Photography

How many photographs have you taken?

Now that’s a question. I’m not completely sure I can responsibly even guess… fifteen, maybe twenty thousand? That includes the work I created pre-digital cameras. Every shutter click is infinitely more of a costly action when you work with film. You have to really have a good sense that every shot has the potential to work on some level. But I’ve been taking photographs since I was approximately 14 years old.

And you worked exclusively with film for how long do you think?

Until around 2003. I was invited to participate in the group show Four Young Photographers in 2002 at Martin-Zambito Fine Art. I created four original works for that exhibit as part of the State of Condition Series, Part I, Humans vs. Nature. Those four works represented the last time I professionally worked in film. Each work featured two photographs, incidentally, layered in strips in an A/B/A/B format. It created a venetian blind effect where each of the two photos could be seen only by directly focusing on it. Love to reexamine that format at some point.

Did those four works end up anywhere interesting by chance?

Interesting? Well, one was acquired by David and Dominic, the gallery proprietors. And one is currently hanging in an art-bar in West Seattle called Company. It’s among some pretty nice work by a small clan of very talented artists. The other two are currently in my personal possession.

Do you feel that the advent of inexpensive digital cameras has helped to progress photography’s artistic reach?

There’s a complexity to the nature of capturing a single moment in time as only a camera can do that I believe is in fact served very well by the advent of inexpensive digital cameras, yes. In that it has simplified the technical process and offset backbreaking financial costs, allowing more individuals to participate in the contemporary dialog. However, I also believe that with individuals now needing to know next to nothing about the art and craft of photography in order to produce a photo (not to mention delete it almost instantaneously if it isn’t judged to be worth keeping), there is a diminishing quality of work on average. In other words, I’m not sure if the digital camera and the folk guitar are much different in their cultural impact. They both were the center of a widespread movement, yet those respective movements vacillated wildly in quality of total output.

So, is that a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ as far as progressing photography’s artistic reach?

I’ll take a swing with a ‘yes’. It would be odd to state otherwise all things considered.

On average, do you approach fine art photography from any particular angle?

I always want my work to simultaneously harbor an attention to formal details and subtle technical imperfections in the photos themselves, a nod to the human element involved in the process. Between me, myself and I, I refer to it as Soft Realism or High Lowbrow. Also, I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of using the photographic medium as a slate for wildly impressionistic or prepared or process-altered works. If a painter suddenly uses brand new paints, paints with some brand new compound in them that changes the glimmer for example of the paint itself, that doesn’t make the paintings worthy of existing simply because the material is new. And like those brand new paints, I don’t subscribe to using photography as a medium to achieve anything besides mechanically or digitally capturing in some capacity our visual reality.

A documentarian?

A concept-driven, emotionally expressive and compositionally hyper-aware documentarian perhaps. But, yes, definitely a documentarian. This doesn’t by any means suggest that in my work I only shoot exactly what is happening or “real” or that the content of the work is by definition completely unaltered. It’s just that if I do choose to manipulate my subject matter it is done in more of a mechanical pre-shutter fashion rather than a chemical or digital post-shutter one.

If you could only work in one format, what would it be: color or black & white?

Oh, b&w… that’s not even a real inner debate for me. And that’s actually a great example of what I mean when I say pre-shutter subject manipulation. It’s all there, the subject matter itself hasn’t been altered, but a visual filter, in this case the limited tonal spectrum, has been activated to reduce the viewer’s ability to understand the photo through anything except form and context. There is no color, therefore the viewer has no ability to relate it to real-life events, no personal historic point of reference in order to place it cleanly on a certain mental or emotional shelf.

At its absolute center, what is a photograph to you?

I’ve often thought that the reason we are so utterly obsessed with anything that is etched into, drawn onto or hung upon walls is because we actually have a love/hate relationship with them. We realize they are important for our survival, especially because they alone hold up roofs which protect us during, say, life-threatening inclement weather. But we dislike them because while they valiantly serve to protect they also serve to disconnect and desensitize. As it is with anything… there is always a perceived positive and a perceived negative in balance with one another. So, in hopes of accepting this duality, we have come to enjoy the ritual of etching into, drawing onto and hanging upon all variety of socially, spiritually and culturally period-relevant decorations, documents and representations. To me, a photograph is a window through which we are able to see into a specific view of reality. Albeit a sometimes disorientingly motionless and emotionally frozen one. And that photograph, once hung upon a wall, subtly serves to not only functionally block from our view the section of the wall upon which it is hung but also as a means by which we are able to see through that wall and metaphorically out into the environment on the other side.

Would you say that a photograph, in that regard, is no different than a painting or any other object that ends up hung upon a wall?

Actually, no, I would say that it is different. And I would say that because a photograph as a single object comes as close to capturing the human visual experience as is currently technically possible. And this mirror-like precision creates a deeply spiritual and psychologically haunting window. Although, I feel like I have to say that movies represent an even more accurate portrayal. But you can’t hang a movie upon a wall nor could one ever exist as an independent object as do photographs.

What would you claim as some of the most intriguing photographs you’ve ever taken?

What first comes to mind are the shots I took at the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in November of 1999. Having only moved to Seattle in September of 1998 this was such a thrill. I absolutely don’t mean that in any sensationalist way, or in a way that might in any fashion legitimize the injustices committed during the protests against citizens or those committed all over the world in conjunction with those being represented inside the WTO itself. Nonetheless, to be there and able-bodied enough to navigate through the downtown streets during those few days was, and I knew this going in, a potential once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really shoot some sincerely moving photographs. Thrilling, to a certain extent, is the best word I have for it.

Did you ever get caught in a less than desirable situation while you were taking photographs of the protests?

Sure did. Twice, at least. I don’t recall precisely where I was when this particular scene unfolded, but I was engulfed in a billowing cloud of tear gas. In order to get what I thought would be some interesting photos I would have had to shoot them from the exact opposite side of the block that I was on. Little did I know that as I attempted to circumvent a small crowd in between where I was and where I had wanted to be that I was heading straight into and behind a retreating line of protesters. The tear gas cloud met me as I turned the corner of an alley. That stuff is not to be experienced without a working gas mask, trust me. I won’t go into detail, but you may assume it was very physically uncomfortable. I also had a moment that I could have sworn wasn’t going to turn out well for me, but somehow went just fine. As a line of riot police began marching side-by-side down a street toward a large crowd of protesters I felt it was somehow a good idea to head to the front of the protesters. I ended up not being able to fall back into the crowd, though, and as the police and protesters came face-to-face with each other I found myself literally able to photograph almost the entire line of police as they stood motionless elbow-to-elbow. I was at the very front of that protest, camera in hand, my eyes on the police, my eyes on the crowd of protesters and absolutely nowhere to go if anything should transpire. After about 10 or 15 minutes I felt my luck was being pushed. So, I made my way to the left edge of the street and snaked a path along the buildings and into the first street and out of harms way. I have one shot that I feel especially captured my position and how it felt to be standing there.

Are you currently represented by any Seattle galleries?

Not officially, no. I have had offers from folks who would be willing to show my work if I felt as if I had an idea for an exhibit. But, no, I have no current gallery representation.

Would that be a professional relationship you would be interested in developing?

It would depend on the terms of that relationship. My photography and I have a somewhat intimate dynamic. But, yes, I would absolutely be open to considering ongoing gallery representation if there was a solid interpersonal connection.

Do you own any cameras you’re distinctly proud of? Any with noteworthy features or capabilities?

Nope. The exact opposite actually. I prefer to shoot with cameras that provide no outs as far as where the responsibility of producing decent photographs lies. No bells and whistles. I’d rather just keep it as simple and as rudimentary as is reasonable. If I create a good photo it should be because I created the good photo, not because I have a camera that is more or less just a complex over-everything-compensating point-n-shoot. The phrase “it takes great photos” does not sit well with me as it relates to expensive cameras. Ha ha! There are exceptions, of course. But they tend to be older “collectible” manuals.

Do you shoot events such as weddings or birthdays?

I do not. I’m not really an event photographer, so to speak. It’s just not my thing. And I don’t consider things like the WTO protests an event, per se. More of a public happening. However, I have a good friend in Portland who includes event photography in her repertoire. She owns some nice equipment and really enjoys shooting such things. And she’s good, has a super keen eye for those moments in between the moments, if you know what I mean.

Do you find you give people her name and number on a regular basis?

Actually, yes. That’s a funny way of putting it, but, yes, I give her name and number to as many people as express interest in needing such services. In fact, she’s the only name and number I feel completely confident giving out. In all fairness, she also created the photograph that I then edited and use as my background image for my website!

From where do you feel your inspiration comes regarding the concepts for your fine art photographic work?

Ahhh, the golden question for any creative individual. The heart of the matter when it comes to that elusive quality within someone’s personality that allows them to invent while others only manage to witness. My inspiration comes from the same place everyone else’s comes from: an inactive mind in syncopated combination with a rich current interest in syncopated combination with a relentless sense of curiosity in syncopated combination with deeply focused creative intent. Gently stir and, voila! Inspiration! Ha ha! Seriously, I am most inspired and therefore receive the majority of my inspiration from anything that I believe is in a state of imbalance.

How do you mean ‘imbalance’ exactly?

I mean it quite literally actually. Where there is an imbalance in the social structure of a current legal system, I find inspiration. When I see spiritual imbalance within a community and the degree to which it is incapable of healing itself, I find inspiration. If I experience a personal imbalance and am seeking to somehow right it, I find inspiration. Where there is an imbalance in the amount of energy individuals spend glorifying that which is Synthetic versus that which is Natural, I find inspiration.

And directly from these many points of ‘imbalance’ sprout the concepts for your work?

More or less. I am sometimes able to extract ideas directly from my awareness of a certain imbalance that soon thereafter are worded into comprehensive working concepts. However, if it is an imbalance that really hits me hard, really has me concerned or engaged on a decidedly more robust level, I will carve from that imbalance a much more multifaceted concept over a period of many months if not years. Like knowledge itself, some concepts have proven themselves to be a process more than a single solitary idea made manifest; a methodology or a bigger picture perspective would be good examples. For me, photography is a great way to communicate how one individual, quite literally, sees the environment around them.

As in vantage point or…?

If you mean metaphorically speaking, then yes. We, and by “we” I mean humans, are addicted to the act of seeing. It is, afterall, the way we acquire the majority of our information. It wasn’t always our eyes that held that esteemed position. While we were still lumbering around on the ground, prior to our survivalist brains taking us up into the trees, our primary way of acquiring information was with our olfactory system. Our noses were our esteemed feature. But when we began living most of our lives in trees we had to develop our sense of depth perception or, smash, we’d up end injured or dead as we fell to the ground. So, our sight became our first priority. Our main defense against predators,however, soon developed into a mega-sense, and it allowed us to do things no other animal had done prior: invent the written word. Fast forward to the advent of machines, and in particular cameras, and you now have a mechanism for people to clearly communicate not only what they see but how they see it. But, and this is the catch, we humans are still leaning on our sight for information as if it was still the age when we desperately relied on it for our survival. And this is an example of an imbalance that I have used to generate concepts for my work. In this case using photography and the act of seeing as inspiration to communicate my observations about photography and the act of seeing.

What would you say is the cultural relationship between “point-n-clickers” and “manual obsessives”?

That’s a fantastic, if not hilariously put, question. The first I would consider Imagists, the second Photographers. The first are concerned with the act of capturing the thing in front of them, the degree to which it will later be looked at as “scene-as-event” and if the forms within the frame should or shouldn’t be there. The second are concerned with the inner workings of the machine they are using and how those inner workings can be customized to serve the photo being taken, the degree to which the scene is appropriately and also creatively framed, the nuances of the textures, the subtle shifts in light, the way the forms within the frame relate to one another and the degree to which they do or do not fit within the frame. Imagists care about photographs as products, Photographers care about photographs as process. Only Photographers can honestly say they care about the craft of producing a good photograph. Simply put: Imagists are Consumers, Photographers are Artisans.

Do you feel that Imagists and Photographers can exist side-by-side, or do you see one as playing a more relevant role in society?

They each have their place. And they each have that moment when their inherent capabilities best serve a specific higher purpose. So, they can and should exist side-by-side, as you put it. In fact, I have used the ethos of an Imagist to capture photos that I later reshot with more of a Photographer’s ethos. This has been a process that has worked especially well since the advent of digital cameras when working with subject matter that is stationary or at least relatively motionless.

Last question… any words of wisdom for those wishing to get into photography?

The same thing someone once told me: obtain a 35mm box with no light leaks, obtain a quality 35-50mm lens and experiment with the many quality 400 ISO black & white films that are available. As a beginner you need to entrench yourself in the basics, the absolute basics, before worrying about zoom lenses or color film or external light meters or anything else. Become very acquainted with the process of manually adjusting the focal length of the lens, the size of the aperture and the length of time the shutter is open. When you are observing your subject matter, look hard. Look for things within that subject matter that most succinctly represent whatever it is that subject matter more grossly appears to represent. Get good at guessing the settings you’ll need on your manual camera in order to achieve a certain look. Learn how to breath when shooting to cause as little camera jiggle as possible: breath in, breath out, click shutter at bottom of breath. This also helps to keep you calm if and when your subject matter doesn’t. And in my personal opinion, refrain from taking any photographs that you aren’t certain are at least framed precisely how you want them to be. This will set the stage for you to gain a more intimate understanding of your camera and the many ways it is able to do what it does. In other words, take your time and enjoy yourself.


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the main page photo was taken by Carmen Grayce Green

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cross-disciplinary art and design