Vaughn Wascovich: Bridging Cleveland

January 30th, 2013 Posted in Art, Galleries/Museums/Exhibits, Photography

Sounds pretty straightforward, but with Vaughn Wascovich, what you see may not necessarily be what you get. Yes, he is a noted photographer, but the impact of his art results from breaking the rules or, as he describes it, “controlled chaos,” rather than doing things strictly by the book.

Vaughn Wascovich with his hand-created pin-hole camera

The Youngstown area native has returned to Cleveland in a big way- opening not one, but two galleries in the space of a few weeks. On January 11, 2013, Wascovich opened the Cleveland Print Room‘ Gallery with his Welcome to Hard Times photos of the seemingly stark northeast Texas landscape. Using his large format pin-hole cameras, he maneuvers the images in the darkroom to produce his signature spots and specks that add their own remarks to the scenes at hand.

 On February 1, 2013, Wascovich’s works will open the Transformer Station (the new museum in town) with Bridging Cleveland, an expressionistic display of Cleveland’s bridges at the request of Fred and Laura Bidwell, the founders of the Transformer Station located in Ohio City. The Bidwells have partnered with the Cleveland Museum of Art in an unusual arrangement: the Bidwells will curate and exhibit works of art from their own photographic art collection for six months of the year and the Cleveland Museum of Art will offer exhibitions of contemporary art for the remaining six months. 

We recently spoke with Vaughn as he divulged his secrets:

The pinhole camera in place, ready to shoot.

-For those of us who are not photography literate, can you tell us what you shoot with? What do you do during the developing and printing stages?

I shoot with a box with a small hole in it. Actually, it’s fourteen boxes with holes in them. I use traditional wet-darkroom paper as my negative, one negative to a camera. The negatives are 8×20”, and fit in the box on a curve so that the hole is sort of in the center of a circle. The cameras vary some so I can place the horizon in different places on the negative. My exposure on a sunny day is about four minutes, give or take… I can only estimate my composition. Once the image is exposed, I go to the darkroom and process it.  What I try to do with my work is find the small cracks in the rules… so in the darkroom I try and do everything wrong.

 -Why do you not include people in your photos? Might you change your mind in the future?

I’ve always had a hard time photographing people, and rarely do, even with my digital cameras. I like to imply people in my photographs, but not just one, not a specific person, but rather people. When I photograph these bridges, I think of the history of people involved in them, the people that made them, that used them and traveled over them and what their lives might have been like. To imagine Cleveland when it was dark with smoke from the mills, or when on a sunny Saturday, people would take the trolley to see the Indians play.

-What is pinhole photography and how do you use it in your work?

I like it because much of the process is out of my control. Unlike digital, where you see what you get right away, with pinhole it’s a mystery, and by processing the way I do, the composition isn’t entirely resolved until I’ve finished processing the negative. I’m looking for that controlled chaos- knowing and understanding the process, but allowing plenty of room for accident and serendipity.

Site selection in progress

-Are there any color photos or just black and white in “Bridging Cleveland”?

 It’s all b&w, though I have started working on a color separation camera, one that will give me three different b&w negatives, and produce a color image.

I have several projects in various stages. I’m not finished shooting pinholes in East Texas and Louisiana. I recently drove through the Mississippi Delta and fell in love with that landscape, and I’m exploring new-to-me photographic processes; color separation pinhole, magnifying glass cameras, tintype.

-What is your next project focus? Do you choose the subjects or do they choose you?

I’m very interested in the larger environmental issues, hopefully this winter I’ll be back in the coalfields of Kentucky and West Virginia. And where I live, I’m finding myself surrounded by the tar sands pipeline. I’m not really sure what or how to address that one yet, but it sort of comes knocking at my door.


“Bridging Cleveland” will be on display at the new Transformer Station from February 1 through May 4, 2013.

For more information about the Transformer Station and its creation,view our interview with Fred Bidwell in July, 2012 as its construction began in earnest. 

Transformer Station final rendering



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