality

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Karen Schulman's photographic exhibit strips the medium to its simplest form. The shots are square compositions taken through the lens of a Polaroid. After that, there is no complicated darkroom process or Photoshop manipulation, just childish fun to be had with whatever tool is at hand and the movement of wet emulsion.

"Everyone I've taught this process to has found it freeing," Schulman said. "Photography has gotten way too serious. But with these images, there aren't a lot of bells and whistles, and it's fun."

The images hanging in the Small Works Gallery of the Depot Art Center this month feel like life as viewed from underwater or in a dream. By blurring the lines in the photos, Schulman seems to blur their reality.

The photographs are taken with a Polaroid SX 70, a camera popular in the 1970s. The nonpeeling, self-contained, self-developing film is what made this camera so popular for casual photographers who wanted instant gratification, but also made it popular among artists. The emulsion can take as long as 30 minutes to dry, making it perfect for photo manipulation.

Schulman bought a Polaroid SX 70 in 1979. The camera spent the greater part of the past two decades in a closet. Schulman dusted it off only recently, while she was recovering from an elbow injury and was unable to lift her regular cameras.

Schulman calls the Polaroid manipulations "reverse painting," as she moves or removes the color on her tiny canvases.

One of her best images in the show is a detail of Burrishoole Abbey in County Mayo, Ireland (on the cover of 4 Points). Schulman leads photo tours to the ruins often, but had never shot it from that angle.

As her students were photographing the entire abbey and filling any frame she tried to compose, it forced her to look up, she said, for a more obscure image.

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