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interview by Marie Ashley Nelson   February 15, 2014

Saw the Splendor

Time has this ability to show the vulnerability in what it gradually consumes. 

- Osheen Harruthoonyan


Photographer / cinematographer with a background in Biology, Osheen Harruthoonyan's work blends the unusual with the usual to create stunning black and white images that are both scientific and poetic. He shares with SPACE his latest photographic series entitled Saw the Splendor and tells us a little bit about his process.


What inspired Saw the Splendor?

There wasn’t a particular moment or thing that inspired this particular body of work; it was more about taking all of the things that interested me the last couple of years and finding a way to bring some sort of abstract narrative to them. All of my various series are just extensions of themselves where I continue to explore the same themes from different angles. Memory, history, identity, time and the complex relationships between them. Time has this ability to show the vulnerability in what it gradually consumes. Darkroom creations evoke our collective understanding of memory in its most raw and in-between state; as a noisy and less acute summoning that correctively interprets a moment in time.

I'm very much into biology and astronomy; I believe these are influences very clear in Saw the Splendour. At times for me it’s like looking simultaneously through a microscope and telescope. What’s great about art and science is that we are always exploring and discovering, creating narratives around those discoveries.

Jellyfish are almost always an inspiration in everything I do; the mood and atmosphere underwater is amazing and very otherworldly, much like outer space. The life cycle of stars, Le Petite Prince, old maps, the ideas of future exploration and time travel, cartographers, and antique drawings of the cosmos all had a role in the final results.


What process and / or methods were used to create the Saw the Splendor series?

The original photographs were all taken with a studio camera on 4x5 large format black and white film. After each sheet of film was processed I proceeded to carefully manipulate the film emulsion with chemistry and a variety of tools (various paint brushes, dental tools, q-tips, razor blades…) - usually placed in a petri dish or on a glass plate over a lightbox. Once I was happy with the results I dried the film and took it into a darkroom to make prints on fiber paper. For Pour Etienne et Son Ciel and The Hive I employed a lot of collage techniques; cutting sections of negatives out to paste onto others, blending with glue, ink, acrylic paint and even butterfly taxidermy. It’s almost like merging painting, printmaking and photography. The final stage is always to tone the print with sepia, gold and selenium.


What drew you to photography to create an image rather than drawing or painting for instance?

It just made sense. I always had cameras around growing up and I found analog printing in the darkroom quite simple. I love painting and drawing but unfortunately I’m not very good at either. However, you can see elements of both in my work. I will seek out work in other mediums for inspiration; there are some amazing artists these days pushing their mediums in really exciting directions.


How did you learn about manipulating images through dark room development?

I was looking for ways to manipulate emulsion and tried a variety of tools until I found what worked best for the narratives I wanted to create. It took years of experimenting. I’ve really been doing the same thing the last decade and have worked hard to hone my craft and bring it to a place where I am comfortable exploring and displaying to the public.


Is there a reason you gravitate towards black and white photography rather than color photography?

There are practical and emotional reasons. It’s not possible to manipulate colour film the same way as black and white, nor am I able to print in a colour darkroom. A lot of colour work these days is done digitally and that’s great; there is a lot of control over an image, and the possibilities digitally are endless, especially with colour manipulation. I personally haven’t found the right aesthetic and material for me to make colour prints. There is carbon printing, which is quite beautiful, and I would love to have the opportunity to try it, but I think that is several years away…and even then the colour will be far from any reality.

I love working in an analog environment. The process is part of the product. At times I will deliberately add my fingerprints on a negative to create texture. Black and white for me is also very nostalgic, dramatic and further removed from reality. It elicits very different emotional reactions than colour work in my opinion.

Describe your photography in 3 words.   Black and White

Website: http://www.osheen.ca/SawtheSplendor.php

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    March 5, 2014

    I really love the result of your photography. I am getting lost in it and I get so absorbed, because of the uses of different lines, shapes and forms. It is just beautiful.

    I think you made a great decisions on doing your photographs black and white. If the photographs were in colours, I don’t think it will express the same emotions as it is now.

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    March 6, 2014

    I think the harsh contrast between the black and white are balanced well with the more soft, flowing subject matter.  I enjoy the connection between science and art, adding more depth to the pieces, which become more than simply visual. 
    The forms are very beautiful, as well as the composition, bringing my eye all over the place.

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    Barbara Freedman

    March 6, 2014

    Saw The Splendor is a sharp edge delivered with a soft lens; the perfect juxtaposition of clarity and suggestion. That’s why the black and white is so perfect, why the perspective is so intimate. Thanks for a truly extraordinary blend of poetry and science, whose separate voices are hard to distinguish from one another.

    Barbara Freedman
    Dean of Instructional Development

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    November 30, 2014

    I thoroughly enjoyed looking at all of these photographs but my favourite one was “Pour Etienne et son ciel”. Looking at this piece, I feel like I am looking out of a window from a boat into a whole other world. This world seems to be floating on the clouds at the bottom of the photograph. It also seems as though this other world remains unmarked by complications other than those that coincide with tremendous detail. This piece also has great perspective and this is seen in how the white circular frame around the photograph is a set of two circles instead of just one. This really gives the image depth and the feeling of looking out a window. All of this leads to an ethereal piece in that although there is a harsh contrast between the black and white, the photograph still seems extremely delicate and light in a way that feels too perfect for this world.
    This collection of photographs is delicate, elegant and exquisite. I love how there is a blend of astrology, biology as well as abstract forms to create different and fascinating compositions. The best part is that these images are open to different interpretations due to their abstract nature.

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    Andrew E

    August 31, 2020

    I really enjoyed looking at these pictures and one thing I loved is that the themes you chose were outer space and the ocean. For me these two places hold a lot of mystery and that’s why I love to learn more about them. I find that black and white were the perfect choices for the colors in these pictures. I think that there are certain things that you could only represent in certain ways and I am happy you did it in the colors you saw fit. My favorite peace was Pour Etienne et son ciel because when I look at it, it feels like looking out through a window at the ocean and the night sky. I picked this one as my favorite because it is a really relaxing photo that makes you forget of every problem you’re currently thinking of.


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    September 2, 2020

    What intrigued me the most about this exhibit was the first initial photo. The fact that the ocean and galaxy were meshed in the same image really got me thinking about our planet and how much we truly know and discovered. The unknown engages very well with the black and white colours as even those colours are arguably a mystery being actual colours to some people. The circle around the image gives us the perspective of being in a boat, looking out the window sailing at sea with ease like everyone dreams of doing. This specific photo seems too flawless, like a dream that allows you to escape your problems and bring peace.

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