For Carol Golemboski, antique objects hold a certain mystique, as they have a secret history only known to those who once possessed them.
Each history is a titillating tale that Golemboski tries to capture in her photographs. She scopes out estate sales, searching for intriguing artifacts to take to abandoned houses, where she photographs them in an attempt to capture the thin line between reality and the spiritual.
Some years ago while working on an unrelated photo manipulation project, she attended an estate sale for a former magician and discovered boxes upon boxes of old magic trick kits. She found inspiration for a brand new project and bought the lot, eventually turning it into a series titled That Old Black and White Magic, which she debuted in 2015. On June 6, she’ll premiere the newly updated series at The Light Factory.
That series, titled Magic Show: Photographs by Carol Golemboski, will show through Aug. 2 and is an exploration of the connection between the work of magicians on stage and the magic that occurs in a dark room when developing photographs.
“It made me start thinking about how so many people describe their first experience with photography — if they learned traditional analog photography in a dark room — that their first experience seeing a print come up in the developer is like magic,” said Golemboski.
The photographer takes that magic one step further, manipulating the photos by hand to create surreal and haunting images centered around traditional magic tricks. Though she scans the prints to keep a digital copy, there is no digital manipulation in her photos, as she prefers the dark room over a computer screen.
“I really love the experience of making a print in the dark room — the hands-on quality of it, the fact that it’s physical, that the film is physical. I don’t really like sitting at a computer. I want to use technology as little as possible,” said Golemboski, a photography professor at University of Colorado at Denver. “The idea of sitting at a computer, there’s already too much of it in my life that the idea of doing it for my work is so unappealing to me.”
Her series of black-and-white magic photos is punctuated with illustrated diagrams depicting hands pulling tied handkerchiefs out of a dummy’s mouth or demonstrating where a trap door lies for a disappearing act, for example. These illustrations and other drawings are created through chemical manipulation in the dark room.
Through experimentation, Golemboski found that she could use materials like charcoal pencils to draw pictures that block out light during development or apply photography chemicals to interfere with an image’s development, changing the final product.
“I created this process for myself … where I draw on a clear material like acetate or Mylar or tracing paper, then I print my negative through it,” she elaborated further.
The end result is a series of creepy black-and-white photos that feel like they belong in a haunted museum of old and abandoned carnival sideshow mishaps. It’s an unnerving aesthetic that she’s explored throughout her body of work since she was a child.
Before falling in love with photography, Golemboski thought she was going to be a writer. Reading mystery and suspense novels is still a favorite pastime and when she was younger, she wrote creepy — but half-fledged — stories. When she enrolled in a photography class in college, she discovered a different passion that stems from the same creative places in her mind.
It wasn’t until later that she saw the connection between the stories she wrote as a child and her current work.
“I first started making that connection when I was in graduate school and I had to write a thesis about the work that I was creating, and it wasn’t until I really had to start analyzing it and writing down what I was doing that it dawned on me that it was basically the same thing but in another format,” Golemboski said. “You can see the roots of the interest in the subject matter were always there.”
Her Charlotte exhibit marks the first time a new set of photos in the series will be shown. After finding a set of expired photographic paper at yet another estate sale, she brought the paper back to her dark room. As she expected, all the expired paper developed black. Despite this, she took to experimenting again and found a way to turn the defunct paper into magicians’ trick playing cards.
“They look like playing cards, part of the magic trick is that it’s not a playing card at all,” Golemboski stated. “It’s a photograph that’s on paper that’s from the same time period as a lot of the objects that I was photographing, and it’s sort of a magic trick to pull any sort of imagery out of it.”
Through her own experimentation and exploration, Golemboski has become a magician in her own right.