Medusa Bones series

Medusa Bones

Medusa as Metaphor by Stephen Wathen - review of Medusa Bones Exhibition

Medusa as Metaphor

by Stephen Wathen

Fortnight | March 1, 1983

Medusa’s Bones, an exhibit of photographic works by CSU photography professor John Bonath, will be on display in the Directions Gallery March 7-31.

I asked John Bonath the question, “How has being an artist affected your personal life?” Bonath a CSU photography professor who has been deeply committed to visual arts his entire life paused amidst the flurry of projects scattered at his feet and quietly said “It is my life.”

Bonath sees his personal life and his art as totally integrated, as inseparable.  The body of his work is both the focus for and the mirrored reflection of his ongoing growth as a person.  His series of photographs, “Medusa’s Bones,” which will open in the Directions Gallery March 7, exhibits the current stage of that development.

Medusa was the mythological figure, with snakes for hair, who was killed by her lover Perseus.  The mere sight of the dead Medusa’s head would turn the viewer to stone.  Perseus, like the photographer who cannot view film before it is developed without destroying it, turned his gaze away while exposing others.

In this metaphor, Bonath is Perseus holding the camera to capture pieces of life, to turn them to stone.  Yet through the process of defining reality by deciding what and how to photograph, the photographer exposes himself.  In “Medusa’s Bones” there are images of this bones and snakelike metaphor.  Death is represented by skull-like rocks and dead birds.  And yet death is only the more permanent corollary of life, and so life is shown sprouting amidst death.

But don’t get the impression that the viewer of “Medusa’s Bones” must be a Greek mythology scholar to appreciate it.  Bonath’s works make clear, concise and interesting images yet they also offer the opportunity for deeper levels of viewing and thought.

The works on display consist of color photography with several techniques included: prints from color negatives, dye transfers and beautifully hued hand-colored black and white prints.  Indeed Bonath’s experience with a variety of visual art techniques other than photography enables him to expand his control of the photographic medium with exciting results.  I was particularly impressed with his efforts at displaying three-dimensionality on the the two-dimensional surface of the photograph – some of the best I have seen.  The photographer’s use of color accentuates the images rather than being solely concerned  with the use of color for its own sake.

The photographs that I was able to preview make interesting statements.  The exhibit overall promises to be just as fascinating.

The images in this series begin as color laser prints on transfer paper; made on a color copier.  The images are transferred onto etching paper.  After an adhesive backing is applied to the paper, the prints are meticulously cut with an x-acto knife into many little pieces.  These pieces are then organized onto 4 layers of plexiglass. These final sheets are assembled with 1/8″ spacers, creating an actual depth of 1″. The resulting 3-dimensional illusion is extremely high as the shallow space between the photos and the illusion in the photos become one with our perception of the artwork.

Pre-cursers to the Medusa Bones technique

These are my first explorations with layering elements of a photo-composition in real space.
Two of these are black and white photos that have been cut apart and re-assembled on different layers of cast plastic resin to a depth of about 1″.
One of these floats a high contrast piece of film on top of the same image, separating the layers with glass.  The top layer casts a shadow onto the image below.

Related Work

Broken Bowl

Synapse Tapestries

Various 3-D Photo Works

Photo Silkscreen