(Above: One of photographer Susan Detroy’s favorite infrared prints, showing her now-grown niece, Leah, with a much-loved family dog.)
By Randi Bjornstad
Susan Detroy’s photo exhibit, “Infrared Messages — Today’s Memories,” is on the walls through Oct. 28 in a cozy red-orange room off the main bar at Territorial Vineyards and Wine Company in Eugene’s Whiteaker district.
The show is unusual for several reasons, foremost because it’s a set of photographic prints made by what now is considered an archaic, if not all-but-extinct, method. In fact, it’s an art form that Detroy herself has eschewed for years, to the point eventually of giving up conventional cameras in favor of experimenting with pictures taken almost exclusively with her iPhone.
But her early infatuation with infrared prints, with their deep, saturated contrasts and somewhat mysterious creative techniques, recently has come back to the forefront.
“I’ve done many kinds of art through the years — infrared black-and-white, abstract painting, multi-transfer prints and collages, a folkloric series with pens and digital work on Facebook and Instagram — I can’t pick,” Detroy said.
“It’s like having children. They’re all different, all special. And they all have relationship to one another, although if you saw them side by side, you wouldn’t necessarily say they’d been done by the same person.”
Her first exposure to infrared photography came at the University of Oregon, where she began amassing “a ton of photographs that I printed myself and eventually showed in galleries in the United States and other places.”
“Infrared is a spectrum that people can’t see — you have to load the film in complete darkness, in a bag, without even a safety light in the darkroom,” Detroy said. “I used 35 mm film that I kept in a canister in the freezer. I would take it out, put it in the black bag and then roll it onto the spools and load it into the camera, all without seeing a thing. It was completely tactile, almost surreal.”
The image formed in infrared photography blocks light from the visible spectrum, allowing only the infrared wavelengths, those that fall below red on the color spectrum, through to the film. The resulting images produce vegetation that looks almost white with crisp details in the foliage, portraits in which skin takes on a milky, non-porous perfection and hues that become exaggeratedly sharp.
Infrared photography came to prominence during World War I because it delineated the difference between light and shadow and buildings and vegetation much more clearly than conventional photography could, enabling armies to detect the presence of their enemies more exactly.
The infrared photographs in Detroy’s Territorial show are among her earliest as a photographic artist, dating to the early 1990s. Most reflect her interest in the natural world, with subjects that focus on plants, and animals from elephants to insects.
“I didn’t do much with it until after college — I really didn’t think of myself as an ‘artist’ until sometime in the 1980s,” she said.
Through the decades, she’s followed a variety of jobs and professions and now runs her own art consulting business, called Art Solutions, offering marketing, social media, coaching and art installation services.
But now she’s adding exhibits of her work to her activities.
“This year, I decided it was time to start showing my work again — I hadn’t make any effort to do that for at least 15 years or so,” Detroy said. “I decided to start with my earliest artistic work, which is the infrared photographs, and which are still among my favorites. Then I will work on through the rest, in a series that will last through 2020.”
Future shows will include her previous work in other mediums, including abstract painting and a digital iPhone show, her “Self Portrait of a Woman,” tentatively set for 2018.
In the meantime, Detroy still explores other ways to pursue her art. After rediscovering her affinity for her infrared pictures, “I’m working on how to recreate that look with my iPhone,” she said.
Infrared Messages — Today’s Memories
When: Through Oct. 28; special artist talk from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 18
Where: Territorial Vineyards & Wine Company, 907 W. Third Ave., Eugene
Hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
Information: email@example.com or susandetroy.com