Reproducing Idelle Weber’s Stock City

StockCity

Recently I posted tips on photographing art. I hinted that while technically complicated, it’s really not that difficult. Well, I faced a huge challenge in reproducing Idelle Weber’s “Stock City.”

The five-foot-square diptych was acquired many years ago by the founder of my longest standing client, the Museum of American Finance. I always remember seeing it hanging somewhere in the Museum, even as they’ve changed locations three times. Presently it hangs in a vestibule, no longer being an appropriate part of the Museum’s collection; displaying fine art is not part of the Museum’s mission. (In the process of my being commissioned to photograph the piece, the Museum had it appraised, and it’s actually quite valuable.)

Created in 1964, “Stock City” is a mixed media collage made of paper, stock certificates, banknotes, and lacquer. Originally two separate panels of 2.5 x 5 feet, the work is currently fused together and framed underneath plexiglass.

The work became known to a friend of the artist, a midwestern investment banker. The artist must have know that the work was safe at the Museum, because the collector contacted them to recommend a local photographer to reproduce the art. Ms. Weber had given him permission. The Museum referred him to me, and after a brief conversation, he commissioned me to reproduce the art at actual size for him to frame and hang in his office.

I assumed it wouldn’t be too difficult, but I underestimated the challenge ahead of me. I knew the project would be perfect for a single shot from a medium format camera, but I don’t shoot medium format, nor do I have portable lights and modifiers large enough for a piece of art that large. So I figured I’d shoot it in four sections with my 35 mm DSLR and stitch them together. For each of the four shots, I had to reposition the camera and lights and ensure that the pieces would be evenly lit and would perfectly align in post-processing. That wasn’t an easy task.

When I arrived at the Museum, the collage had been removed from the wall where it hung, and it was lying flat on the floor, the plexiglass frame having been removed. My contact at the Museum helped me lift it onto a table and prop it against a wall, then she left me alone to make the photographs. That’s when gravity took over and the ensemble of black-and-white figures at the bottom began to peel off. The nearly 50-year-old glue had dissolved, but it was still slightly tacky, so I was able to press the figures back into position between each shot while wearing archival cotton gloves. It felt comedic running back and forth between the art and my camera. Pressing the figures back on each time didn’t produce a complete bond, so there were some shadows around the edges that I knew I’d have to retouch out during post-processing. In addition, the figures had been outlined in pencil before being cut out. The remaining pencil lines were invisible to the eye, but the reflection of the graphite in the strobes showed up in the photos, so I was looking forward to even more retouching.

Back in my studio, I stitched the four photos together, adjusted for some lighting irregularities I hadn’t noticed before, and submitted an image for my client to review. He was pleased, and he asked me to split it into two separate panels, as the work had been originally conceived. Next we discussed fabrication, and he suggested printing on aluminum panels, which is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time but never had the appropriate image. This one, I thought, would look great on metal. We chose a floating frame, where the frame is inset from the from the edges of the panels, so when mounted to the wall, the panels appear to float above the wall.

A few days later, the finished panels arrived, and my client loved them so much that he decided to hang them at home. He ordered a second set to hang in his office and a third set to send as a gift to the artist.

 

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