Joseph Minek, No Poetic Device @Denny

JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the back project gallery. All of the works are unique chromogenic prints, made in 2017. Physical sizes are either 10×8, 14×11, or 24×20. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: As any competent darkroom photographer knows (and has almost certainly learned the hard way), making photographs is an exacting chemical science. To execute the print the artist has in mind, there are dozens of tiny choices along the way that require specific, detailed accuracy, from the straightforward matching of paper stocks to appropriate chemical types, to the trickier nuances of temperature, dilution, duration/agitation in the tray, and any number of other carefully tuned (but likely arcane) steps and procedures. In effect, there is a framework of “rules” that need to be followed with meticulous attention or the train goes off the rails pretty quickly.

Joseph Minek’s approach to the photographic darkroom has been to embrace the outcomes and chance accidents that occur when the rules are deliberately broken. In making his abstract works, he has systematically failed to follow the directions, mixing the wrong developers with the wrong papers (often intermingling black-and-white and color processes) and purposefully testing the edges of what happens when different parameters are intentionally set beyond their limits. In exhaustive trial and error tests of different off-label combinations, he has discovered surprising effects, colors, and surface properties that he has then used to drive his own art making. It’s a “coloring outside the lines” strategy that has yielded some consistently energetic results.

This project room show provides a small sampler of his recent experiments. Many of Minek’s compositions are constructed via exposures/photograms of layers of paper, with corners, strips, and triangular shards piled into overlapped bunches, where flares of light and shadow fill in the in-between spaces. The magic begins when his eccentric color chemistries are applied to these arrangements. Highlights become ghostly auras, colors swirl and dissolve, and hard edges get softened by watery washes and eroding leaks.

Like Mariah Robertson and Walead Beshty, Minek has brought improvisation back to the darkroom, so much so that it is hard to adequately describe what seems to be going on in his abstractions. In one work, he’s created a leaking gradated effect that looks a little like a burlap snow fence connecting a series of sharp tent poles, with the background blue becoming foggy or wispy or just indistinct. In another, bubbled forms echo through a watery world, perhaps a little like some of Wolfgang Tillmans’ inky abstractions, but with more depth from the “front” surface where the bubbles seem to lie to the depths of the “back”. And in still others, the strips are woven into insistent lines and dense networks, their edges decorated with eerie inexplicable highlights.

Far from giving up on the chemical darkroom (in the face of the digital onslaught), Minek’s works feel like they are just getting started. He’s pushing his abstractions out into unknown territory, and by definition, this will fail far more times that it will succeed. But when he finds the right chemical synergies and process combinations, his works crackle with something unique and unexplained. For those tracking new pathways in abstract photography, Minek is another emerging name worth following.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $700 and $1900 based on size. Minek’s work has little secondary market history at, this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Read more about: Joseph Minek, Denny Gallery

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