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Local Photographer Displays His Work at JHU Montgomery County Campus

Schmetter artwork
Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus is featuring the work of local photographer and scientist Barry Schmetter. The art show is on display through January 18 at 9605 Medical Center Drive in Rockville. All art exhibits on campus are free and open to the public.

Schmetter works at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), where he is a clinical trials specialist focusing on lung diseases. His photographs, fittingly, focus on science and technology.

Before exhibiting at JHU, Schmetter had a solo show at Park View Gallery in Glen Echo Park. He also previously has shown his work at Artomatic, a month-long arts festival in the DC area.

Hopkins Happenings asked Schmetter to tell us about his work.

Hopkins Happenings: Tell us about yourself.
Schmetter: I'm a Washington DC-based artist, with a primary focus on antiquarian photographic processes. For the most part, I use large format view cameras and antique lenses, dating to the early beginnings of photography.

Hopkins Happenings:
Tell us about your day job. I understand you work at NHLBI in the Division of Lung Diseases? Tell us about your work.
Schmetter: My area of specialization is human subjects research, and particularly clinical trials. The most interesting part of my work is working on complex ethical issues and researching and evaluating the risks involved in human research. There's an intersection of the philosophical, scientific, logistical and regulatory domains that make the work interesting.

Hopkins Happenings: Tell us about the exhibit. What do you hope your audience experiences upon looking at your work?
Schmetter: The work I am exhibiting is a series of tintypes, an early photographic process, where the image is chemically formed on the surface of black-enameled metal plates. The motifs that run through the work are science and technology. Both the process and the treatment of the subject matter shift and displace the timeline of the scientific innovations against the early photographic process. The process lends a somewhat dark feeling to the work.

Hopkins Happenings: What is your inspiration?
Schmetter: My inspiration comes from a lot of sources. I am constantly going to museums and gallery shows to look at great work. Not just photography, but all kinds of art interests me. We're lucky to live in an area with so many great museums. There's always work that inspires me and makes me re-examine my own artistic processes. Part of my inspiration also comes from voraciously reading about early photographers. Photography is a young art form, and reading about how early photographers solved technical and aesthetic challenges helps me work through my own challenges.

Hopkins Happenings:
How did you become good at and interested in photography?
Schmetter: As long as I remember, I've been interested in photography. Before I started high school, I remember they took us on a tour of the school. They led us into the large darkroom and it was impossibly dim and there was the sound of running water. We all held hands as they led us around, because of the darkness. I decided that was where I wanted to spend my time. There was an otherness to the environment. My father and my uncle were amateur photographers, and I suppose I absorbed something from both of them.

Although I'm primarily self-taught, I did have a very influential photography teacher in high school. She opened my eyes to the nature of the photographer as an artist. One day she showed me a series of photographs she'd taken of herself giving birth. She had the hospital staff roll in one of those big round mirrors, and she documented her complete birth process. She'd had an interesting career as a food photographer and working in the darkroom at Playboy magazine. She also did nude studies of some of her students. None of it would be possible today!

Hopkins Happenings:
What else would you like to add?
Schmetter: Photography is about a lot more than just the image itself. People are used to consuming images online, but that’s only one facet of photography. The process and the final print or physical object are of equal importance. Photography is a language, and being visually literate means examining physical photographs and understanding the processes, both aesthetic and technical, that help form the work. I hope the viewers of my work come away with a sense of that.