Alfred Stieglitz, Alibi Fine Art, Ansel Adams, Art Scene, black and white photography, Chicago, Connecticut College, Edward Steichen, fine art photography, Gustave LeGray, Historic Photography, Irving Penn, landscape photography, Paul Strand, Platinum Prints, Rhode Island Landscapes, Seascapes, spiritual artwork
A portfolio of twenty landscape platinum prints will be on display at The Alibi Gallery in Chicago. This collection comes from two distinct yet related bodies of work: Leaving Babylon and Oceanhead Meditation.
About Oceanhead Meditation
Oceanhead Meditation is about establishing a relationship with the spiritual world. I made these images when I first moved to Rhode Island from Boston in an attempt to generate “some buzz” and “money”. I had a new baby, a new house, and no steady income.
So, I went the closest beach with my 5×7 camera and just made pictures. Since it was the middle of winter, the weather was rotten. My images were not very idyllic or peaceful. I realized I was photographing an external world that looked like my internal one felt: blowing wind and crashing waves with constant upheaval. The contrast of my attitude between those two states was what interested me the most. I found the external swirl of nature to be beautiful and a source of creative inspiration but the similar internal disruption unacceptable. I learned the creative experience is not about waiting for things to calm down but to start where you are and remove expectations. I embraced disruption and found beauty in it. That process allowed me to reconnect with the God of my understanding. In spite of all the fear and confusion, I found a quiet peaceful space. I also exposed a lot of film, reduced expectations for perfection and just did the work. In the words of Sister Maurice, “Pray and row the boat.” My God is the God of action.
The powers of the ocean are driven by forces we cannot see (wind, gravity, underwater landscapes). We only see the evidence of that power. My photographs were about the appreciation of that invisible creative power I choose to call God.
God is in us like the ocean is in a wave.
About Leaving Babylon
Leaving Babylon was made after several attempts to “go commercial” with my fine art work. I made quiet, boring, and perfectly composed landscapes with my 8×10 camera. Honestly, I was still learning how to use my camera, expose film, and print it in platinum. It is not enough to intellectually know how to do something, there is a long period of “practice” that is part of learning. Good work was made but I still felt unfulfilled.
I needed to make a living and support my family and that wasn’t happening with the images. So, I photographed weddings, corporate events, made family portraits, taught alternative processes at NESOP, taught workshops at various colleges and The George Eastman House, photographed flat art for painters, etc. When the phone rang, I just said yes. I still do all of these assignments and am glad for the chance to be useful.
One day, when I was between two assignments at Connecticut College. I brought my 8×10 camera along and just set it up along a path to make a picture. It was boring until the idea came “You don’t have to photograph it the way it actually looks to make a successful image.” The breakthrough was exactly what Ansel Adams described when he made a picture of Half Dome using a red filter. I was liberated and able to make images that represented how I felt instead of simple documents of what I saw. Here I was with a camera capable of all sorts of swings, tilts and adjustments, every black and white color filter one could have, and I was always trying to make things look “normal”.
I fell in love again with photography and realized that I had something to say visually. Leaving Babylon was my way of saying “no” to the constraints of commercial photography, bland art, and self-created boundaries. The term “Babylon” comes more from the Jamaican slang implying “the state” or an implied system. The Babylon I had left was of my own creation.
I drove around with less of an agenda and being more open to the “muse” which usually consisted of a voice saying “pull over here and walk around”.
I didn’t wait for good light because I assumed all light was good light. My job was to work with the light as it was, not how I wanted it to be. The result was a body of work that got things wrong, broke boundaries, and, once again, blurred lines between an interior and exterior world. I was doing something with my camera that painters had been doing all along: interpreting the land and transforming it into something personal. I could make a world with my camera that doesn’t exist in any other medium. It was exhilarating.
This work reflects an ongoing conversation with the divine. It is an act of faith to step outside and trust the simple process of image making in Oceanhead. This was followed by accepting the invitation of the creator to make something new with his creation. Both were collaborations and challenged me at the precise level of my ability. I find this to still be the case. Making art has never been a comfortable process.
Printing and Technical Information
Since platinum printing is a contact process, I wasn’t able to print either of the negatives to the full extent of my vision for them. Until recently my ability to dodge and burn, adjust local contrast, etc was severely limited. The solution came when I commissioned Laumont Photographic and Panopticon Imaging to make high-resolution scans of my negatives. I repaired the damage done to them by previous printing sessions and also interpreted the images as I always saw them. I then made new digital negatives for the sole purpose of platinum printing.
There really wasn’t a huge difference between the old and the new interpretations. I don’t believe in over manipulation of my images but I make adjustments like I would in a darkroom with an enlarger. At the start, I had a little trouble reconciling the digital element with being “artistically pure” (read: “grandiose”) but realized the photographers who influenced me (Irving Penn, Alfred Stieglitz, Gustav LeGray, Paul Strand, Edward Steichen) had been making and manipulating enlarged negatives without a shred of angst. I was not sacrificing the integrity of the image by using a digital darkroom to produce something that would allow me to make my platinum prints the way I saw them in the first place.
I’m not “capturing” anything because what I’m looking for is too sophisticated to fall for any trick I might cook up. Instead, I’m invited to witness and create a space with my camera that honors the light and land. Usually my most successful images are the ones I think the least about. That’s not to say I am most successful when I’m not engaged in the process but more about not being so worried about what everyone else thinks before I actually expose the film.