Finding Craft in the Photograph: Robert Asman's Photo+Craft Workshop at the Asheville Darkroom


Finding Craft in the Photograph: Robert Asman's Photo+Craft Workshop at the Asheville Darkroom

  • Ali McGhee

    Ali McGhee is a journalist, creative writer, and academic. Her work has appeared in The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Romantic Circles, Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary...

Asman Photo Craft Workshop

The Photo+Craft schedule is out, and it offers a dizzying array of possibilities packed into one weekend, including exhibits, talks, panels, a film screening, and much more. This event stands out in the Asheville scene because it--uniquely and for the first time--brings together artists and galleries from across the board to ask and discuss the question: What is Photo+Craft? In other words, why, how, when, and where, do intersections between photography and craft occur, and how are they changing boundaries of each form?

Many galleries are already running exhibits associated with the festival, and others are gearing up for their exhibits and workshops. The Asheville Darkroom is among them. Their workshop, which runs on Saturday, April 2 from 9-noon, will be led by Robert Asman, and is titled "Cameraless Photography: Silver Figurative Rendering Salon." The focus of the workshop is using photographic materials in non-traditional ways. Asman is a black and white photography master and photographic artist who has spent many years exploring and pushing the boundaries of photography. His approach to print-making is, according to his bio, as a "transformative process, in which he mines the physical properties of his materials to create a work on paper, which are seemingly the result of alchemical change." He brings a wealth of experience to the table. He taught photography at Moore College of Art & Design, Drexel University, University of the Arts and University of Pennsylvania, and he has been honored with a Pew Fellowship in the Arts and a Fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. 

Bridget Conn, director of the Asheville Darkroom, describes the workshop as a chance to explore the materialism of darkroom photography in a completely new way. "The lights will be on and we’ll be painting and drawing onto traditional photo paper. It’s a process called a chemigram. You’re not applying any photographic imagery to the paper, but rather treating it like you would a painting or a drawing." Participants will paint and draw with developer in full light, and black or grey lines slowly appear as you draw. The workshops will start with just basic sketching on the paper and will eventually bring in a model, local Darkroom member Genevieve Padulla. 

No artistic knowledge or skill level is required for the workshop. Rather, it's about being open to what slowly emerges after drawing with developer. The image will not be immediately apparent, but will manifest over time. Conn notes that this fits with Asman's own philosophy about photography: "For Robert, digital photography is analogous to just applying ink to a surface, whereas with analog photography paper you’re pulling something out of it that’s already there, that’s inherent. And it’s a really different way to work, because, as it relates to Photo+Craft, it’s about that physical materiality of that paper, which does something that a normal piece of paper can’t do."

This is one of the ticketed events offered by the festival. It's $40 and tickets can be purchased through the Darkroom website


Conn is also very excited about what Photo+Craft will bring to the Asheville art scene, and she loves the open-endedness of the question, "What is Photo+Craft?" "We've set the events on the schedule up to see what conversations emerge," she says. "When we first started organizing it, I came to the table personally with the approach of the craft and the handmade within photography, but that's just one takeaway, and the more I've been working with this group, the more it's shown me just how many ways there are to tackle the question." She's particularly excited about some of the other main events, like the film screening of From Darkroom to Daylight (with director Harvey Wang) and the companion panel that will follow it, titled "Ghosts in the Machine: Finding Craft in the Digital" (organized by Revolve Gallery owner Colby Caldwell and happening at the Altamont Theatre on Saturday afternoon), as well as the exhibit at Henco, "Authentic Constructions," which examines sets and materials created specifically by photographers for their photography. 

Conn is also excited about what the Darkroom is up to after Photo+Craft. "I've got programming up on the website through May, including a lecture series." Asman will be giving a lecture on April 20th. They'll also be running their regular classes, including a color class, a black and white 101, and a creative manipulation workshop.

Conn is also planning an event for Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, which happens the last Sunday in April (4/24 this year). "This year a few people will gear up with photo paper and black bags and bring pinhole cameras downtown, start photographing people and then invite them to come back to the Darkroom and see the prints being developed." They'll also have the opportunity to print some themselves. "We’re going to raise awareness about the event and the Darkroom just by being downtown," says Conn. 

So after Photo+Craft ends, you can continue to explore the questions it raises by visiting the Darkroom. It shows once again how our creative community can band together to create and execute a shared vision that is, in the end, world-class. 

Photo+Craft happens from Thursday, March 31 to Sunday, April 3. The full schedule is here