As an artist working with photography for decades, I have come to recognize and appreciate the flexibility of the medium. It has been a valuable tool for scientists, historians (both public and private), journalists, ad men and artists. The value in each instance is somewhat different and the limitations may not be obvious.
In science, the ability to record visual data beyond the limits of normal human perception has been vital. At one extreme, photographic images of trails in a bubble chamber have been used to record the tracks of short lived subatomic particles created by collisions in particle accelerators. These images indirectly recorded the evidence of particles by capturing their effects on surrounding materials, effects that could last longer than the particles themselves. At the other extreme of scale and time, astronomic observatories are producing extraordinary images of objects and events occurring at great distances in a past that is almost incomprehensible. These scientific images are often arresting, but the expertise of a specialist is required to extract usable data.
On a more human scale, photography has been widely used to record events, extending and enhancing memory. The wide availability of simple to use equipment produced a flood of images of births, vacations, birthdays, holidays and more. The quality of these images improved as technology made it easier to take pictures, but generally these images only reveal themselves to the insider. What to an outsider may appear as a generic photo of a teenager and car in suburbia or a vacation provokes a stream of memories of individuals and events to the family members. For historians, photographs from an earlier age may contain a trove of facts about a time, some not even noticed by the photographer that took the picture.In the public sphere, photojournalism is one of the main ways we develop a sense of world events. The images dramatically extend our horizons giving us a sense of events that we can not see on our own, but it is possible to lose sight of their limitations. These images represent a specific point of view. The photojournalist can only record what can be seen and the images represent only a part of that. This record is susceptible to manipulation, access to events can be denied or the events themselves can be staged for the cameras.
Photography can be used to make pictures. In advertising, the ability to use photography, along with controlled lighting, make-up and other tricks has been essential to create the pictures that drive desire. In art, photography is used to make pictures that are commodities to be valued and traded.
I have a somewhat different interest in photography. I think the most interesting aspect of a photograph is its ability to provide a viewer an experience that is, at its heart, the same experience that drove me to take the picture. This ability to recreate an experience, unconstrained by time and place, is the essential power of the medium. This does not minimize the importance of the picture, but sees it as a part of a larger process, not the end point.Process
Photography is grounded in specifics. At a specific time and place light from a variety of sources bathes the environment; the light is seen directly and reflected from the objects. The resulting impressions, along with other sensory input, are processed subconsciously to produce a constantly changing sense of space. A camera can be used to capture a specific moment of the experience on the photosensitive material creating a latent image* that, when processed, creates a physical representation of the experience that can be independently viewed. This physical representation contains elements of the initial experience while existing in a different time and place. Looking at the image while remembering the original experience gives insight into how the process preserved and modified that experience, providing feedback that molds the photographer’s perception.
Visual experience is formed by the interaction of light, objects and space. I do not live in a vacuum; the space itself has a direct effect on the light and the experience. Things look very different at 11:30 AM on a humid summer day and at 4:00 PM on a crisp autumn afternoon. While the photograph does not convey all of the sensory information (smell, heat, insect bites…) a good color image can convey a surprisingly complete sense of the experience. This is what has driven me to work almost exclusively with color materials since the mid seventies.
At any time, my sense of the space I occupy is built from two different modes of seeing. I find myself looking around to get an overall sense of the space and looking at specific areas to fill in details. Similarly I photograph in two modes with multi-image collages capturing the experience of looking around while stereo photographs capture the experience of the looking at details. (In this publication, some stereo images are presented as stereos, while only a single frame is shown for others.)The Photograph
Photographs have a dual nature; objects that exist in one time and space while evoking the experience of another. As much as I am interested in the ability of a photograph to convey an experience, I recognize the limitations of the medium and the importance of context. In looking at the photograph of a riot on the front page of the New York Times, how much of the experience is the riot and how much is the paper? What elements of an original experience come through and what ones are changed? How has the photographic process marked the experience? Exploring these issues is a recurring part of my work. In some of my early work I broke or exploited elements of the photographic processes itself. In other pieces I have moved the focus to the physical image, using a low-resolution halftone process to produce images where the method of reproduction and the image coexist uncomfortably. These are monumental, yet the image itself is unstable, threatening to dissolve into the abstraction of reproduction when approached. A boulder dissolves in a pattern of dots that had the same substance as reflections in water or a folded piece of cloth. "The Studio" has some of these images, examining transformations that occur using a second generation of images. Instead of direct experience of the large-scale halftone prints, there are images of them in context, showing the interaction with other objects and images in the space. This examines the types of experiences that can survive the transformation, the way the resulting images are experienced, and if physical existence is required.Publishing Online
Every medium or method of presentation has its own specific characteristics that shape the experience of a work. Large scale high resolution projections in a darkened room can produce a deeply immersive, if externally controlled, experience where sequence defines relationships. Prints in a well lit room can provide a viewer controlled experience of individual images, where proximity defines relationships. A book of photographs provides a portable and intimate experience of images with relationships defined by the order and structure of the pages.
“The Studio” is an online publication that uses the flexibility of this specific medium. While viewing the work on the computer does not have the intimacy and immediacy of a book or the impact and richness of a print, it has other advantages. It can be viewed anywhere you have a computer and network. The images are not limited to the resolution of the page, the ability to zoom in or out of a high resolution image, moving your window around to see details makes a richer experience of the image possible, overcoming the limited resolution of the computer screen. The publication is not restricted by the linear relationship of pages. This piece uses multiple navigation methods to link a number of images from several threads in my work providing a more complex and accurate sense of relationships with no artificial beginning or end. You can enter the studio directly from the home page or come in through the garden or courtyard. You can start at the top of the World Trade Center or by watching people watch new land being formed. Any of these entry points will do. Over time, the number of images in the piece grows and the ways to navigate through the images multiply. My goal is for viewers to experience the individual images and discover the relationships that bind them together.
*The change to digital imaging effectively removes the latent image from the process. Like a latent image, the digital record of an image is not directly understandable to an observer. To see the image, the digital file needs to be processed by software. Unlike a latent image that once processed becomes an image, the digital file always requires processing by software to be visible, but the time lag between exposure and viewing is now nearly non-existent.