Warwick art teacher exhibits at North Museum

By on May 29, 2019

Describing Warwick High School’s art teacher Bill Cifuni as a photographer is not completely accurate. The end result of his work is a photographic print, but the word photographer doesn’t take into account the steps it takes for Cifuni to get to the final image. That’s what separates him from most photographer colleagues.

Cifuni is a fine artist who, in his own words, “makes artwork based on lens based images,” using photographic equipment as the first step in the process. His work may entail five, six, seven or more steps between the first click of the shutter and the finished print. Some steps, even, are trial and error, but all designed to achieve the goal that has come from his creative vision for the project. It’s more than an interesting story.

Artist Bill Cifuni shows Grace Graver, 4, coloring pages from his exhibit at the North Museum. Grace’s mother, Dani, a Lititz native, was one of Cifuni’s students at Warwick High School more than a decade ago. Photos by Art Petrosemolo.

Foam cup

Seed Pod number 1

Plastic

Leaf Number Four

Cifuni’s current exhibit focuses on man-made and natural objects photographed in a studio setting and subjected to extensive post-production work. The exhibit is hanging in Franklin & Marshall’s North Museum of Nature and Science through August. The opening reception will be June 7.

“I designed it with an educational focus,” Cifuni says, “to get youngsters questioning, with their parents, what I photographed and how the images call attention to global issues of ecological issues, including climate change, recycling and reuse.”

Cifuni even printed outline versions of his images for children to color.

Cifuni is a candidate for an artist’s residency at the museum for the coming year that would give him an opportunity to delve further into educational artistic endeavors for children.

The artist, 51, is a Leola native and studied graphic design and photography at the Maryland Art Institute (College of Art) in Baltimore and earned a MFA at the Maine College of Art in Portland.

He has taught drawing, sculpture and painting at Warwick High School for the past 19 years.

Cifuni was introduced to photography at age 10 by his older brother.

“Having the ability to stop time and document a moment or an object was amazing to me,” Cifuni says.

He got serious about creating photographic images in the 1980s while in college. A craftsman, he learned to process his own film and spent many hours in the darkroom perfecting his developing skills. Today, just about all post exposure photographic work is done on computers with high-powered software including Adobe PhotoShop and Lightroom.

“Yes, I do post-production on the computer,” says Cifuni, “but, at times, I don’t feel I can be quite as creative there as I could in a traditional darkroom setting.”

Cifuni owns a number of cameras, from the simple pinhole variety that expose a negative to classic sheet film 4” x 5” press cameras, and double-lens reflex 120mm and 35mm film models, to modern full frame digital single lens reflex cameras.

“I don’t get caught up in the equipment,” Cifuni reminded his interviewer. “It is just a means to get the first image before it goes through steps to turn it into a piece of art.”

Cifuni uses his cell phone camera as a sketchbook. He takes a number of phone images of his subject — whether it be a natural object, man-made creations, landscape or individuals — to check on lighting, positioning and angle, before using a digital camera for the final images.

For his current exhibit, Cifuni identified a number of natural and man-made objects to help tell the story of ecological issues. He set up a tabletop studio box using primarily natural light to photograph the inanimate items. Claiming not to be a high-tech photographer, Cifuni, none-the-less, decided on several steps to achieve his finished image.

“During my early research for this exhibit, I looked at only natural objects including a leaf, a seedpod, and twigs,” he said. “The funny thing was that as a collector, I began to notice how much trash was lying around. It was unavoidable and I was becoming more aware of the sheer volume of it. So I began to collect and photograph trash. I looked at these items objectively and aesthetically, seeing past their functionality and considering why or how they ended up here.”

This new body of work is a bit of a departure from Cifuni’s past projects that deal with fictional narratives or documenting micro histories and usually incorporating some kind of alternative photographic process. The research has opened his eyes about what to do with his own trash and how small changes help the planet by recycling, reusing, and reducing your footprint.

“I photographed the objects at a number of different settings and lighting situations,” Cifuni explains, “and then had them all turned into transparencies (that teachers used for years to display information on a screen) commercially at places like Staples.”

He then projected the images onto a white wall using several transparency projectors, each with different bulbs that burned with bright white or soft white tints.

When Bill was satisfied he had projected the images in the right brightness, contrast and sharpness, he locked in the image electronically with exposures from digital SLR camera and then had it printed professionally. All the North Museum images are 16” x 20” in size, printed on 20” x 24”, and displayed without mattes by posting them up with upholstery nails.
Examples of the subjects for the exhibit included both natural items (seed pods, leaves and twigs), and man-made items that could be recycled or reused (clothespins) and items that were trash (plastic, foam cups).
Cifuni’s exhibit us untitled and hangs on the second floor of the museum. A traditional artist and a little old school, Cifuni, to date, does not have a website or use social media to share his work.
For more information on Cifuni’s, current exhibit, visit the North Museum website: northmuseum.org.

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net. 

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