Sarah Belclaire is a photographer and writer based in Boston, Massachusetts, Her writing is mainly focused on women artists, and she recently launched a social media campaign called #1woman1review to encourage more women writers to review the work of women artists.
Belclaire’s photographic work also focuses on women’s issues, both personally and broadly. Her current/ongoing series “Unmending” is an attempt to relate her own story about disability and chronic illness to healing as a universal and varied experience. She uses large pieces of fabric to create in-studio scenes and costumes embodying the dichotomy of covering up or hiding one’s self, as compared to emerging from trauma.
This featured photographer comes from a blind submission to Wobneb Magazine. Like many things in life, a blind leap of faith is called for. In this particular case, it means the curtain is pulled aside and Sarah Belclaire’s work comes to the front of the stage. Her work is presented with a dignified grace rather than a clanging gong. Her cathartic work in ‘Unmending’ uses her own body, and her own life experience to explore meaning of her own recovery from illness; and in the larger sense, what it truly means to heal.
Artist Statement for ‘Unmending’
“These self-portraits began with one year of photographing myself as I experienced chronic illness and, primarily, recovered from surgery. I photographed my healing scars and my life with those scars and presented these images to friends through Instagram and Facebook. As my healing progressed, the reactions of those who took my scars at face value drove me towards a different narrative: one of healing as a lifelong and universally relatable process, less tied to scars than to identity.
I began to explore the body language and inadvertent messages that remain when I photograph my healing body without explicitly including the physical wounds. In covering my scars I uncovered themes of affectation, evasion, and discomfort as well as self-awareness, poise, and resilience. Recognizing that I am neither sickly nor immune to damage, I experiment with draped cloth costumes, which when molded, re-folded, and altered, can transform me into any state of mind: exposed, invincible, or somewhere in between. I see myself as a soul-searching woman, hiding, concealing, revealing and adorning herself with fabric: first a curtain drawn, then a twisted rope; a hospital gown or a ballgown; sheath or shaper. This work is intended to address recovery as a self-aware and sometimes painful process through which we mend, unmend, hide, emerge, lean upon others, evolve, and reinvent ourselves in search of a narrative for our healing experience.”
“At the age of twenty-six I opted for surgery to potentially, one day, save my heart. All at once it was comforting, terrifying, scarring, and curative. I addressed the complexity of this journey by photographing myself every day, starting the day after my surgery. Even when I could barely walk I was taking photos, not because it was a challenge but because it was a relief.”
“My wardrobe and backdrops made from draped fabric are inspired by traditions of European painting from the Baroque era to early Impressionism. Fabric backdrops allow me to create a diorama of sorts in which to install my human still-lifes. Inspired by the elaborate use of costume and gesture in an exhibit of the Pre-Raphaelites at the National Gallery of Art in London, I have transformed myself into the heroine of my own anti-tragedy: an Ophelia risen from the lake.”
Sarah Belclaire is a photographer, writer, and researcher from Boston, Massachusetts. She has been writing about the arts and music and shooting portraits for 10 years. Her writing has been featured on BobDylan.com, Folk Radio UK, and No Depression. Her photos have appeared in international print and online publications such as Vogue Italia, PH Magazine, F-Stop Magazine, Photographer’s Forum, and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. To see more of her work from ‘Unmending’ and other photography projects, please visit her website at https://www.sarahbelclaire.com/ — to read Belclaire’s interviews, features and editorials, visit https://www.sarahbelclaire.com/redshoes
Rachael Banks is a photographer from Louisville, Kentucky, and is an Assistant Professor of Photography at Northern Kentucky University. In a recent issue of F-Stop Magazine, I was fortunate to interview her and feature her work in the thematic context of animals – while acknowledging her work focuses primarily on family dynamics, relationships, and nostalgia. She is also especially interested in social subcultures and identity informed by place. Banks’ creates work about her family and the uneasiness of those relationships that are strained but also incredibly involved. The inclusion of numerous pets or animals in her family’s life conveys the importance animals play in our lives as she explores feelings of loss, identity, and meaning in the context of family, love and acceptance. It is immediately apparent that she cares deeply for her family – a tough subject to be subjective with, and also intimately close to.
I am the oldest of three, but more like a mother than a sister.
I constructed a family of siblings, both real and assumed.
‘Between Home and Here’ addresses deeply internalized
guilt and the essence of loved ones.
There is a history of pain and an apparent inwardness in my family.
My brother has a rage inside of him that I know others can see.
But, I can’t help noticing the way he delicately handles a small rabbit in his arms, gently stroking its ears and shielding its eyes from the fear of the unfamiliar.
I am a witness to their sensitivity and empathy in how they revere animal life, despite human failure.
This is a story about hating and loving where you are from.
It comes from doing anything to go back to a place that you left.
I left my heart in Kentucky and came back to find it.
The photographs are artifacts from my search.
Rachael Banks – ‘Between Home and Here’
Cary Benbow (CB):Your projectBetween Home and Here explores very powerful tropes of Family and inclusion. Let’s talk about the level of trust and intimacy in your work, and I’d like to ask about the project in terms of portraiture versus straight documentary style photography.
Rachael Banks (RB): While I am extroverted at work (I have to be), I am actually pretty shy and slow in how I go about making work, so it isn’t always as viable for me to photograph strangers. There is definitely a level of intimacy I have to achieve with a person to make work about them extensively. I really like to invest in whoever I am making work about. I go back and forth about my work being more portraiture based vs. documentary. In the beginning, I was interested in the concept of aesthetic beauty and portraiture allowed me to explore that. However, as the work has continued, I’ve thought more about my relationships with people and the place I feel I have in the world. I never considered myself a documentary photographer because I wasn’t sure if photographing my family fit within the scope but as the work expands, I definitely feel like the work is more heavily influenced by documentary photography. Portraiture is something I naturally gravitate towards in respect to my working methodology but my intent goes beyond the mode in which I present my images.
CB: Let’s discuss the role animals play in your work; how much of a role do they play in the lives of your subjects, or in your own life?
RB:I’m not sure if this is a regional or family influence (maybe a little bit of both) but I grew up surrounded by animals. My family members have always had a wide array of pets and my dad lives on a farm. I was definitely raised in an environment that placed a heavy emphasis on respect for animals and to treat pets as family. Because my work is so centrally focused on my relationships with immediate family, it is inevitable that animals become a part of that. Additionally, I see that animals often serve as an extension of the subject I am photographing and that they can help inform the viewer with more insight into the personality traits of the individual. On a personal note, I spend a lot of time driving to make work and I bring my dog Ghost with me as much as possible. If there isn’t an animal in the photograph I’m making, there is most likely one sitting next to me while I’m shooting.
CB: With regard to your earlier statement about your portraits documenting your family, what do you feel are the “obligations” of a photographer, or what obligation do you have to the people, your family, in your photos?
RB: I think it is important to have the ability to stand behind every image that you make. I understand that anything I put out into the world for others to see is coming from my own specific gaze and that I am actively selecting how the subject is framed and presented. I feel that I have a responsibility to myself and others to be able to understand that not everyone will see my images the same way that I do and that I have the ability to contribute (both negatively and positively) to how an individual/region/situation is represented. There is always the possibility that something I make can be misunderstood or that I can even cause harm, so with that in mind, I try to make sure that I don’t share anything that I can’t live with later on in life.
CB: What compels you to make the images you create? Why do you photograph?
RB:My mom photographed my entire childhood – and I mean she photographed everything constantly. While she has never identified as being creative/artistic, I feel that her compulsions have influenced me greatly and my need to document as much of my life/surroundings as possible. I have a lot of anxiety about forgetting defining moments or losing sight of what informs my identity. Photography has always provided a way for me to stay connected to who I am and what matters to me.
CB: Who are your photography inspirations or how to they influence your work?
RB:This is a question where I can go overboard so I will attempt to be as concise as possible. I really love Doug Dubois and the way he documents youth in addition to integrating a graphic novel in his series My Last Day at Seventeen. When I think about the muse in the photograph, I always look at Emmet Gowin; because who wouldn’t want to be loved the way that Edith is? I’m really inspired by Nathan Pearce and the way he photographs his life in the Midwest – he also has an incredible work ethic that always pushes me to be better. Jake Reinhart is another big inspiration for me because of his extensive approach to research and his ability to articulate his work in such a thoughtful way. I am also currently excited about Amy Powell, Caiti Borruso, Susan Worsham, and Dylan Hausthor.
CB: Do you feel there is a significant difference between “documentary” style photography versus “portrait” photography as a label? Or are those labels significant as a category to your work?
RB:I think that there is crossover between portraiture and documentary in my work. In terms of there being a difference, I believe the intent of the photographer is significant in making distinctions between the two. I’ve seen documentary work that is mainly consistent of portraiture so there isn’t much a difference between the two in that situation but I have also seen a lot of portraiture work that is more about visual aesthetics than it is about being documentary. I feel that my work falls in both categories in that I work primarily in portraiture but I am approaching my subject matter as a documentarian. Portraiture is a natural habit for me but I am more interested in the research and document component of making work. I don’t want to be the person that says I don’t fall into a category because I definitely fall into a few! If I had to describe my work in one sentence to a stranger I would summarize it as a documentary approach to family (assumed and biological) portraiture.
CB: Please talk about the role of a photographer as “publisher” and what you think about the recent increased push for photographers to publish photo books and/or zines. I know you are a strong advocate for publishing work.
RB: I am 100% supportive of photographers working in self-publishing and its one of my favorite components of photography. I think there is a lot that self-publishing/zines allow for a photographer in regard to the opportunity for exposure that it provides. While I feel it is still important to show work in galleries, a zine allows a photographer to share work without being weighed down by so many financial burdens. Accessible art is really important to me and I feel that self-publishing allows for photography to be more readily distributed and shared which fosters such a dynamic community that I value being a part of. On another note, I think that there is an over saturation of photobooks in the world right now, but I’m not terribly upset about having more books to collect. If there is a project that isn’t ready to be presented to the work as a traveling solo exhibition or a monograph, it can still be shared/distributed as a zine. Publishing also allows for photographers/viewers to see work as a physical object as opposed to looking at everything through a screen. I definitely appreciate the photograph more as a physical object and publishing encourages this.
Rachael Banks (b. Louisville, KY) is an Assistant Professor of Photography at Northern Kentucky University and is based in Covington, KY. She received an MFA in photography from Texas Woman’s University (Denton, TX). Banks is an avid supporter of self-publishing, accessible art, zines, and collecting. Her work has been shown at The Center for Fine Art Photography, The Kinsey Institute, Black Box Gallery, Darkroom Gallery, and several other institutions. She has also been featured in a number of online photography publications and frequently participates in panel discussions and invited speaker presentations.
A new book, Solargraphs by Al Brydon is available from JW Editions. Brydon’s understated approach to making engaging images is disarming. There is a beautiful serendipity that comes out of his seemingly casual method for making work. He makes it look easy, but make no mistake Brydon has been steadfast for decades in making photographic work of and about his surroundings. He is continually trying techniques old and new to strive for a meaningful conversation with the land. Solargraphs is definitely one of those engaging conversations.
“Solargraphs are pinhole cameras with exposure times measured in months rather than fractions of a second. This slowing down of time produces the arcs of the sun as it traces its way across the sky. The ‘how’ isn’t anywhere near as important as the ‘why’, but it gives you an idea of what’s involved in making the work.
The length of time involved raises certain questions. Is it a different me collecting the solargraph than the person who left it? Maybe a window into what the landscape looks like when I’m not there to experience it?
What’s implied in the image is as important as what you can see. Anything moving quickly isn’t pictured but is in there. Solargraphs see everything (metaphorically) like photographic black holes. Every moment of joy and sadness you have experienced while each exposure was made is in there somewhere. A newborns first breath and another person’s last. The chaos of the universe condensed into photographic form. More than a moment. A tumbling cascade of moments set within the confines of a 5×7 piece of darkroom paper. With Solargraphs we are able to experience time almost in a geological sense and gain a glimpse into a differing reality than our own. A looped reminder how wonderfully fleeting our lives are.”
– Al Brydon
Solargraphs by Al Brydon
210 mm x 295 mm, hardback
96 pages, thread sewn
Introduction by contemporary photographer Rob Hudson
A Limited Edition is also available: Signed copy of the book
Signed and numbered print – ‘Death of a Wood’ Print is exclusive to this book edition (Digital print on fine art photo paper) Limited to 50 copies only
Published by JW Editions – an independent publisher of photobooks, producing affordable fine quality short run commercially produced edition-based releases, and handmade artist limited editions.
Al Brydon is a photographer based in the North of the UK. He has been exhibited and published both in the UK and internationally, and has just completed his five-year series ‘Solargraphs’ which have just been exhibited at the ‘Inside the Outside’ collective group show ‘Out of the woods of thought’. He is prone to working on various long-term bodies of work. See more of his work at his website: www.al-brydon.com
A taradiddle by definition is a petty lie, a little falsehood or trifling told often to amuse or embellish a story. But the Oxford English Dictionary also offers a second meaning: Pretentious or empty talk; senseless, unproductive activity; nonsense. Ironically, it’s a self deprecating term for such meaningful work. But then, that’s part of the fun.
So many of the images created by Traub involve witty visual interplay, tongue-in-cheek sight gags that beg the viewer to look again. But that summary sells them short. There’s much more going on here, there is wit and a sophisticated way of seeing what is in front of the camera. Traub’s work in Taradiddle is a collection of discoveries built around the idea of seeing — not just looking. He is a photographer’s photographer; demonstrating mastery of the medium without hubris or egotism. There is keen observation without embellishment in Taub’s oeuvre. As David Campany writes in this introduction to the book, the unifying element to Traub’s work is that “they are all in one way or another about photography. They may even amount to a commentary upon photography as a phenomenon of daily life. Photography as something we do daily, and photographs as things we encounter daily, often by chance. To this extent at least, these are meta-photographs.” Photos about photography.
An assistant to Traub suggested the term ‘taradiddle’ during the process of curating the images that would ultimately comprise the book. It stuck. An influence and friend early in Traub’s photo career was fellow Kentuckian Ralph Eugene Meatyard. Meatyard kept a collection of names he found funny and/or interesting. One could easily imagine the list might include a Miss Tara Diddle, of Lexington. In that spirit, Traub’s images ask the viewer to see and absorb an inside joke: the landscape painting of Death Valley on the side of a building located in front of the actual mountain range of Death Valley. A large red rock with hand-painted white letters in Monte Vista, Colorado prompting the visitor to bring the camera. He did. Ironic tongue-in-cheek humor with signage and whimsy like the Estate of Confusion building in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Or the compositional use of a natural frame-within-a-frame in a street scene in New Orleans to highlight we are viewing a selective representation of the three-dimensional world — an image akin to the work of Luigi Ghirri, one of the most influential conceptual photographers of the 20th century.
Over the span of the book we see the Michelangelo fresco painting of the Creation of Adam in several iterations. We see it in a hardware store, a poster reproduction poorly framed within a larger gold frame mounted to a wall, or in a faded wallpaper pattern behind a framed photo of a wedding portrait with bride and groom in a similar pose, touching hands, creating a future together. Traub captures an image of faux wooden boards with painted shadows on a flat metal door, mimicry of floral patterns on upholstery and carpet placed in front of a nature scene right outside the window. These witty visual interplays beg the viewer to think about visual reproduction, visual representation, and realistically… it can be humorous how people often choose to replicate a natural environment in such unnatural ways.
It is always a joy to pour over artwork in a book where the next image can’t come quickly enough, or there can’t be too many of; like a child who eagerly begs their parent to repeat a joke or trick they adore — again…do it again. Taradiddle is one of those books where I found myself soaking in the images, laughing to myself or making a interjection of appreciation, then quickly turning the page to see the next one, and the next, then the final one, only to work my way back toward the front of the book again. I have seen Traub’s work before the opportunity came to review this project, but critically thinking about it prompted the realization that I hadn’t fully recognized how much his photography was interconnected to other masters of photography who inform my comprehensive view of photography.
Nancy Baron is a documentary filmmaker and photographer who lives in Palm Springs, Calif. In Palm Springs: The Good Life Goes On, she picks up where she left off from her 2014 book, The Good Life: Palm Springs, documenting her community of mid century modern enthusiasts. The collective community of self-proclaimed modernists are committed to the mid century modern lifestyle and the preservation of its architecture. Their homes, cars, and clothes pay homage to this carefree post-World War II time in US history that glows warmly in their vintage rear view mirrors. These informal images casually document the carefree Palm Springs lifestyle as though captured in passing, in the seemingly effortless way that most things happen in Palm Springs.
“The dreamy Palm Springs vibe washes over the traveler at the first sight from land or air of the vast windmill farm sprouting from the Southern California desert, surrounding the town like guards at the gate to paradise.”
In the book, Hugh Kaptur, an American architect of mid century modern residences and buildings throughout the Coachella Valley, writes: “Once after a meeting with William Holden, we stepped outside my office and I asked him why, with houses all over the world, was he settling in Palm Springs. Bill replied, ‘because the air is like velvet.’”
Baron’s photographs of the interiors and exteriors of the homes and buildings in Palm Springs evoke a sense of instant nostalgia – even for the newly initiated fans of this iconic design movement. One cannot help notice the influence mid century modern design has had recently in popular American culture. From high-end reproduction design furniture like Design Within Reach, publications like Dwell Magazine, and the home furnishings featured in Crate and Barrel catalogs – Americans have fallen in love all over again with mid century modern design. This makes paging through ‘The Good Life Goes On’ like sneaking a peek inside 1950s architects’ homes, or getting a guest role on Mad Men. The style Baron brings to the page is everything Palm Springs has to offer; sun drenched lawns, vintage automobiles, manicured-minimalist landscaping, and an invitation to the lifestyle that has so much to offer.
For me, Baron’s photos bring back nostalgic memories of my grandparent’s house. It was a modest mid century modern home, painted green with a sun porch built out of decorative concrete blocks, with patterns that looked like flower petals when the open sections of the blocks intersected. Their Danish modern stereo cabinet sat in the entryway with geometric side lamps making soft shadows on the imitation terrazzo floor below, while a bakelite kitchen clock quietly hummed as time slowly slipped by. Their house sat unchanging for decades, a testament to the enduring, timelessness of the way they lived – much like the homes in Baron’s photos. They sit like time capsules, yet still retain the feel of homes that are lived in and have personal, human aspects about them… soccer balls amidst the greenery, price tags on the candlesticks, and worn doormats gracing the entryway to their ‘American dream’.
Palm Springs > The Good Life Goes On (2016) by Nancy Baron Hardcover 8.8 x 8.8 inches 120 pages, 63 color illustrations
To purchase a copy of Palm Springs: The Good life Goes On, please visit Amazon.com
Nancy Baron’s background in documentary filmmaking has led to her current dedication to fine art documentary photography. She documents the world nearby, mostly in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, where she lives. Baron’s work is held in public and private collections and has been exhibited in galleries across the United States. Her work has been published in many notable magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, Mother Jones, Photo District News, American Photo and California Homes Magazine. Photographs from her previous book The Good Life > Palm Springs (Kehrer, 2014) were exhibited in a solo show at the dnj Gallery in Santa Monica, among other venues.
It has been just over a year since the first big interview published in Wobneb Magazine. The old Tumblr site archive is sitting quietly, ready for a travel back in time, but I will point back to the companion post in Vantage on Medium.com so the work of William Olmstead can shine.
Thanks to everyone who has watched Wobneb Magazine patiently evolve and grow. – Cary Benbow
Much of my photography is spontaneous in nature – I enjoy wandering, exploring, discovering, observing – often in everyday places. It’s a way of working that I find very fulfilling – just drifting and seeing what is round the next corner.
Out Of The Ordinary has developed from this approach, and reflects my interest in people’s relationship and interaction with their environment. The series explores the kind of places that most of us walk or drive past every day, without really noticing – places where the infrastructure of human habitation interacts with the natural environment. These are dynamic landscapes, constantly being altered, and part of the fascination for me is the element of chance involved in the photographs – coming across scenes that may look very different the following week or month.
I try not to have any plan or pre-conceived ideas when exploring. Sometimes I am simply drawn to the play of light and shadow, or colour and form, but often I am looking to create images that have an element of ambiguity, hopefully leaving the viewer with questions. By playing with composition and balancing visual elements, I hope to transform the ordinary and common-place into something interesting and unusual.
The project is ongoing and for me has become a journey through everyday Scotland.
Sarjeant’s images of “everyday” Scotland are not ones you might find gracing the pages of glossy travel magazines trying to attract visitors to his country. Rather, these images would be more likely to be found in the galleries of Edinburgh or Glasgow, attracting many people nonetheless. His book, Out of the Ordinary: A Journey Through Everyday Scotland | Vol. 1 was published in the summer of 2016, and quickly sold out. A second printing of 100 copies was done, and a limited number of copies are available here. An anticipated Volume 2 is in the works for 2017.
His views of his everyday surroundings are largely devoid of people. In the few images that include people, Sarjeant has carefully chosen to include them as elements in the scene to give us either a sense of scale, or mystery and inform the viewer that the spaces are not without use. The collection of images in this project are landscapes where the structures and infrastructures of the people of Scotland are revealed – often with blocks or lines of saturated color that punctuate the scene.
His visual lexicography includes vehicles in all manner of use and function (or disfunction), buildings both commercial and residential, markings on pavement, graffiti, shadows and shipping containers. Sarjeant’s wanderings take him through areas of Scotland that, in his words, “often look very different the following month, day, or even hour.” The decisive moments he choses are ones worth taking in and really looking at.
“Ultimately all photography is about light and I am fascinated by how it interacts with the lie of the land, whether in wild places or, as in this project, in man-made places. Light can create interest from the most ordinary of subjects.” Iain Sarjeant
These landscapes, communities, structures, and the geography created by them, reveal what exists beyond the ordinary. The way Sarjeant frames the images to draw our eyes through the scene, the way he juxtaposes forms, shadows, blocks of colors, and even tire tracks in snow covered lots, reveal a Scotland of beautiful repose; places for us to stop, and become drawn into the scenes.
Iain Sarjeant is the founder and editor of Another Place, and Another Place Press which showcases contemporary landscape photography. He is a member of Documenting Britain, and works as a stock photographer.
For more information, or to view his personal work; please visit:
We all have places that we know well, but have been absent from our minds for a long period of time. We remember these places how they were. In some cases they no longer exist or aren’t how we remember them all. There is something about the remnants of a place that lingers with you. The memories are still there, but the reality is sometimes a little haunting because the time that passes in our minds is seemingly pristine. In actuality, these past experiences and the images of these places are vastly different then what we remember. I want to explore objects or places that were significant in people’s lives but now are left behind and abandoned. To achieve this I have gone back to a very familiar place to me and close to my heart, the home of my Nana. I spent a good portion of my childhood in my Nana’s home. The three-story twin house, which she lived for forty-five years, seemed like a castle to me when I was younger. It was a labyrinth of old objects and smells. Now, after years of being away, and Nana no longer there, I come to this place with a heavy memory, an eerie memory of what it once was. While the outside world moved on, my Nana’s house stood still. The house shows its age, but regardless of the weakened condition, the memories inside remain potent.
Will Harris’ series of photographs in the project ‘Evelyn’ pertains to his Nana (his maternal grandmother). She no longer lives in the home, and the house at time of making the series had been abandoned for quite some time (10 years or so). The ‘Evelyn’ series evokes a sense of melancholy that one cannot help but ask more questions than those answered: What happened here? What happened to Evelyn? How do we ultimately remember the people we love, and what do they mean to us?
“She means a lot to me. I don’t know if words could do my feelings justice. I have the fondest memories of spending time with her in the house. Describing what the series means to me is much easier. It’s my attempt at the encapsulation of my memories but not only mine but my mothers as well, she moved into that house as small child. Through conversations with her I learned a lot about my family history. It also meant a lot to me to take these images as a form of preservation. Nothing about the house was pristine at the time of making these images but for me it was a honest look at reality of the situation.”
“The work is not so much about the person though as it is about the space and the memories I had of it as a child, as well as the memories from the past it contains. Those memories don’t belong to just me: the house has been in my family for 60 years or so, my grandmother lived in it with many people — and for quite some time, also by herself.”
When artists make work about memories and loss — it is as much about the process of remembering as it is about loss itself. The late B. B. King talked about the old misguided musical adage of “The blues is about feeling sad”. He would shake his head back and forth with closed eyes, and preach that the blues is about the joy of living. Not unlike the blues, photography and visual work that strikes a chord of melancholy or nostalgia have both bitterness and sweetness to be embraced.
Variations of Presence is a photo series by Alexis Vasilikos. Alexis is a photographer based in Greece and has had shows this year at CAN Christina Androulidaki Gallery, Athens, GR (solo show), A Process 2.0, Krakow Photomonth, Curated by DER GREIF, and Temporarily Lost, Athens Photo Festival, curated by Apostolos Zerdevas.
“I’m not sure that I can pinpoint how my photography evolved – it is all one movement and it is somehow integrated in my daily functioning. It just flows spontaneously from within. Maybe what I can say is there was an evolution in my approach rather than in my images, maybe things I did with more effort before are easier now, and I am less concerned about showing some weaknesses.
One thing I learned is that it’s not necessary to stick to a precise creative process: paradoxically, beauty arises from the absence of identification because only when we are free from personal identity we can perceive the majesty of being as it really is.”
Memories are not the key to the past, but rather, to understanding our future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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