Tag Archives: blackandwhite

Seeing Deeply – A Retrospective by Dawoud Bey

The Woman in the Light, Harlem, New York City, 1980. © Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply offers a forty-year retrospective of the celebrated photographer’s work, from his early street photography in Harlem to his current images of Harlem gentrification. Photographs from all of Bey’s major projects are presented in chronological sequence, allowing viewers to see how the collective body of portraits and recent landscapes create an unparalleled historical representation of various communities in the United States. Prodigious is an apt descriptor for ‘Seeing Deeply’.

After taking in the span of images within the book, an analogy came to mind. You can draw a line from the beginning of his work and see it all the way through to his current projects. Like a carpenter lifting a board to look down the length of its edge, one can see straight from one end to the other and know that it is true. The sturdy grain of the wood may flow slightly from side to side, but  its core is unwavering and reliable.

Throughout his career, Bey made images in communities he felt had been under-represented by other photographers. He shot photos in Harlem, Birmingham, Syracuse, Brooklyn, Boston, Chicago, and many other cities. Whether the work was made in small or medium format cameras, black & white or color, and even large format Polaroid portraits, the feel of Bey’s work gives a nod to some of his influencers; photographers such as as Roy DeCarava, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, and James Van Der Zee.

Bey’s photo of a young woman waiting for a bus in Syracuse in 1985 could have easily been taken in 1965. The timeless quality of this portrait demonstrates sensitivity to the person, and showing them in a certain state of mind, rather than a time and place, and allows the viewer to make an intimate connection. The way she regards the camera/viewer, leaning against a counter in a bus terminal directly under a sign telling patrons to wait outside for busses, evokes a feeling of dignified protest, or respectful righteousness.

The list of Dawoud Bey’s accomplishments, awards, grants, and museums that collect his work is staggering. Bey was also a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”, yet when I viewed a TEDx talk he gave in 2015 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, I was struck by his humility and sense of inspiration and drive to explore ideas and themes through his genuine love for the medium of photography.

Bey was drawn to visit the Met in 1969 by news of demonstrations by people who were called to action by the idea of who was being allowed to author the experience of the African-American community. He viewed the exhibition on the day he went to the museum, and decided to start making photographs in his own community of Harlem. His photographs from Harlem over a five year span resulted in an exhibition in 1975. The project was an effort to convey the humanity of the men, women and children in that community. In Bey’s words, many African-American communities up until that time had been predominantly been shown through a lens of pathology. His sense of duty to depict African-Americans and their lives has been an underlying theme throughout his career. I was drawn to a certain quote by Hilton Als in Sarah Lewis’ introduction to ‘Seeing Deeply’. Als comments that Bey creates “works of art made out of real lives as opposed to real lives being used to reflect the artist’s idea of it.” Amen.

A Young Woman Waiting for the Bus, Syracuse, 1985. © Dawoud Bey
Alva, New York, NY, 1992. © Dawoud Bey
Mark and Eric, Chicago, IL, 1994. © Dawoud Bey
Four Children at Lenox Avenue, Harlem, New York City, 1977. © Dawoud Bey
Mary Parker and Caela Cowan, Birmingham, AL, 2012. © Dawoud Bey
Men From the 369th Regiment Marching Band, Harlem, New York City, 1977. © Dawoud Bey
Three Men and the Lenox Lounge, Harlem, New York City, 2014. © Dawoud Bey
A Girl with a Knife Nosepin, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1990. © Dawoud Bey
A Boy in Front of Loew’s 125th Street Movie Theater, Harlem, NY, 1976. © Dawoud Bey

Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply by Dawoud Bey
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: University of Texas Press; First Edition
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9781477317198


Dawoud Bey’s work is held by major collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. In addition to the MacArthur fellowship, Bey’s honors include the United States Artists Guthman Fellowship, 2015; the Guggenheim Fellowship in Photography, 2002; and the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 1991. He is Professor of Art and a former Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago.

To view more images or purchase ‘Seeing Deeply’ by Dawoud Bey, please visit the University of Texas Press website. All images represented are included with recognition to Dawoud Bey/University of Texas Press.

{First published in F-Stop Magazine in January 2019}

A Process of Healing – Interview with photographer Tarah Sloan

I came across a series of images by Tarah Sloan when reviewing work in the F-Stop Magazine exhibition, Family, earlier this year. The exhibition took place at a time when Sloan was not able to give her input for an interview, but I had the chance to revisit her work; and I am glad for the opportunity. In our interview, she revealed the back-story for her series of images dealing with her mother, cancer, and loss. By dealing with her Mother’s life after the loss of family members, one could presume this work is catharsis for her as well.

TarahSloan-2- New Day
New Day

Cary Benbow (CB): Why do you photograph? Why did you become a photographer?

Tarah Sloan (TS): I photograph because it is a way of expression and a form of storytelling, for myself and the viewer. The environment I am surrounded by typically compels me to create images. I started photographing at a young age, so over time my skills developed and my love never wavered. After graduating from high school, I knew I wanted to attend an art college to receive my BFA in photography, and that’s exactly what I did.

CB: Your images in this series definitely come across as storytelling. Can you please explain the idea behind your series?

TS: These images are unlike any other project I have created before. My concept behind this photo series is the emotional plunge of grief a person will face in their lifetime. This project is significantly different because it is personal to my family and me, documenting my mother as the subject. I also normally would not have one person as my main focus through a whole body of work. Many of my ideas for my personal work come from observing the behaviors of others in my environment; such as, this work of my mother.

TarahSloan-5 Staying in Bed
Staying in Bed

CB: In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?

TS: A good photograph should pull you in and make you think, feel, react or respond in some way. Photography, after all, is art.

TarahSloan-11 Classroom
Classroom

CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?

TS: That’s a hard question for me, because I can be a little too critical of my own work. I want the viewer to gain some sort of emotional connection from the image. Whether that’s from wonder, amazement, sadness, or joy. Within this series of photographs, I documented my mother.

“I started documenting my mother a few months after my brother Daron passed away in July of 2015.
 I watched her daily struggle with grief after the loss of her husband, sister, and her only son – each who had suffered with cancer; all within 5 years.
I watched her put on the daily brave face and try to continue with life as usual.
I watched as the feelings of depression kept her in its grip.
After many lonely hours, days, and nights, I began to see her gaining strength as she finds new life in the comfort of her garden and the surroundings of her music and art students.”
TarahSloan-8 Yard Work
Yard Work

CB: What/who are your photography inspirations – and why?

TS: Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Sally Mann, Diane Arbus, Uta Barth, and Shelby Lee Adams- to name a few from a broad range of individually talented and inspirational photographers. There are many people who I draw inspiration from, including my past professors and colleagues. Why are these people my inspirations? The majority of their photographs are captivating and striking on a number of photographic levels. I think it would be hard for someone to not find inspiration in some way.

 

tarah_sloan19tarah_sloan12tarah_sloan10tarah_sloan3tarah_sloan2

CB: What work are you currently working on? Any new projects?

TS: This past summer my mom and I spent 40 days straight on the road, traveling a full circle around the US to visit different grad schools I have looked into. From visiting family in West Virginia, we journeyed upwards to the first art school in Chicago, across to the University of Oregon, down to San Francisco Art Institute, across to the University of New Mexico, then back across to Georgia. Of course, we stopped at as many National Parks as we could along the way, including Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It was an amazing, exhausting, and eye-opening experience to see the grand, ever changing landscapes of the United States- totally worth it! As a (mostly) landscape photographer, I was in heaven the majority of the trip.  I’m pretty excited to see where my future leads me.


See more of Tarah Sloan’s images at her website: www.tarahsloanphotography.com

Interview with photographer Marc Sirinsky

Memories are not the key to the past, but rather, to understanding our future.

StonePines
Stone Pines © Marc Sirinsky

It is a common human trait to construct our own personal histories based on our own story, our own experiences, and this that actually makes us all connected in the same way. Through his own life and experiences, Marc Sirinsky’s work connects to us all in one manner or another, by reaching out to share his own world, and ours.

Sirinsky has been following the same approach for the past couple decades. Whether low-tech or high-tech, Sirinsky’s artist statement addresses his approach directly: “As human beings, we view the world through a haze of our emotions. Though we often use our intellect as a counter balance, we always come back to that emotional home. Often both beautiful and uneasy, our memories are a construction based on our own uniquely personal histories.”

For some photographers, there is a distinct look to their work. There are the people who learned and formed their style before the internet took hold of our collective mind’s eye; and there are those who have been fully digital since picking up a camera and starting to express themselves. For a special group of artists, they straddle the line between the fully analogue world of film-based cameras and darkroom printing, and the world of digital captures and Lightroom or Photoshop adjustments before posting or printing. The work of Marc Sirinsky has a little of both – while fully fluent in the world of manual cameras and wet darkroom processes, Sirinsky has not been shy to meld silver with pixels. His work includes images made with iPhones or plastic film cameras; scanning film and printing onto papers more commonly used by photographers used to working with Epson ink jet versus Ilford Pearl Matte. But one of the common threads and strengths to his work, looking beyond technique and tools, is the ability to mix nostalgia and beauty with a dash of uneasiness and/or tension from his own personal perspective.

Lone
Lone © Marc Sirinsky

Q&A

Cary Benbow (CB): How did you start into photography, what is your background?

Marc Sirinsky (MS): I’m one of those people that knew as soon as they picked up a camera that they wanted to be a photographer.  My parents bought me my first camera when I was 6 or 7…it was one of those 110 film cameras – probably a Vivitar 602 or something.  I remember my dad watching me use it and saying “Did you see how steady his hands were?  Did you see that???!!!” Of course, my dad was also into photography and had his B.A. and M.A. in film studies, so I think he was projecting a bit. But, what really got me started was my aunt’s Nikon FE2 that I picked up a year or two later.  She let me hold it at the zoo and photograph with it and then I wouldn’t give it back. That was truly the most singular moment that put me where I am now.

I then photographed steadily from the end of grade school up through middle school and finally got into the darkroom in high school, where I proceeded to spend as much time as I possibly could over the next 4 years. I actually managed to structure a semester where I had 4 photo classes out of a 9 period day. Not sure how that happened – I think it was my regular photography class, a study hall that I used for darkroom time, an independent study and a gym pass during a swimming unit because I had a chlorine allergy.  I became obsessed and it got to the point where they started creating photo classes for me.

ApolloMission
Apollo Mission © Marc Sirinsky

From there, I went to art school at the University of Michigan School of Art and Design where I had to spend my first full year pretending to care about drawing. I already knew I was terrible, or at least thought I was because I had been hearing that my entire life, and now I was stuck in a class with a bunch of drawing majors whose work was used to set the grading curve. I didn’t pick up a camera or get a whiff of a darkroom until my sophomore year and it nearly killed me.  But once I got there, the same cycle repeated itself – I tore through all the classes the school had to offer and soon enough, I was back doing larger projects, independent studies and testing the school faculty on what they could handle.

I have no regrets about my education, but it was extremely expensive and I got literally zero career counseling. It was either become a fine artist and starve, or become a commercial photographer and also probably starve. I did some commercial photography interning during summer breaks and then freelanced for a year after I graduated.  But, I soon realized that I was coming home every day not wanting to create anything.  I then happened to see a job posting in the newspaper (yep, not much internet to speak of then) for a photo editor and someone was willing to take a chance on me. I got some gallery representation soon after for my fine art and from there, I never looked back and have had dual careers in publishing and fine art for almost two decades.

SunsetNo1
Sunset No. 1 © Marc Sirinsky

CB: What compels you to make the images you create?

MS: In all the years I’ve been photographing and all the interviews I’ve done, I’ve never been asked that. I think for most artists, that question is difficult to answer because what motivates someone to self-expression can be very complex. I will say that for me, it’s a need because after all this time, it’s how I see the world. I see light, shadow, color and texture all the time…perhaps more than most, and I can take those things and create work that expresses me as an individual…my experiences, my struggles and feelings, but hopefully also speak to someone else’s as well.

There’s another piece to this though, and it relates back to my drawing skills.  I’ve recently learned (and I mean within the past couple of months) that I’m much better at drawing than I thought, and have my own viable style that I’m quite proud of. But, individual style isn’t something that is taught in that medium…at least not when I was growing up.  You drew what was in front of you and you were either good at it or you sucked at it. I fell squarely in the latter category – at least in so far as my teachers and later my professors were concerned. What attracted me to photography was that it was perhaps the most direct artistic expression available without the nuisance of relying on my hands to translate that vision. I’m sure a lot of photographers won’t admit it, but I know others who came to photography under similar circumstances and it’s an element that shouldn’t be overlooked.  

CB: Please explain the idea behind your portfolios on your website, and what other work are you currently creating?

MS: The work that I’m most closely identified with is a series I’ve been working on for close to 10 years. On my website, it’s listed simply as “Mixed,” but the work incorporates film, digital and printmaking. It’s a very labor-intensive process and as a result, I sometimes like to take a break from it, which is where my other projects come into play.

Summons
Summons © Marc Sirinsky

Another series I’ve been working on for many years involves shooting film through a Bakelite camera from the 1930’s. It’s a camera that originally took 127 mm film, but I’ve rigged it to take 35 mm and lots of happy accidents occur as a result. I’ve also been working on a group of images that depict vintage toys as objects of play vs. the “real” thing they were made to represent. Of course, there’s also a portfolio of iPhoneography, and I’ve just recently begun to riff off of that by starting a series utilizing a microscope with an iPhone hook-up. But, across all of my projects, I find myself working with the same themes.

Crash
Crash © Marc Sirinsky

CB: Much of your work focuses on memories, and/or family — what else would you say are your main themes (either within or across various projects of yours)?  

MS: Though the themes of my work have remained relatively constant throughout much of my career, the way I approach those themes have definitely changed. I don’t address family issues as directly in my work as I did when I was first starting out. I had a very difficult upbringing and my family dynamic was complicated, to say the least. But, I had a wonderful professor in art school who helped me to dig deep and channel those personal experiences into my work.  I was one of the few folks at the school that came in with the technical piece somewhat well in-hand because of how long I’d been photographing, but the issues and themes in my work were where I needed the most help. Though it took a little bit of an emotional toll, those deep-seeded issues were very accessible and easiest to deal with in a very up front, in your face type of approach.  Lots of art students get their sea legs doing political work and I was no different – I just used my own family as a launching point.  But as my career has progressed, I’ve allowed those experiences to settle in a bit and they now come out in much more subtle ways. But, memory and the idea of how human beings recall has always been something that I’ve found captivating.  

Passer-by
Passer-by © Marc Sirinsky

Childhood, of course, factors into that in a pretty direct way and some of my work certainly tackles that head on. Someone also told me once that loneliness and a degree of melancholy permeates much of my work and I think there could be something to that as well.  

CB: Your work is created from both analog and digital processes – how do you feel about working in this way?

MS: I’ll discuss this in the context of my “Mixed” series because it is probably the best way to delve into your question. Honestly, that series is a total pain in the ass, but I love it. Back in the mid 2000’s when I started that body of work, I knew what I was looking for but was having a hard time achieving it technically.  And after experimenting with about 10-15 different processes, I finally arrived at what I had seen in my head. The problem was that it involved so many steps and if you take one of those steps away, the whole process breaks down. The film runs through a very old camera that can be quite unpredictable, the digital element can be very tricky to execute and the printmaking portion of the process is all manual, without the benefit of a press…and is extremely temperamental. That’s also part of why each print is done in editions of 10 or less (sometimes a lot less), and within that edition, each print is unique due to the chemical process at play. But, they look great and even though they wipe me out, I wouldn’t change a thing. They are true labors of love.

Invite
Invite © Marc Sirinsky

CB: What or who are your photography inspirations?

MS: Inspirations are hard a thing because I think these also can evolve over time. Many of the artists who inspire me most aren’t actually photographers – probably because I’ve spent so long working with alternative processes that I often look beyond the photography world for inspiration.  One photographer who sticks out in my mind though is Holly Roberts. In my view, she is one of the greatest photo artists of my lifetime.  She was doing oil painting on photography 20 years before anyone else, and her work still stands up as some of the most interesting, textural, narrative work that I’ve ever seen.   I’ve also always found the work of Timothy O’Sullivan absolutely fascinating. Without him, landscape photography as we know it would look very, very different.  Another artist who inspired me very recently was a Japanese artist named Ko Ushijima.  I discovered his work on Instagram of all places, and he was the one who inspired me to do my first ever series of line drawings a month or so ago.  I never knew I had it in me and after seeing his work, I immediately went into my studio and cranked out a whole series.  I’d never felt anything quite like it and I have this amazing artist to thank for it.  Needless to say, I bought one of his pieces immediately thereafter.  

Space Between
Space Between © Marc Sirinsky

CB: You’ve been represented in galleries in both Chicago and the Washington DC area – what are the important similarities or differences?

MS: The gallery experiences I’ve had have been so different from one another, and the industry itself has changed so much since the beginning of my career.  The first gallery that represented my work was a place called Blue Fox in Chicago’s Roscoe Village neighborhood.  I was a wide-eyed kid in my 20’s and fell into a space with a small group of very talented artists and an absolutely outstanding gallery director named Ara Lucia. Some other wonderful galleries in Chicago represented me after that space closed, but I found myself continually longing for the individual attention I got from Ara and the camaraderie with the other artists she represented.  I moved from Chicago to northeast Pennsylvania in 2005 and had some great gallery experiences there as well, but I think part of my problem is that I tend to look to the past too much – it’s obviously a crucial part of my work and I sometimes get hung up on it.  When I got to DC, it took me a couple of years to get going in the gallery scene again for various reasons and finding a space that was the right fit for me proved challenging.  But it finally happened when I landed at Gallery Plan B…an absolutely outstanding space in the recently developed 14th Street neighborhood.  They actually closed last year and I’ll be honest that it was a major blow – it can take a long time for an artist to find a “home” that is truly the right fit.  But, in order to remain a working artist, you need to be persistent and unfortunately, starting over in this economy occurs all too frequently.

Cafe Solheimajokull, Iceland
Café Sólheimajökull, Iceland © Marc Sirinsky

Chicago and DC both have viable art scenes in a true urban setting, but I feel like the scene in DC is still up and coming to a certain degree.  There are certainly established gallery districts in DC, but they aren’t of the same size and scope as Chicago’s West Loop or River North neighborhoods for example.  You also see galleries in Chicago popping up in other neighborhoods that aren’t even close to gentrifying yet, and I don’t see that as much in DC, which is unfortunate.   But, there are plenty of outstanding artists across all disciplines in both cities and quality galleries to visit.

CB: As an artist represented by a gallery, have you found it important to create work with a specific audience in mind? And – what type of expectations are placed on an artist by a gallery?

MS: I’ve been very fortunate during my career in that no gallery director has ever told me what kind of work to make. I will say that the pressure to produce is something that most galleries have in common.  They want to see a steady stream of new work  – it gives them fresh product to show to their clients and also sends a message to patrons that their stable of artists is committed and cutting-edge.  I personally work best under pressure and nothing compels me to create new work like having a show on the books that I need to get ready for.

IceCreamTruck
Ice Cream Truck

CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?

MS: Alternative process photography that deals with memory and how we as human beings recall and process our experiences.

Porch Scene
Porch Scene © Marc Sirinsky

Marc Sirinsky’s photography has appeared in numerous publications and in over 40 juried, solo, and group exhibitions. A native of Chicago, he now resides in Northern Virginia in the greater Washington D.C. area.

For more information, and to see his portfolio, see his website at http://www.sirinsky.com/. Sirinsky’s work is currently in exhibitions at A Smith Gallery:  “Pinhole,” which runs through August 28th and “Habitat,” which runs through September 18th.  A reception for both exhibitions will be held at the gallery on August 27th from 4-7 pm.  Address is: 103 N. Nugent Ave, Johnson City, TX 78636

Falling Through the Lens with J.M. Golding

JMGolding02-The Land Transforming
The land transforming

An Invitation into Mystery

“At a photographic workshop years ago, the instructor encouraged students to ‘fall through the lens.’ Although I’m sorry to say that I no longer recall which instructor said that, or what else happened at that workshop, I’ve carried those words with me. Falling through the lens (or the pinhole) means allowing myself to be drawn to, or moved by, what I see – to experience its emotional and symbolic significance for me in that moment (even if that content isn’t readily accessible verbally), to become absorbed in the process of making a photograph – a silent interaction between me and the scene before me.”

J.M. Golding’s work is a blur between illustrative and transformative photography; largely centered around the themes of landscape, nature and the natural world. She uses a variety of cameras and techniques; whether it is a vintage camera, pinhole, plastic Holga or Diana, or if she uses single or multiple exposures – the results are beautiful, evocative images that convey the deeply personal and philosophical connection Golding has with the world around her.

After talking with Golding for an interview for F-Stop Magazine in early 2016, I knew we needed to revisit her images in order to adequately address her work. She was kind enough to provide some examples of her current work, as well as other images from her overall body of work, and speak at length about her creative process.

Q&A

Cary Benbow (CB): Why do you photograph? What compels you to make the images you create?

J.M. Golding (JG): I think for me, the answer lies in both the process of creating and in the images that result from that process. In terms of process, making photographs invites me into what the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a flow state, which he describes as ‘‘an almost automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness,’’ a state of deep absorption in the moment. For me, since I most often photograph in natural settings (an intentional choice based on both where I enjoy being and what I generally most want to see in photos), the flow state carries with it an experience of connecting with nature, what Ruth Bernhard referred to as “knowing what it feels like to be a leaf.” Not only is the experience of photographing wonderful (in the full sense of the word) for me, but then I get photographs, too! As much as I know intellectually that there are solid reasons in physics and chemistry that those pictures exist, I still experience photographs as a form of magic, as alchemy. And not just because they reproduce reality – to me, they’re all the more magical because they transform reality, sometimes in ways that can be quite surprising to my conscious self. I get to use these alterations in reality to create and/or discover metaphors that explore and transform subjective experience. Not only that, when another person finds resonance in my work, that’s a form of connection between that person and me. It’s a pretty amazing experience all around.

This moment always
This moment always

 

untitled (from the series, Before there were words)
Untitled image from the series ‘Before there were words’

 

CB: Can you please explain the idea behind these first few images – are they part of a project, or how did you select these images for the theme of the Wonder-ful exhibition in F-Stop Magazine this year?

JG: I chose the images I submitted from among my best work that seemed to me to fit most closely with the theme of “Wonder-full,” to express or contain a sense of wonder – something that you won’t be surprised to hear is integral to photography for me. Some of the photos are part of various projects; others (including “At the frontier of the known world” [Shown at the end of this article]) aren’t – or at least, for now, no project has cohered around those particular images for me.

(Editor’s note: see exhibit Wonder-full by F-Stop Magazine, March 2016)

The untitled piece is from a project called “Before there were words,” which is about preverbal experience that we retain, perhaps in our unconscious minds, long after it’s become possible, expected, and maybe typical for us to relate to the world largely through words. The photographs speak of pure actuality, that moment before verbal labels rush in to change experience … the moments between sleep and waking, dreams vanishing as the dreamer wakes … matter coming into form … unwished wishes and unspoken memories … moments seeking resonance, concepts in the process of forming, hopes and dreams being nurtured and sent forth.

“The land transforming” is part of the series, “From destruction grows a garden of the soul,” I made these photographs in the year and a half after a 2013 fire ravaged over 3,000 acres of mountain wilderness in northern California. Initially, only bleakness and devastation remained, a landscape of loss. There were subtle signs of hope, easy to miss, and perhaps requiring more interpretation than was justified. Seemingly against all odds, the following spring brought profound renewal to the mountain. I couldn’t resist the metaphor of beauty – and, visually, joy – coming into existence after, and as a direct result of, disastrous loss.

“This moment always” is from the series, “Where you are,” which explores integration of closeness and distance using double exposure. The photographs contain elements of each of two exposures, one focused close and one focused far away, fusing them to create an image that couldn’t have been anticipated by either one alone. In joining near and far, they also join solid and ethereal, objective and subjective, sharp and blurred, literal and metaphorical, real and imagined.

CB: What, do you feel, makes a good photograph?

JG: I think a good photograph is one that moves us, that feels meaningful, that has emotional resonance. Of course, that will differ to some extent from one person to another.

 

To hold the meanings in my hands
To hold the meanings in my hands

 

CB: What or who are your photography inspirations?

JG: As you can probably tell from what I said earlier, feeling a connection with nature is a basic inspiration for me. And I’m inspired by light and shadow … by openness to what lies beneath the surface of things … by the emotional resonance of a moment. In my experience, photography is where all of these inspirations meet.

Seeing other artists’ work, and conversation with other artists, are also important sources of inspiration for me. I’d like to mention just a few of those other artists. It probably sounds trite, but I can’t not mention the work of Ansel Adams. I was absolutely stunned from the first time I saw his work, which happened in my late childhood, around the time I took my first darkroom class at summer camp. His books The Camera, The Negative, and The Print were an important foundation for me, both technically and aesthetically (despite the differences of my work from his). Adams wrote, “to photograph truthfully is to see beneath the surface.” Which is very much what I want to do, to discover photographically the subjective truth beneath the perhaps more objective reality that’s on the surface.

I’ve also been very much influenced by Ruth Bernhard’s Gift of the Commonplace project. She said that “there is nothing unimportant in the universe” – which takes the emphasis away from the “subject” of the photograph, the thing in front of the lens, to the way it’s photographed, the light, the meaning, the artist’s subjective experience. Her photographs “Doorknob, 1975” and “Teapot, 1976” are probably my favorite examples of the ways in which she reveals magic in the everyday.

Jim Rohan’s photographs are a wonderful source of inspiration for me. In front of his lens, a rock becomes a mysterious symbol, magical light sifts through the trees or meanders along a coastline, a path becomes a gateway into another world, and reflections disclose meaning in their depths. I’m inspired by the ways he sees nature and light, and it’s clear to me that my sense of composition has changed as a result of looking as his photographs.

Amy Nicolazzo makes intensely subjective photographs, full of emotional resonance, inviting me to see deeply and to discover meaning, and frequently leaving me breathless. Often as I try to describe my experience of these photographs, I find the words slipping from my grasp, and I suspect that’s because the feeling is in the picture, not in words … an important aspect of what I hope to do in my own work.

Al Brydon makes otherworldly landscapes that hold a palpable sense of presence, of subjective reality. They’re truly evocative, often dreamlike and mysterious, and they engage me through their subtle qualities of darkness. Each moment in these images carries significance.

These are just a few examples. I’m lucky to have lots of sources of inspiration.

You are beyond all words
You are beyond all words

CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?

JG: I usually say something like they’re primarily analogue, mostly black and white, soft, blurry, not entirely literal images of landscapes and landscape elements. But I’d rather just show the photos to the person.

CB: There are so many ways to express oneself in a 21st-century world — What makes still photography your choice of expression? 

JG: I’ve been drawn to photography since childhood, and I always seem to come back to it. Other media just don’t seem to “stick” with me. And there’s so much I want to do in photography – it’s hard to find enough time and “brain space” to do even part of it, let alone work in additional mediums. I think that by temperament, I’m probably better at depth than breadth.

I’ve asked myself retrospectively what it is about photography, and I think the particular combination of emotional expression, openness to experience, and ritual, the way photography combines art and science, probably fits well with who I am. I also suspect that there’s something compelling for me about the ways photography can be used to transform “objective” reality, as compared to, say, painting or drawing or sculpture, in which the artist in a sense creates their own reality from nothingness (the blank page or canvas, the lump of clay, etc.). I think that on some level this is probably more of a quantitative difference than a qualitative one, but even with the assumption that it’s a continuum, I do seem to be drawn to the photographic end of it.

While you were sleeping
While you were sleeping

CB: Why do you shoot almost exclusively in black and white? 

JG: This may sound a little odd, but in my mind, this question brings up the distinction between using photography to record and using it to create or transform. As you know, I’m vastly more interested in creating and transforming than in recording. Black and white photographs reproduce literal reality less well than do (realistic) color ones. In my mind, that’s a big advantage of working in black and white. For example, if I make a photograph of a tree in my backyard, I’m not hoping it will look like the tree in my backyard; I’m hoping it will work as a metaphor (for example, of renewal, if I photograph it in the spring, or of complexity, if I photograph the intricate pattern of branches, or – most likely – of something that I haven’t yet thought of in a conscious, verbal way when I’m there with my camera), or perhaps evoke an emotion that I experience in the tree’s presence. Photographing that tree in black and white will automatically make the photo look less like the actual, specific tree. The photo becomes more abstract than it would have been if I’d used (most kinds of) color film. At minimum, it becomes a kind of representation of “every-tree.” If it goes really well, the image can become symbolic.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that color photos can’t be symbolic. I just experience black and white as a route to that destination.

Having said all of that, there are times when a project feels to me as if it, well, needs color, and when that happens, I do photograph in color. I did that with my series, “From destruction grows a garden of the soul” (of which “Once upon a time in the forest” is part). That project includes not only black and white photos, but also several different color palettes. I often find myself drawn to surreal colors, which I think parallels my usual use of black and white: surreal colors contribute to transforming the “objective” reality in ways that make it less specific to the particular thing I’m pointing the camera at, and as a result, more susceptible to functioning subjectively and symbolically.

Knowing you are in the world
Knowing you are in the world

CB: Please talk a bit about the importance of why you create images in analog processes, and the types of cameras and film you choose.

JG: I’m very drawn to analog processes in a way that feels irrational. I tell myself that I can’t always tell which images are analog and which are digital  – although when I look at my own work, it seems easy to tell which is which (over and above having been the one who made the pictures). I tend to prefer the way analog photographs look – I know that can be replicated digitally, at least if you’re really good at it, but why not do the real thing? I actually like the imperfections of analog photographs; they seem to me to reveal the hand of the artist, the influence of nature, in a more immediate way than digital images do. To be, in a sense, more true to subjective human experience, since as human beings, none of us is perfect. Also, there’s nothing else like taking a roll of film out of the developing tank and seeing actual pictures on it – it’s that experience of magic. Plus, I don’t really want to spend more time in front of a computer screen than I already do. I imagine that like most people who photograph digitally, if I worked digitally I’d make many more exposures than I’d ever want to keep, to a much greater extent than I already do (and I think most people do) using analog processes, and the prospect of sorting through them isn’t appealing to me either.

I use plastic, pinhole, and vintage glass-lensed cameras almost exclusively, because they seem most expressive of my internal experience. I love what Ted Orland wrote about the Holga (in Light Leaks Magazine, issue #18):

“Ansel Adams was my first and only formal photography teacher, with the hardly surprising result that for the next few years, large-format B&W landscapes became my definition of fine art photography. It took me years to realize that I didn’t actually lead a fine-grained life … where Ansel’s world was monumental and sharply defined, my world has become increasingly quirky and decidedly fuzzy around the edges. My ability to capture that world took a great leap forward in 1990 when I discovered the Holga … it sees the world the way I do.”     (Ted Orland, Light Leaks Magazine)

Each of my favorite kinds of cameras creates its own special kind of blur, its own invitation into mystery.

Crossing the distance
Crossing the distance

But, in addition to preferring these cameras because of the kinds of photos I can make with them, there are process-related reasons also. With plastic cameras, the spontaneity that happens when there’s limited to no exposure or focus control seems to me to promote access to the emotional logic and metaphoric thought that’s often just beyond immediate awareness. I think the unconscious often knows what it’s doing, and for me, plastic cameras especially seem to make room for unconscious process to emerge. Pinhole cameras can have a wonderfully contemplative quality, and I’m drawn to their simplicity. Although (as I mentioned earlier) all photographic image creation feels to me as if it’s inexplicable in some sense, there’s a special magic in creating an image using nothing but a tiny hole in what Christopher James calls “a box of air.” The long exposures (I’ve made exposures of up to 48 minutes – and that’s not counting the solargraphs) feel to me as if they promote that sense of empathy with the subject that I alluded to before. There’s also a meditative element in sitting with the image from moment to moment as it is being made, knowing that all of those moments will contribute to the photograph. Vintage glass-lensed cameras (I’m primarily using a Mamiyaflex C2 these days) have a somewhat similar contemplative quality in the ritual of metering and setting the exposure, focusing the lens, and cocking the shutter before making the actual exposure. You pretty much have to slow down.

Plus, in analog processes there are always surprises. There’s an experience of watching the magic unfold.

We have today
We have today

CB: You spoke of the alchemy, and mystery, of traditional photo processes as they relate to your images – do you feel this aspect is lost or seriously diminished through the widespread adoption of digital photography? Or do you feel there has been a resurgence of analog photography?

JG: I think that for me, that experience of alchemy and mystery would be lost or seriously diminished if I were working exclusively digitally. But I can’t speak for how others experience it. Speaking as one who has never done any “serious” digital photography, I think that in that process, the transformational aspect would come mostly in the post processing, which is different – if nothing else, it’s done entirely with conscious intent, and so there isn’t that same kind of room for the unconscious to emerge. But people who have done this kind of work might have a different perspective.

I should probably acknowledge here that these days, I simultaneously hold two quite contradictory opinions about analog and digital photographic process. On the one hand, I love analog photography – I’ve sometimes described myself as a film snob. On the other hand, I also believe that the individual artist’s process and the emotional quality of the image count for way more than what equipment they used. I’m not planning to make myself choose between these opinions any time soon – I think that at least for now, I need to just hold the contradiction.

It’s honestly hard for me to tell whether there’s been a resurgence of analog photography (in the sense of an increase in interest and/or actual image-making) – I see both ups and downs. But there does seem to be an international community of people who are passionate about it.

The return of the light
The return of the light

CB: You have collaborated with Al Brydon by swapping a camera and double exposing the roll of film to create landscape photos – can you give some background to this project and explain what you both set out to do, or how the result was different from what you thought would happen?

JG: On my end, the project grew naturally out of prior work. As I think back, it began with a series of overlapping, double-exposed photographs I made called “A geography of connection and loss.” To make these, I put each roll of film through the camera twice – I’d expose the roll of film, rewind it, and re-expose it. I was inspired to work this way by an emotionally powerful series by the Canadian artist Paul Romaniuk called “That summer at the lake”, which used this procedure. And the procedure felt like a perfect fit for my intent with the “Geography.” Anyway, I posted my “Geography” pictures on Flickr (where I no longer have an account) and another UK-based artist, Rob Douglas, was intrigued with them, and started using a similar procedure. He was astonished to get coherent images from the process even when he hadn’t (consciously) remembered the initial exposures. In the course of my correspondence with Rob, I found myself inviting him to swap films. Each of us would expose a roll of film, mail the film to the other person, and re-expose the film we’d received. He agreed readily, saying the thought had occurred to him too. We posted our pictures on Flickr. Then Al saw them, and said something to the effect that he’d like to try that sometime. I’ve always admired Al’s work and was delighted by the thought of collaborating with him. So I invited him to work with me on a film swap … and the rest, as they say, is history. We’ve been swapping films for about 5 years now.

Memory of a distant forest
Memory of a distant forest (J.M. Golding & Al Brydon)

In response to the second part of your question, I think it’s fair to say that the only thing that Al and I really set out to do was to make these double exposures and see what would happen. As you know, with a plastic camera, you always get surprises. With two plastic cameras and two people’s unconscious processes involved (not to mention the different light in two parts of the world), it’s surprises-squared, at the very least. We agreed on a few general parameters (for example, we’d use Holgas, and we’d make the exposures at the frame numbers, not between them… at least, that was our intent, but as far as the latter plan was concerned, a couple of times the Holgas have overridden our intentions), and we agreed that beyond those, we’d just let the magic work. We each knew the other’s work, and we realized that that was likely to influence the exposures we made, whether or not with conscious intent.

CB: Thinking back to the beginning of our conversation, I take it there is a significant amount of meaning you draw from your surroundings and subjects of your images. The term ‘transcendental’ comes to mind – is that a term you would agree with?

JG: In terms of the ordinary English use of the word transcend, yes: I hope that my photographs will transcend the literal appearance of their subjects to become metaphors for internal experience, to be expressive of personal meaning – hopefully meaning that resonates with viewers. 

JMGolding03-At the frontier of the known world
At the frontier of the known world

 

All images are used by permission. This is an extended version of the original interview featured in F-Stop Magazine in February, 2016.

For more information, and to see more work by J.M. Golding, visit  http://www.jmgolding.com and http://FallingThroughTheLens.blogspot.com/