Molly Springfield: Gentle Reader by Jeffry Cudlin
Transformer’s current show, Gentle Reader, offers a spare arrangement of Springfield’s signature works—which are usually fussy, time-intensive pencil drawings of photocopied pages of text. The exhibition explores the work of pioneering photographer William Henry Fox Talbot, the man who not only produced the first photographically illustrated book, The Pencil of Nature, but also invented the photo negative itself. Mind you, Springfield isn’t interested in Talbot’s images, only his process, which produced sepia-toned prints called calotypes. Springfield takes a break from patient graphite hatchings to make a set of seven of these primitive prints, reproducing snippets from Talbot’s journals—just a few words here and there, type-set or scrawled by hand, hovering over washes of brown ink. These small pieces are set in ornate frames that have been painted a dull off-white, giving them a whiff of false nostalgia. Across from these prints are two large, wall-filling graphite on paper drawings of the preface to Talbot’s book. The first piece, Introductory Remarks, blurs and shifts toward the bottom of the page; the text becomes a negative against a smeared gray ground. The shift from positive to negative, figure to ground is typical of Springfield’s game playing: She mines the territory where the desire for mastery becomes a paradoxical self-subtraction. Further, in this show, she tries to recapture the first stirrings of the photographer’s awareness of troubled relations to the reproduced image—a feeling of strangeness that, in the present image-glutted culture, is pretty much lost.