Michael Weil at his “Prinstagrams” show in Cleveland Heights. Photo | Carlo Wolff

Photographer Weil phones in fresh visions

By Carlo Wolff

The south shore of Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana. Photo | Michael Weil

The south shore of Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana. Photo | Michael Weil

More than 100 “printstagrams” pop off the walls at Foothill Galleries, Michael Weil’s showcase in the Cedar-Fairmount neighborhood of Cleveland Heights.

Hung like drying prints, they document the Weil family travels, purveying images as disparate as a friend trumpeting joy from his Cadillac convertible the detail in a Dutch master painting, riotously gory fish innards, kids playing in historic places. The printstagrams sell for $65 each.

There is no apparent rhyme or reason to this show, which is very different from “Rend,” Weil’s 2015 Foothill debut. That honored his son, Josh, who with Josh’s friend Alexander Doody, lost his life in a car accident in May 2015.

While “Printstagrams” speaks to the Weil curiosity, it also expresses the joy Weil, an adjunct professor of art at the Cleveland Institute of Art and a historian of photography, takes in using a ubiquitous and increasingly versatile device: the cellphone.

Armed (or is it pocketed?) with an iPhone 6 and a Galaxy S6, Weil took these pictures all over the world, then printed them on archival paper with enough cotton content to give the curved hangings a kind of bisque-like quality. These prints, in editions of 250, sell for $65 each.

While their capture seems evanescent, the prints feel solid, permanent. They attest to the power and precision of the cameras inside the latest cellphones and to Instagram, the wildly popular mobile phone app that enabled Weil to customize his images, lending some a hint of patina, bordering others, tinting yet more.

Instagram is said to have more than 500 million users a month.

Two boys at El Escorial, Madrid. Photo | Michael Weil

Two boys at El Escorial, Madrid. Photo | Michael Weil

Encouraged by Barbara Tannenbaum, curator of photography at the Cleveland Museum of Art, following his participation in the 2012 CMA exhibit, “DIY: Photography & Books,” Weil began to take more and more cellphone photos, keeping up with technological improvements in cellphone cameras and in the Instagram app.

“The message here is that the cellphone camera is something we have wherever we are,” Weil said. “We have it with us so there are endless image possibilities wherever we are.”

That portability “technically gives us a high-end, really well-performing camera in real time,” said Weil, who attends Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike. “The term, ‘point and shoot,’ existed already, ever since the Brownie camera. But the cellphone has made it pocket-size and totally portable. You don’t have to have a strap around your neck or a tripod with you.”

While the cellphone doesn’t replace a high-end camera, “what I’ve been enamored of is the way Instagram allows us this portable darkroom through which we can process images on the go.”

People share pictures all the time through social media, and cameras have become communications devices, Weil said. Where kids used to write voluminous letters from camp and drop a picture or two into the envelope, it’s the reverse today, as words increasingly take a back seat to images.

He said he agrees with a classic photographer like Alfred Stieglitz, who didn’t believe the photograph was a complete work of art until printed, matted and framed. At the same time, he considers these “printstagrams” art.

“I really want this to be something that kids come to, young adults, people who are using this Instagram program,” said Weil of his show, adding he may give classes on the app. “As a photographer and artist and photo historian, to me, always the print is paramount. It is so great to be able to share images digitally; I love that, I love I can see what my son is up to, or that my mother can send me a picture of her with her dog. But that is not an art form, but a form of communications. I still want to see the print. This show has given me the opportunity to turn the Instagram app into fine art.”

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Dec. 20, 2016.

Lead image: Michael Weil at his “Prinstagrams” show in Cleveland Heights.  Photo | Carlo Wolff