Time travel with UCOP analyst Wendy Arbeit
For 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.
Now 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.
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.