You’ll like Rick Swanson’s photography a “latte,” considering that his film’s been developed with local coffee. Swanson, the co-owner of Fox and Swan Arts and a Gallery 24 member, received a grant from the Southeast Minnesota Arts Council (SEMAC) in 2018 to create black-and-white photographs that explore the collision of science and art.
Now Swanson’s ready to share his photos at an exhibit – “Light Chaser: An Intersection of Art and Science” – in the Turret Gallery on the third floor of the Castle Community. The opening reception for the exhibit will be from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 9.
“All photographers will tell you that lighting is everything, no matter what kind of photography you do,” says Swanson. “I spend a lot of time chasing the light of sunrises and sunsets, for example, because the light is more interesting at those times than it is during midday.”
The name of Swanson’s exhibit also stems from physics. Much like photography, physics explores light. The only difference, according to Swanson, is that physicists study light to explore its essential nature while photographers try to capture it in their cameras.
Science also comes into play with Swanson’s exhibit through chemistry. The tannins in coffee chemically convert the silver in film to produce negative images. He started developing film with coffee several years ago, but thought the time was ripe to explore the practice further when he applied for the SEMAC grant.
Flouting the standard practice of using coffee crystals to follow a precise recipe for preparing the developing fluid, Swanson decided to use fresh-ground beans and brewed coffee. He partnered with Fiddlehead Coffee to obtain his beans.
“I had a number of early flops,” says Swanson, “where the film came out with hardly any visible images at all.” Through trial and error (modifying in-coffee time and stirring frequency, and working to figure out the exact amount of tannins in a brew), Swanson came up with a formula to create pleasing photographic images. Swanson jokes that developing film never smelled as good as it did with Fiddlehead’s Kindling Blend as part of the process.
Much of Swanson’s exhibit focuses on familiar regional subjects. “I have a number of images from around Rochester, as well as southwestern Wisconsin,” he says. Some of Swanson’s photos feature the megalithic garden of quarried stone at Kinstone near Fountain City.
The photographs that Swanson created for his exhibit caused him to slow down and think about the high contrasts between dark and light that make for compelling black-and-white images. And using film imposed its own challenges. “There’s a gambler’s mentality at play that you don’t have when shooting digital,” explains Swanson.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but Swanson’s “photogr-offee” was also good for thousands of whiffs and sips, since he used more than 30 gallons of coffee in pursuit of presenting his photographs. He’s also managed to capture what he calls the “inherent connection…between the pursuit of scientific knowledge and the pursuit of artistic beauty.”