Marcia Vaistman brings "Small Acts of Kindness" to Whitespace

Recovery from an accident and old-school cameras inspire artist's new exhibition

Marcia Vaitsman quickly found out about life's unpredictability after an accident forced her to slow down as an artist and as an individual. The accident left her immobile for two months, forcing her to look inwards. "I could not open the hallway door in my building — and being an active person this changed the rhythm and perception of time too," she says. After Vaitsman started walking again, she attended a 10-day silent retreat with a friend. There, she developed the concept for the show, including the video installation, "10 Days of Isolation."

Vaitsman's new exhibition, Small Acts of Kindness, explores her journey through healing and adapting to her new reality. The show features 22 photography works, taken with a Holga medium format film camera, of cities Vaitsman visited as she started to recover. From New York City to São Paulo, Vaitsman saw kindness in others, their compassion serving as her muse.

Vaitsman spoke to Creative Loafing about recovering with friends, family, and strangers, learning to use a Holga camera, and spending 10 days in isolation.

Tell me about your process behind healing and putting your feelings into your work. What was the inspiration behind the show?

There are two interesting aspects of being forced to slow down. The first is that you kind of become socially transparent. Some friends came to my house and helped me; some sent me messages of support. The majority of people I know never even missed meeting me for the two months when I was lying in bed and the other two months of recovering. The second thing is that many people are willing to help — family, friends, and strangers. One friend took me to the swimming pool. The other woke up to take me to the airport at 5 a.m. Others helped me unconditionally. Strangers helped me in many situations in many cities: Charlotte, New York, Dallas, Asheville, Atlanta, and Brazil. As soon as people saw I had a walking-stick people offered to help. Some people have their reasons not to like to be helped. I did like it, I still do, and I am thankful.

Tell me about what techniques you used on your photography work. Did you learn new techniques for this show?

We used a new photographic paper — a pearl one — so there were technical adjustments. All prints you see in the show were photographed with a Holga. The first shot was taken in 2011. It has been a long process to understand the moods and kindness of this plastic camera. However, I photographed with two different Holgas and both gave me similar results. I sent them to be developed in Rochester, N.Y., but it was hard to predict if I would get [an] imprint on the negatives or not — the Holga is quite unpredictable. It was also a long process to understand how to best scan Holga negatives. For the exhibition, I choose a type of image that could create this playful and rather abstract mental map from this large Holga archive.

Why were you attracted to old-school cameras?

I have used several old models of cameras, like the Lomo LC-A, the Nikon F3, Lomo Actionsampler, the Holga, and a Keystone 16-millimeter winding film camera. I am fascinated by "machines of seeing," old or new. Each of the old models carry a piece of the history of technology, and carries with it moods and looks from other times.

If you think about the playfulness of psychogeography ... is there a better camera to photograph fake cities, impossible cities, ghost cities, displaced cultures, environmental dioramas, absurd beaches, abandoned palaces like the Holga? When I was recovering I watched the documentary The Institute by Spencer McCall. There was so much playfulness in so much disorientation that somehow it helped me to set the mood to start traveling again and working again. I am enjoying some playful aspects of my new works. The prints you see at Whitespace show a bit [of] how absurd these contemporary places-spaces are. But the playful part comes from joy and gratitude.

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