a Handful of Dust inspired this year’s Chester Fields theme. Some of the works in the show would make great Chester Fields submissions themselves! Others might make you wonder how a certain image was made, and start thinking about what you might do with the tools at your disposal to create a similar effect. Here are a few highlights from a Handful of Dust.

ppaa-a-ap1Eva Stenram, Per Pulverem Ad Astra (detail), 2007, unique chromogenic prints, courtesy the artist

Translated from Latin, the title of this work is something like “Dust to the Stars”. Eva Stenram asked NASA to send her photographic negatives from their Mars exploration. Once she received these, she left them under her bed, where they collected dust. Then, she scanned them without removing this dust, creating these prints.

Dust is a very domestic thing we find in our houses; but it’s also cosmic. Space is full of dust. Here, Stenram brings together the cosmic and the domestic, and it’s fascinating how well they work together. The dust from under her bed fits in oddly well with the Martian landscape, looking like extraterrestrial light or maybe a kind of unidentified organic matter. Stenram’s images not only make us look closer and consider the process behind her artwork; they also stir our imaginations!


74V01John Divola, Vandalism portfolio (detail), 1974-1975, gelatin silver prints, courtesy of Dr. J. Patrick and Patricia Kennedy

In the 1970s, John Divola broke into abandoned houses in and around Los Angeles. Using the debris he found onsite, as well as some of his own materials, he created surreal graffiti. Then, he photographed his masterpieces, completing the work. It’s hard to say how Divola created any one of these images exactly, though sometimes, it looks as though there are marks right on the lens he’s shooting through. Each picture warps perspective and depth of field in interesting ways.

Divola was just using dust, light, and whatever materials he had on hand. What I find interesting about this work his that it’s clearly a photograph, but is very abstract as well. What resources do you use when making an image, and how might you use them to create something that’s both abstract and photographic at the same time?


Space(small)Scott McFarland, Lens Cleaning Schneider Apo-Symmar 5.6/180MM; James Perse Space Crewneck Jersey T-Shirt, 2017, chromogenic print, studio dust in custom colour frame, courtesy the artist and Monte Clark Gallery

We’re always making sure that the camera lens is perfectly clear of obstructions. But Canadian artist Scott McFarland decided to turn this on its head in his highly ironic Lens Cleaning series. He took a series of self-portraits of himself cleaning a camera lens, but obscured the images with dust at every stage. There was dust in the lens when he took the picture; there was dust on the negative when he printed the photograph; and there’s even dust inside the frame, behind the glass!

A couple of other choices make McFarland’s series stand out. In order to disturb the notion of clear straightforward photography even more, every image is a double-exposure. This means that he shot two images on the same film, which ended up superimposed on one another once the film was developed. He’s also painted each frame to match the colour of the t-shirt he’s wearing in each photo, which makes it a fun series to view all together!


IMG_3898Tereza Zelenkova, Georges Bataille’s Grave, Vézelay, 2012, gelatin silver print, installation view

Tereza Zelenkova’s photograph is visually interesting because it’s disrupted. Look at the left-hand side of the image. What are we looking at? Is Zelenkova shooting from behind a gravestone, looking out at the rest of the cemetery? The shape resembles a gravestone, but the object itself is way too dark. Was the photograph, or the negative, ripped or cut somehow? And if so, what does that represent? Maybe it’s hinting at mortality, or the great unknown after death.

If we look immediately to the right of that dark space, you’ll notice that the photograph is overexposed. Next to that, there seem to be holes or dark spots in the image. Some of this might’ve been accidental, but what’s key is that Zelenkova didn’t choose to reshoot a “perfect” image. Flaws like these can make an image more evocative.


This is only a small selection of the many works in a Handful of Dust. I encourage you to come and see the show; you might be inspired by a different work entirely!