Wednesday, May 6, 2015

June 2015 Exhibit at Blue Hill Public Library

Quarries Of New England

A Photo Exhibit at Blue Hill Public Library

June 1-26, 2015, I will be showing new work at the Blue Hill Public Library in Blue Hill, Maine. The prints will be from my first all-digital series, "Quarries of New England," an artistic/documentary exploration of mainly abandoned rock quarries in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.  Framed prints will be for sale and 50% of the sale price will go to the library to benefit their general funds. 

I'll host a reception on June 5, 2015 from 5-7pm at the library, and I''l be serving non alcoholic beverages and snacks. I hope to have time to bake some focaccia bread, and I plan to have some cheeses, nuts, and olives too. I'll give a short gallery talk about 6pm.

Whetmore & Morse Quarry, Graniteville, Barre, Vermont, MMXIV

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Diptychs in Fresh Works - Five

Tractor, Kingdom Road, Blue Hill, Maine, MMX
Despite having visited the Blue Hill area for many years, I had not explored Kingdom Road until 2010. One August morning I thought I would drive out before breakfast to see what was photogenic there. It was not long before I came upon this red tractor and green hay-bailer sitting out in a freshly cut hayfield. Not wanting to wander into the field uninvited, I mounted a 150mm telephoto on my Pentax 645n for this diptych, which would magnify the images I wanted to make. I shot the scene a few different ways, and like this pair the best. I shot the tractor image then walked a few feet to the right for the second image of the trailer. If you look at the background you will see some repetition of the plants and trees. Telephoto lenses have the property of low depth of field, which makes things in front of or behind the main subject blurred by being out of focus, which can be a disadvantage or can make the main subject of a photo pop out at the viewer. The advantage of this approach was to get the farm equipment in profile and sharp, while the background and foreground were softened, but still recognizable.

Diptychs in Fresh Works - Four

Sheep May Safely Graze, Greenstory Farm, East Blue Hill, Maine, MMX
Not far from our new house in East Blue Hill, Maine is Jay Carter Road, a long dirt track leading to several houses and farms along the West side of McHeard Stream. One farm a short distance down the road is called Greenstory, and they raise sheep. I shot this small flock one morning, trying different lenses and two different cameras, but the sheep became disinterested in me rather quickly. As a result, the early diptychs of these ovines were much better because the sheep were still looking on me with some curiosity, perhaps expecting a treat. I took the start of my title from the J.S. Bach cantata.

Diptychs in Fresh Works - Three

Rocks, Ocean Path, Acadia National Park, Maine, MMVIII
Acadia National Park’s spectacular views are sometimes obscured by thick fog in summer. Fog can have a very interesting effect on a subject for the open minded artist, generating a softly defined negative space. A spectacular example in Japanese Art is a set of folding screens by Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539-1610) depicting a pine forest in fog. Late in his life while living in a Buddhist monastery, Tōhaku portrayed these pine trees in washes of sumi ink rapidly fading from black to grey, with much of the paper left totally white. 

Hasegawa Tōhaku, Pine Trees in Fog (松林図), 16th Century, Momoyama Period, Ink on Paper, right hand screen of pair of byōbu folding screens, Tōkyō National Museum (東京国立博物館).Japan.
In photography, fog results in an image emphasizing the foreground or the main subject and removes much detail from the background that might compete with the main subject in a fair weather photo. I shot these two pictures near the end of a hike with Lansing Wagner, as we walked down the Ocean Path down the eastern shore of Acadia the fog closed in, and the visible world became more intimate. We came upon a very cracked section of the pink granite that is the bedrock of Mount Desert Island, and the cracks seemed to converge toward one point. I tried to emphasize this convergence with the 45mm wide angle lens on my Bronica RF645, which exaggerated the perspective, and by splitting the composition into two frames I hoped to draw the viewer’s eyes in interesting ways into and around the composition. The bluish-grey lichens and green foliage provided subtle colors to contrast with the pink granite rocks in the print.

Diptychs in Fresh Works - Two

Radar House, Radar Road, Sedgwick, Maine, MMVII
I photographed this odd, blocky building without knowing what it was, and as I did so I was thinking about how to make the simple structure less banal. While the lushly growing lupines and other plants, the peeling yellow paint and rusting metal doors framed a compelling subject, I wanted to approach it creatively. I was not content to simply document it. So I decided to photograph this diptych shooting the building from the two corners, which would give a glimpse of both sides of the building, along with the front. In the back of my mind I was thinking of David Hockney’s photocollage of a desk, a more complex composition that shows the top, sides and front of the furniture.
I was later told this was a World War II radio house for a radar installation, but recently I learned this is not quite right. Built in the postwar, the 1950s, this was the Sedgwick Z-6BB Radar station, that had an unmanned radar tower and equipment to transmit data to Charleston Air Force Station in Charleston, Maine. The Sedgwick station was a Bendix model AN/FPS-14 radar, placed to fill in gaps in radar coverage from the larger installation at Charleston.

Diptychs in the Fresh Works exhibit at the first Flash Forward Festival Boston - One

I thought I would post descriptions and information of each of my five diptychs that curator Paula Tognarelli picked to put in the Fresh Works show on view June 2-5, 2011 at the Flash Forward Festival Boston

Burnt Blueberry Field, Radar Road, Sedgwick, Maine, MMVIII
The Radar Road blueberry fields in Sedgwick, Maine are among my favorite places in all the world. Carpeted with the low-bush, wild blueberry plants native to the northern parts of the US and Canada, with small patches of other plants, these fields explode with life. The plants change during the growing season, from the blossoms of spring to the concentrated blue-black fruit ripening in August to the reddening leaves of autumn. But these fields would rapidly go to shrubs and trees in climactic succession without the intervention of humans, who value blueberries above a forest. To keep unwanted plants at bay, the common practice in Maine is to burn the fields every few years, usually after harvest. This kills off many susceptible weeds, but not the blueberry plants, whose roots tolerate the heat and then grow again the next year.
I shot this diptych one cool spring the year after this particular field was burned. While the ground was still blackened with soot, the new blueberry plant growth was quite red, while ferns and grasses that also survived the previous fall’s burning sprang forth in green. While this appears surreal, it is actually a faithful recoding to film of what was there. No digital manipulation is done to my prints of this scene, I only adjust the brightness of the sky buy burning the upper part of the image to get the clouds to show up on the paper.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Opening of Frank Rodick’s “Labyrinth of Desire” and gallery talk with Katherine Ware

Frank Rodick, Love, 2007, from the series Faithless Grottoes, Digital Type C Print, 36 x 96 inches / 91.4 x 243.8 cm

One of the most intellectually stimulating events of FotoFest 2010 was the opening of Canadian photographic artist Frank Rodick retrospective “Labyrinth of Desire,” curated by Katherine Ware at Houston’s Colton and Farb Gallery. I was not sure what to expect, having only seen one image before choosing to go to the opening, which was to feature a dialog between the photographer and curator.

Coming into the gallery, I could not help but be impressed by the large colorful images of Rodick’s Faithless Grottoes series. These are big, graphic images, either printed on very large paper or composed of several separately framed prints. The subject matter is people, but not portraiture. The original images are sometimes derived from photographing pornography on a TV screen, the faces of people in the throes of ecstasy, sometimes using models who are bound and gagged. Rodick then heavily manipulates the images digitally, distorting facial features, enlarging teeth or lips, blurring features and adding specks and noise to the images, artfully playing with them. This series is printed in color, but a nearly monochromatic color. Each print is boldly black and blue or black and red, cold or hot in tone. The result is painterly, abstracted from visual reality, yet still tied to it and the source of the picture remains obviously photographic. 

To tell the truth, I found these big prints nightmarish and overwhelmingly creepy. Like pictures of Jesus bleeding on the cross, there is a sadomasochistic quality to Rodick’s Grottoes series that I gives me a hard time upon seeing the pictures. I’m sure some people have a different reaction, and there is no denying the power and quality of the work. Living with one of these pieces would be too depressing, and this is coming from someone who admires Japanese war triptych prints from the Meiji period and their stylized violence. Rodick’s photos are not for me.

Frank Rodick, Untitled No. 34, 1995, Gelatin Silver Print, 8.5 x 13.5 inches / 21.6 x 34.3 cm

Some of the other series by the artist were much more accessible to me. In the rooms featuring the early street photos where Frank deliberately used slow shutter speeds to blur walking people to the soft, cropped nudes of his Sub Rosa series that followed it, I found my self relaxing a bit from the tension induced by the Grottoes series. Even the Arena series, which uses many of the same images as Grottoes is less devastating, because the prints are much smaller and the color pallet more muted. These Arena pictures are more monochromatic, like toned black and white prints. 

Frank Rodick, Sub Rosa No. 5, 1995, Gelatin Silver Print, 16.25 x 12.75 inches / 41.3 x 32.4 cm

Finally there was Rodick’s newest work, Revisitations, small color triptychs of oval prints bezel set and sumptuously mounted in velvet lined wooden boxes, almost like old Daguerreotypes. We were encouraged to put on cotton gloves and hold these pictures, a more intimate experience. Revisitations seemed more personal and nostalgic for Rodick, and one piece included a postmortem photo of his father.

Frank Rodick, Three Studies for a Mouth (Explorations in statecraft, love, and the passing of woes), 2010, Type C Print mounted in wooden case, 4 x 8 ¾ inches / 10.1x 22 cm 
After I had been looking around a few minutes, visitors were encouraged to sit for the gallery talk, which took the form of an introduction by Katherine Ware, photography curator of the New Mexico Museum of Art, followed by an interview and discussion of Rodick’s work. Ware told how she had met Rodick at FotoFest 2008 and decided to help him put together this mid-career retrospective. Then Ware noted how photography is very good at reproducing the surface appearance of things, while painting can more easily explore and portray the feelings of the artist and asked “How do you get below the surface with photography?”
Rodick replied that he is much more interested in “bending the media” away from capturing the surface of appearances, that he is no longer interested in making straight or documentary photography. He said he likes to manipulate his photos to give them tension. And, surprisingly for someone who is obviously a master of digital manipulation, Rodick likes to take advantage of chance occurrences, to make a final product that he did not plan or expect to make.
Ware asked Rodick why he often works now in multi-image formats, and he said he likes the way two or more images can relate to each other and build a kind of narrative, a miniature movie in the viewers imagination. This is something I wholly understand. I also find multi image works fascinating. Even the simplest sort of diptych a side by side scene, like the ones I often make, develops a sort of story about something, even if it just is about taking the two photos. Ware asked if Rodick expected the audience for his work to know the language of these narratives, and he replied “the short answer is yes and no.” The gallery audience laughed, and Rodick went on to say that while some elements of the narratives he constructs are intentional, every person is going to have a different reaction. To me Rodick’s multi-image works suggest strange disturbing stories, ones of bondage, sadomasochistic sex and violence, even kidnapping and torture.
Rodick hopes that his images rather than showing literal visual truth will be emotionally authentic, to feel true. And Katherine Ware agreed speaking of how these images reminded her of how she sometimes sees things in dreams and remembrances in the back of her head. Rodick knows there will be various reactions to the pictures, from some people finding them the sexiest things they have ever seen to others finding them horrific. He related an anecdote of one collector who told him the images in Faithless Grottoes were very powerful and emotional. For a moment he was excited hoping she would buy some of his work, thinking “how many would you like?” But then she continued, saying “And I can’t bear to look at them,” and he was devastated. And he told on the other hand of receiving some very frank sexual propositions in emails from people who have seen his work and are turned on by it.

Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Figure with Meat , 1954, Oil on Canvas, 51 1/8 x 48 inches / 129.9 x 121.9 cm 
Not surprisingly Ware asked about Rodick’s admiration of British painter Francis Bacon, and he confirmed he is a fan of Bacon’s painting which similarly distorts human faces and forms and often features sadomasochistic elements. I think the influence can clearly be seen in the enlarged teeth of several of Rodick’s pictures like Decrement (All flesh / 63 Chambers) which echoes Bacon’s Figure with Meat, in which the figure is a distortion of a painting by Velasquez of Pope Innocent X.

Frank Rodick, Decrement (All flesh / 63 chambers), 2010, Array of nine Type C Prints, each 26 x 20 inches / 66 x 50.8 cm 
At the end, Ware and Rodick opened the floor for questions from the audience. No one seemed ready to start, so like a good teachers pet I jumped in first with a couple questions. I’m a pretty shy guy around new people, but asking questions is something I always am able to do. I was curious as to whether or not Rodick kept all the images that failed to satisfy him, and he said it’s becomes much easier with everything becoming digital, so he does keep his failures stored on his computer now, though he did not when he was working in the darkroom earlier in his career. Katherine Ware pointed out that sometimes artists are not he best people to evaluate whether a particular piece they made is a failure or a success, so it is good that it has become easier for photographers to keep all their work.
Afterward, Ware and Rodic came up to me and thanked me for bresking the ice on the Q & A session. I had a nice chat with Ware on Maine and the outdoors, which she loves too.