About the Work
When a still life is photographed, it becomes locked in time. After the assemblage has served its purpose, most organic materials are discarded, where they may return to the earth. I make my pictures verses take them. I build a photographic scene from scratch. While I often incorporate elements from nature, my compositions cannot be found in the natural world, and therefore cannot be found to take. Making a photograph for me is a fabrication––a dance between the musings of the mind’s eye, the manipulation of materials and the sculpting of light. My photographs are not intended to be a simple representation of disparate objects assembled in implausible compositions; they are intended to be an exploration––an investigation of form, of light, of space, of time. They are an interpretation of reality that transcends the static nature of inanimate objects to create a sense of dynamism––of movement––of enigmatic wonder intended to beckon further inspection.
When I use common objects to create a photograph, I do not look at a teapot for example and think, “Teapot,” instead I am drawn to its form, its texture and so forth, without concern for functionality or any prior associations one could ascribe. I hunt for objects that in the right light and angle of view suggest a “spirit presence” that one might experience when viewing African or Outsider art, or the weird imagery of the Chicago Imagists.
Sometimes my compositions evolve into a puppet theater––a surreal world where some of the objects are deliberately chosen for their anthropomorphic or zoomorphic resemblances. Each new composition speaks to me as I take cues from the individual objects and make incremental decisions. Sometimes I suspend objects with visible string or wire, or hold some in place with hemostats and other devices to tease at the illusion of weightlessness and create a sense of precarious imbalance, the pull of gravity or even floating in air. Suspending objects in the scene by visible means is deliberate, and intended to reference the idiom of the theatrical environment that would normally require the suspension of disbelief. An example would be Georges Melies’ film, “Trip to the Moon,” where the underpinnings are blatantly visible, revealing a world that is playfully bizarre, mischievous and fantastical.
In my work, I imagine that the objects come alive and move around the stage in improvisational dance––sometimes revealing traces of humor, but at others, a darker mood, like a still from a film noir. It is my hope that the viewer will be drawn into my photographs, and become involved on many levels.
In an earlier era, interesting relics of contemplation might have been housed in a “cabinet of curiosity,” also known as a “Wonder Room”–– a 16th century phenomenon that was a precursor to the modern museum. These encyclopedic repositories for “Objects of Curiosity” were considered a microcosm of the artifacts, oddities, antiquities, and natural history specimens, were usually presented in some formal enclosure such as a room, cabinet or a theatrical display.
Though I let intuition and experimentation lead me through the creative aspects of my work, I place great emphasis on craft. For me to accomplish the level of precision and refinement that I expect, the Large Format Camera became the instrument of my choosing.
While the LF camera can be cumbersome and technically demanding at times, the rewards are well worth the effort because of its capacity to record subjects in extreme detail. Because of the larger negative, in my case 8x10 and 11x14 inches, the LF camera makes it possible to see minute features in objects that would have otherwise escaped notice had they not fallen under the gaze of the cameras’ tack-sharp lens. I could now look beneath the skin of things––right through to what I felt was the essence––as though seeing the objects for the first time. The epiphany of that moment helped steer the direction of my work today.
As my photography continues to evolve, I have become intent on exploring and experimenting with the painterly possibilities of light and shadow. In many of my still life constructions, light in its infinite form, along with its counterpoint, shadow, are not intended only to illuminate or add contrast to the scene, they are innate compositional elements essential to the ethos of meaning––as important as are the solid objects and background materials I work with.
I often use antique condenser lenses, concave mirrors, prisms and other glass devices to transform straight light into enigmatic shapes, inexplicable patterns, as well as mysterious shadowy projections. Some of the optical instruments that accomplish the task are barely visible—set back in the shadowy recesses of the composition. Some objects are prominently bathed in full light, while others are positioned just beyond the boundary of the camera’s ground glass, painting puzzling light forms that seem to come from nowhere.
Working in my studio and darkroom I become intently focused and lose myself––entering a zone where the concept of time fades away. Where the creative process may lead is uncertain until a moment of revelation, and the shutter is tripped. To quote Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French Humanist Photographer, when he speaks about the decisive moment, “To me photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”
My intent with this work is to raise curiosity, and stimulate and bemuse the inquisitive mind. I hope my photographs encourage the viewers’ eye to examine in detail, the wonder of things—to meld the attributes of an art form practiced at a high level, while at the same time playing around in magical wonderment—how a child might see something for the very first time.