Optics Division at PhotoLA 2017

Metabolic Studio’s Optics Division is showing four works in the PhotoLA 2017 installation Handmade! Perspectives on Art and Craft in the Digital Era, January 12th–15th. Alongside the other participating artists Luther Gerlach and Jacqueline Woods, the Optics Division’s Lauren Bon, Richard Nielsen and Tristan Duke, will be in conversation at PhotoLA on Saturday January 14th, 11:30–1:00, with curators Suzanne Isken and Weston Naef.

The unique photogram Hands (2013) and the large-scale gelatin-silver prints Dead Cottonwoods Along the Owens River (2016), and Dead Cottonwood by Paiute-Shoshone Reservation (2015) are important pieces within the body of work that has been created by the Optics Division over its five-year lifespan so far. All three textural and layered prints were made in and from the bio- and geo-chemical properties of the Owens Valley lakebed in which these prints have been developed and fixed. The performative work Hands traces the hands of the Optics Division as they work, impressing photographic paper into the muddy pools populated by extremophile bacteria, rich with sodium thiosulphate and the active chemicals for analog photographic printing. Dead Cottonwoods Along the Owens River (2016), and Dead Cottonwood by Paiute-Shoshone Reservation (2015) are made with their Liminal Camera, as is Optics Division on Owens Lakebed (2016), a self-portrait made on Owens Dry Lake, which depicts the team on site with the buried photographic prints shown here. The size of the photographs reference the size of a standard shipping container, which has been repurposed to form the body of the Liminal Camera. Being the standard unit of global trade enables the Liminal Camera to traverse the Continent by truck, barge, or train.

The roots of the Optics Division arc back to the grand adventures of early photographers drawn to the majesty of the Intermountain West. The symbolic and actual meaning of silver and water as the building blocks of photography and film and the economic basis for the city of Los Angeles for over a century are enacted and given perspective in the practices of the Optics Division. Since its inception, the Optics Division has made negative film, using silver extracted from the Cerro Gordo mines in the Inyo Range, mapping the silver’s historical journey from the once-thriving ports of Swansea and Keeler in the Owens Valley, to Rochester, NY and the Eastman Kodak Co., and its return as film to California to service the burgeoning movie industry.   Furthermore, the lakebed immersion etches the photographic prints with biodynamic traces of the physical properties of the landscape, which is also the subject of the Metabolic Studio’s AGH20 works (2008–).  

In conjunction with the installation and program Handmade! The Optics Division will have their truck-based Liminal Camera parked outside the front entrance to PhotoLA at 1933 Broadway. This converted shipping container—as found encrusting the shore of Long Beach, where water that has been imported from the Sierra, used in Los Angeles, and then cleansed, enters the Ocean—will be open for you to step inside and experience. The Optics Division uses the Liminal Camera not just to take photographs but in the spirit of an old-fashioned travelling technology show, and as a device of wonder.  Lauren Bon, Richard Nielsen and Tristan Duke invite the public to step inside the giant camera for guided tours and to experience the world literally upside down, the way that our eyes see it before the brain turns the image around. Join us at PhotoLA 2017, 11:00 to 5:00 on Friday and Saturday, January 14th–15th





  • On Saturday April 22, 2017 the Los Angeles State Historic Park reopened after being closed for three years—The Optics Divison Team of the Metabolic Studio documented this occassion and made contermporary images with historic transparencies from the body of work Not A Cornfield. Please check back here in the coming weeks to learn when the prints will be on display at the Metabolic Studio.


  • Two Optics Division prints [Hoosick: The Beyone Place 1 and Hoosick: The Beyond Place 2] have been commissioned by MASS MoCA and will be unveiled at their newly renovated building opening May 28, 2017. These images will be on view until 2019. For more information, click here

  • Register Now for the 2017 Art + Environment Conference Thursday, October 19 through Saturday, October 21, 2017. Join Lauren and other artists at the symposium as they discuss the Greater West. 

  • The Woman's Building has posted their list of fellows and events for the Animating the Archive fellowship which is the second phase of the Special Projects in Archiving the Woman's Building. Check the link out here.

  • Lauren will be participating in Contemporary Art and Sustainable Development Workshop on May 19 in Washington DC as a part of the Mary Miss and CALL/City a Living Laboratory. For more information to register please click here.

  • Reimagine Everything Print workshop Thursday nights from 5-9 pm (until further notice) for anyone who would like to come silkscreen a shirt or paint a poster or protest image. Please RSVP to info@metabolicstudio.org and let us know which Thursday you would like to come to. Our kitchen will be open for potluck sharing and live music will be played by the Metabolic Studio Sonic Division. Suggested donations appreciated in the form of used clothing for people to print on—and or some food and drink to share with whomever shows up to print that night.

  • Sonic Division weekly public listening at Metabolic Studio Thursday evenings from 6-9 pm. 
    Our kitchen will be open for potluck sharing and suggested donations appreciated in the form of food and drink to share.

  • Friday Happy Hours at the Gertrude Stein Salon—now open for visitors on Main Street in Lone Pine on Fridays with tea from 6:00-8:00 pm. The Salon is open for groups, meetings, visits by appointment by calling 800-571-0745.

  • For a limited time, watch the One Hundred Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct (Artist Cut, 2015) at this link.
    Review our News Archive to see where this film has screened in the last year as well as the awards it has received.


  • View the Optics Division Collection Here.