To say that the path to getting one of MJ Sharp’s sumptuous large
format photographs on this gallery wall is a long one is an almost laughable
understatement. Her images are typically born in the middle of the night,
often under a freezing February moon, inside a hulking mid-century bellows
camera, with exposure times that could be described as gestational. The
scene is often too dark to be discernible. It is an act of faith (and
hard earned experience) that the mysteries of the darkness will be drawn
onto the film.
Negative in hand, the process is only beginning. MJ scans the negative
at high resolution and begins a laborious and inexplicable (to me) process
of eking out every nuance of shadow detail, texture, and color rendition
as well as many intangible qualities that finally brings that elusive
“I got it” smile. I have seen her spend 8 hours huddled over
a single image.
MJ’s standard of image reproduction and proclivity toward perfectionism
is at once awe inspiring and infuriating. Her studio floor is like a battlefield
of fallen image warriors. 5, 10, even 100 versions of a single image,
each one seemingly perfect to the mortal’s eye, all deemed inadequate
to make it to the wall. “2% less magenta on the ice cubes.”
“Oh I must fix the texture detailing on the sheep’s fur again”.
“Maybe I need to desaturate the leaves a hair more.” At times
I literally need to pry the print from her hands and admonish her to not
call the lab again for yet another version. “Step away from the
print MJ!” She gets holiday fruit baskets from her photo lab and
the FedEx Corporation. The cycle begins anew when someone wants to buy
a print—there is always one more tweak MJ MUST do….
I am not a curator by training. I came to this project more as an enthusiastic
collector who has collected MJ’s work for years. I am also a dear
friend and huge fan. After 3 or 4 consecutive twelve hour days working
on this show I had an epiphany of sorts—it is an unbelievable gift
for any collector or art lover to get to draw back the curtain behind
the magical process of art making so far that your understanding and appreciation
of it is forever altered. MJ Sharp is a great artist and the images all
around you are redundant testimony to that.
Getting to partner with my long time friends at Craven Allen Gallery,
who are the trusted and exclusive framers of our personal collection,
has been a joy. There has been nothing they have been unwillingly to do—even
letting me replace the Moorish light fixtures in the stairwell!—to
make this show as beautiful as it can be. Thank you John, Keith, Kathryn,
Linwood, and Mark.
We are greatly indebted to many of MJ’s collectors for allowing
us to borrow work from their collections for this show. Because of her
super glossy surfaces, all but the smallest of MJ’s work must be
mounted by a special process available only in places like New York City
and Los Angeles. Shipping, crating and handling these delicate prints
is an expensive and meticulous undertaking and would have been impossible
for an exhibition of this magnitude. Each of these generous lenders is
acknowledged on the wall labels and in the exhibition guide.
Lastly I am deeply grateful to my dear friend MJ Sharp. She has kept me
laughing, enlarged my world, and stoked the fire of great photography
that is one of my greatest joys.
Frank Konhaus, Co-curator