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A Single Moment in Time

by Rebecca M. Alvin

Top Image: Birds by Francis Olschafskie

At first glance, Francis Olschafskie’s photographs appear to contain superimpositions of people and things located in other times and places brought together by the photographer’s craft. But in actuality, these images are straight-up photographs capturing a single moment in time in a single location, with all the complexity and depth that every moment in life has, intrinsically.

“They are about pictures of pictures for me,” he states. “I really like the idea, also, that when people look at my work, they really aren’t sure what they’re looking at, at all… I really like the idea that people can look at the work and be confused.”

These images are ones that invite you to spend time deciphering their construction, which Olschafskie happily does at the Schoolhouse Gallery the week before his work will be on exhibition there. One by one, he goes through his photographs and explains how the now two-dimensional image is actually made up of subjects immediately in front of his camera positioned in front of a window, which yields subjects behind him reflected in that window, as well as subjects through the window itself, giving us multiple planes of activity flattened into the single photographic print. There is no direction of the activity on his part, only waiting, watching, taking many photographs, and knowing when the light, the composition, and the multiple layers have coalesced into just the right mixture for the most provocative image to emerge.

Red Bus, London

“I take a lot of photographs,” he explains. “One of the things I learned in photography school is that film—in those days it was film—is cheap, so take as many pictures as you can.”

Although Olschafskie has been at it for decades and began, like many, with the photochemical processes that gave photography a kind of magical quality, he seems to have no nostalgia for the days of darkroom chemical printing. He has, in fact, fully embraced digital technology, actively participating in these advancements.

“The advancement of technology has allowed people to be freer,” he enthuses. “It allows us to go beyond who we are.”

As a graduate student at the legendary MIT Media Lab, he was exposed to the most advanced minds in computer science, but in a creative environment where, as a fine-art photographer, he could blend art and science to truly innovate. Because it is essentially a technical institution, Olschafskie found himself in engineering and programming classes and not just making art. However, he was given access to state of the art digital imaging equipment at a time when few photographers had such access. Bringing together his years and years of experimentation with chemicals in the darkroom and this new, computer-based imaging technology, Olschafskie’s photography expanded, and he also worked in the tech industry, inventing with colleagues Lightspeed, a computer graphics system around 1990, after leaving MIT. More recently, he created the Read and Note platform, a digital publishing platform.


None of this should seem all that unique, Olschafskie says, reminding that art and science/technology (especially when it comes to photography) have always been closely linked.

“Daguerre was a painter! Who would ever have thought that,” he says, referring to Louis Daguerre, the inventor of the early Daguerrotype photographic process.  He also mentions Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, who was also a mathematician. We can even go further back to the ultimate Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci, who was of course a brilliant artist and also an inventor and scientist.

From the viewer side, there are so many gems to find within these images. The worried backward stare of a woman on a double-decker bus in Red Bus, London or the vacant stare of a ghostly woman in Paris. The spatial layering that Olschafskie finds in his camera lens speaks of multiple meanings, multiple realities existing simultaneously. And although the images, as he says, “existed in the real world, it’s not something that I made up,” and each was taken at a single moment, rather than being comprised of several images from different moments superimposed upon one another, there is an element of time in the meaning of these images. Perhaps that is inherent to all photography because it is an art that freezes time. In any case, the work speaks of our current collective moment in history.

“ [My work] is truly about technology. We are connected to the world in that same way. It’s about what’s in front of me, what’s through, and what’s behind you,” he says.

Francis Olschafskie’s work is included in a group show at the Schoolhouse Gallery, 494 Commercial St., Provincetown, August 9 – 28. There will be an opening reception on Friday, August 9, 6 – 10 p.m. For more information call 508.487.4800 or visit

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Graphic Artist

Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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