Talk Given at Art New England Workshops (Bennington College)
Tonight we will
surf through a large group of images 20 years work in 20
The core of
what Im exhibiting these days and perhaps that which
Im best known for are photographs which were made with
a $2 plastic Diana camera. All of what I am exhibiting
- and most of the images seen here tonight - are black and white
photographs which have been chemically toned split-toned
utilizing numerous gold-based toning formulae which date from the
late 19th century.
With both the
camera and with the subsequent toning, you get what you get.
Im no longer interested in being in complete control of this
medium. Serendipity is an important part of my process; working
more intuitively and side-stepping willfully intended results is
what keeps me interested
. My interest is in photography is
not in making a document, but in serving an image.
I was born and
raised in VT moved to ME in 1977 I am a self-taught
My formal training
in photography amounts to one intro photography course while in
college although Ive been very lucky with the teachers
with whom I have had at least occasional contact.
paid my monthly bills through means other than photographic - in
part, to keep my photography unencumbered from financial pressures.
I think this has served both the images and me very well.
avoided commercial photography as being polluting or distasteful,
its simply that other means of income came a lot easier to
me for a variety of reasons.
Begin the slides:
negative file begins in 1974.
date from about 1976 when I was working with an 8x10 view camera
almost exclusively. The 8x10 is a great tool to get your photographic
chops down it is the ultimate in control with every single
negative being exposed and processed individually.
will give you a sense of what I was doing while waiting to see what
my images might look like
. (although I certainly didnt
understand this at the time)
I think its
possible the first 10 years or so of an artists working life
are essentially spent finding out what a chosen medium might want
from him or her. It establishes a relationship.
Some of these
images still hold interest for me today, and I have even worked
them through some of the toners Im currently using.
This work is
from an exhibition in 1981.
I confess Ive
rarely been completely satisfied with straight black
and white (gelatin silver) photography.
Over the past
25 years Ive employed numerous devices to extend the dialogue
with my images: I have gathered them into handmade books, collaged
them, grouped them together onto mats, and even made paintings with
them or based upon them.
What I have
endeavored to do is make each step in the photographic process another
beginning point to establish and maintain a dialogue with
an image. My most recent fascination ongoing since the early
90s is with toning, most particularly split-toning.
HOTEL (Burlington, VT) - A documentation project:
I told you Ive
been lucky in the people Ive had as teachers. Sometimes an
artist will work in a teachers mode of working to more completely
understand the connection.
This is a legitimate
and important thing to do. It may also be an important thing to
The one teacher
I had in college worked/ works in what we might call a documentary
or journalistic style.
I lived in this
former bus-station hotel (it was a whore-house when I was growing
up) one winter while staying and working in Burlington (Vermont
is still preferable to Maine in the winter!). I decided before leaving
for Maine in the spring I would try to photograph as many of the
residents in their rooms as possible
. I used a 4x5 Crown Graphic
fitted with a super wide-angle lens (a schneider Super-Angulon)
and a single bare-bulb flash. I made two - and only two exposures
for each of the 32 portraits I was able to make (there were
50 rooms total).
these images, with text consisting of the persons name, their
room number and a short one-line comment something they said
to me - or, a simple observation I made from the very short time
I was in the rooms. The building manager kindly kept a room vacant
for one week, and we hung an informal exhibition before I departed
In 1982 I came
upon a unique opportunity of a different sort
I have walked
away from photography several times over the years - not willfully
or out of frustration, but simply because other concerns came into
the foreground and demanded my attention. These other concerns Ive
pursued with the same enthusiasm and passion I feel for photography.
For example, Jane and I spent five years on the water fishing 600
lobster traps out of Tenants Harbor. I also have an abiding interest
in wine and I have traveled and studied extensively for many
years in order to scratch that itch. I even make 600 bottles of
wine a year myself
to a place where I feel quite strongly that the medium we most need
to attend to is the time that we have.
we find ourselves doing, its critically important to give
it our full and heartfelt consent. The photographer Frederick Sommer
had alot to say about the power of consent.
It was Fred
who first made me aware that it is the consent we give to the activities
in our day that matters - the particulars are secondary. Making
art is not such a privileged condition! No one activity in our day
has more legitimacy than another.
Consent is closely
related to acceptance. Ive discovered that living life in
acceptance requires much more courage than living from a place of
anger and negation
When I stopped
fishing I decided to take stock photographically and do a review
of my negative file.
While I was
fishing, I was also waiting tables and one of my co-workers
was a collector and dealer of 19th century photography. Over the
years he provided me the history of photography course I never had
in college. This years-long on-going conversation was done with
the actual images.
lies something critical: I came to appreciate just how important
the photographic object was and also how critically important
it is for process and image to marry. The antique images
intimately intertwine image and process. There is a sense of inevitability
when an image is coupled successfully with the right
thinking Id try to print the Diana images in some historic
process - like albumen, gum or platinum. I knew I wanted to bring
to my photographs some of the soulfulness I felt from the antique
I was in search
of something for which my images seemed to be asking - something
I thought I understood - but I was delivered to something that took
some time to fully appreciate.
At this point
I would like to simply let these images scroll across the screen
while I share some thoughts with you
. At the end of this group
of Diana images is another a body of work in which I have matched
the toned images into unusual found frames putting the image
and frame into direct dialogue. You may recall I try to use each
new result as a further point of departure
Vision is always
ahead of understanding
. Clarity, if it comes at all, is a
luxury of hindsight
If we are truly
engaged in something new, there is no possibility of understanding
or appreciating the act at the time. Making art is an act of faith.
One must learn to trust the materials and the processes.
The idea that
art is self-expression is propaganda. Images come not from us, but
. Thats what I mean when I say we must learn
what the medium wants from us were learning to personally
get out of the way to better cooperate with the process. But this
is not a new idea authors speak of their characters writing
themselves, various sculptors talk of allowing the materials
to reveal the form inside. Even winemakers speak in
similar terms about winemaking.
After more than
25 years of photography I am delighted to simply bear witness to
the images. I have come to consider myself a midwife in the image
end, Ive come to prefer the use of tools and processes over
which I can exert only limited control. This allows the medium itself
a greater voice in the process.
on something Fred Sommer once said about photography and memory:
Photography is inextricably linked to memory: Both are selective.
Both are an alchemy over time. And both are factual but not
that photography sets up a privileged condition outside the flow
of time and events. He points out that photography is reality
but its a photographic one.
So, there is
only an indirect and casual relationship between a thing seen and
a photograph of a thing seen. Photography is about transformation
It is an alchemy where something ordinary is transformed into something
extraordinary or precious
Vision is organic
vision is a relationship with the world around us.
Our world is
not an inert backdrop against which we play out the little dramas
of our lives; it is not a me inside here, and a world outside
sees not with the eyes, but with the heart. James Hillman says,
Imagination - the ability to see things as images - is a function
of the heart
is a function of an awakened heart
it is at something of a crossroads right now - especially with the
advent of digital imaging, which is forcing a reevaluation of the
medium. This reevaluation is remarkably similar to the one which
painting faced when photography first came along 160 years ago
when painting was freed from its role as the primary arbiter of
reality. Photography left the medium of painting free to explore
itself in its own right.
There is a large
and growing number of contemporary photographers who are practicing
their craft with much the same open curiosity and with the same
experimental and inventive spirit which prevailed in photographys
first 50 years of existence. Artists who understand that photographys
future lies in the heart of photographys earliest past