For Sine Van Menxel photography is the art of manipulating light and shadow. Working exclusively with black-and-white analogue photography, she encounters the problem of light and shadow twice: first, in the moment of shooting, second, when printing the final image in the darkroom. During both instances, she manifests a keen interest in the possibilities and limits of the photographic technique in terms of manipulation and reproduction. While the moment of shooting predominantly consists of receiving and measuring light, the work in the darkroom is a far more active moment: the photographer directs the projected light through dodging and burning onto a light sensitive surface. Although Van Menxel sometimes intervenes before taking the shot, by staging the subject for instance, the real challenges only arise in the second phase of the photographic process. For her, the darkroom is first and foremost an experimental environment where fortuitous discoveries occur and playful inventions are tried out. The tools that surround her (such as the magnets used for keeping the photographic paper flat against the wall) can change from mere accessories to active agents in the creation of new and surprising images. Often, Van Menxel refuses to retouch the prints, accepting the traces (specks of dust, stains, etc.) the labor in the darkroom left on the image. Instead of denying the messiness of the technical process, she fully acknowledges it and cleverly deploys it to enhance the visual appeal of her images. Generously accepting the lucky coincidences created by a ‘failing’ system, she questions the transparency of the photographic image, alerting the viewer to its technological origin. As such, her work is less about the subject immediately visible in her images, than about the visual possibilities created by exploiting and/or subverting the photographic method. It ensues from a sensitive alternation of action and surrender, of control and the loss of it. The result is a set of witty images, made by a mischievous eye which is able to extract visual surprises from the most mundane situations.
Text: Steven Humblet