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Time travel with UCOP analyst Wendy Arbeit

ArbeitFor years, Wendy Arbeit wondered what it would be like to travel back in time, photographically at least. She wondered: Is it possible to accurately capture a time and place which one has never experienced?

An analyst in the Research Grants Program Office, Arbeit is also a trained sculptor, photographer, jewelry designer and textile artist. As she pursued these passions, she kept coming back to the idea of capturing the same person — herself — in period portraits.

Wendy_Arbeit_1880sNow her finished project, “A Moment in Time,” has been selected as a finalist in the Smithsonian Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition and will be featured in an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Arbeit attacked one photograph at a time, spending a year scouring vintage shops, flea markets, Ebay and Etsy for reference images and the right outfits and decade-appropriate frames in which to display the final photographs.

The 17 photographs that make up “A Moment in Time” are a mix of studio shots, photos by friends and selfies. The series begins with an 1850s daguerreotype, the first photographic process. Arbeit’s daguerreotype was created by an Oakland-based photographer who happens to be one of the handful of people still working with the silver-plated copper and mercury-based technology.

Arbeit’s process was very experimental. She had to age most of her photographs to look authentic. To obtain a realistic look, she employed a variety of methods, such as exposing the prints to sunlight, rubbing them with dirt, coffee, tea and even spaghetti sauce. And because freshly taken daguerreotypes have a mirror finish and the look that we recognize today is due to over 150 years of time, she needed sulphur to achieve the antique look. In a very precarious experiment, she found that suspending her daguerreotype over rotten eggs for a few days did the trick.Wendy_Arbeit_1970s

Her favorite image? The one from the 1970s. “It felt very natural,” she says, “even though I was born at the tail end of it.”

The Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition selected Arbeit’s work from over 2,500 nationwide submissions. In addition to her self-portraits, the Smithsonian exhibit includes paintings, videos, drawings and sculptures. After its D.C. debut in March 2016, the show runs until 2017, when it will travel to four museums across the country until 2018.

You can see Arbeit’s “A Moment in Time” on her website.

Comments ( 7 )

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  1. Je t'aime Tahi November 24, 2015 Reply

    Congratulations! Truly a beautiful and amazing project! 🙂

  2. Elizabeth Ellis November 24, 2015 Reply

    Congratulations Wendy. What a fantastic and interesting project. I loved seeing you travel through the ages.

  3. Beth Burkart November 24, 2015 Reply

    This is so interesting! What a great idea, and must have been fun to work on, too!

  4. Kathleen November 24, 2015 Reply

    Kudos, Wendy! I love your photos!… so much creativity!

  5. Pauline Metzgar November 24, 2015 Reply

    Incredible! I loved it…I recognized my grandmother in the 1900-1930’s photos. Funny to think it was a “style” and how different she might look today.

    Thanks for sharing! I wish you much success!

  6. Lisa Bolivar November 24, 2015 Reply

    So darn proud to see your success! Your project is ever so worthy of your effort. Congratulations.

  7. Lena Zentall January 5, 2016 Reply

    Congratulations on your Smithsonian debut — a great accomplishment!! I love your theme of time travel and I especially like your daguerrotype — it’s amazing that someone is still capable of doing one. Good luck with your show!

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