For more than 25 years, Catherine Wagner‘s photographs have served to record the world around us in ways that make the ordinary suddenly appear infused with mystery and wonder. In “Through the Lens,” Spark looks in on Wagner’s latest project, “Flux Density: A Narrative of Bubbles,” a large-scale commission for Frisson, a San Francisco restaurant.
Wagner’s past series have captured the world of our lives, from detailed black and white images of microscopic cell structures to our architectural environment. In the late 1990s, Wagner documented the construction of San Francisco’s Moscone Center in stages, from the excavation of the foundation to the cladding of the finished structure. Wagner’s “Home and Other Stories” series from the early 1990s chronicled domestic interiors. Always absent of human figures, the photographs focus instead on the conscious and unconscious details of living spaces that most reveal aspects of those who live within them.
In the last few years, Wagner has turned her lens increasingly toward the natural sciences. “Art & Science: Investigating Matter” brought Wagner into the laboratory to shoot the equipment and materials of scientific investigation. With “Cross Sections,” Wagner used magnetic resonance imaging technology to render materials transparent and reveal the internal structure of the organic world.
For “Flux Density,” Wagner shot a cloud of tiny aqueous bubbles onto a black and white 8-by-10-inch negative, rendering an extreme close-up with a startling degree of detail and precision. Though Wagner usually shoots on film, the negative for “Flux Density” was translated into a large digital file for transfer onto three large Plexiglas sheets. The sheets were then mounted onto a light box, creating a mammoth 6-by-30-foot image that is a stunning meditation on the beauty of everyday things.
Catherine Wagner earned a B.F.A. in 1975 and an M.A. in 1977, both from San Francisco State University. She has shown her work internationally and has held a faculty position in the art department at Mills College since 1979.