Sunday, July 27, 2014

Portfolio Showcase 2014: S. Gayle Stevens & Judy Sherrod

Nocturnes is a hauntingly beautiful landscape series of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The work is a collaboration between wet plate photographer S. Gayle Stevens and pinhole camera maker Judy Sherrod. The project began as an experiment in large format wet plates from a pinhole camera. Both Stevens and Sherrod work with pinhole cameras, but for this project they each played to their strengths; Sherrod as a camera builder, and Stevens as a collodion photographer. After their initial trial of an 11x14 tintype proved successful, the duo wanted to go even larger, finally settling on 20x20 inch plates. At the time of this experiment there were few women working with mammoth plates. To our knowledge, working with mammoth wet plate pinholes is a process unique to Sherrod and Stevens. 

For the last two years the two have worked together on Nocturnes and to date have accumulated close to fifty plates in the portfolio. It’s interesting to notice the differences in in each plate caused by whichever pinhole camera they used at the time. “I’m a box maker. My portfolio is one of boxes rather than one of images. The corresponding images reflect their ‘parent’ boxes rather than specific themes,” says Sherrod. Apart from their use of large format pinhole cameras, the process of making each wet plate is the same. Stevens describes the process: 

I pour a 20" wet plate tintype and sensitize it in a large silver bath. After 3 minutes, I place the now sensitized plate in the 20 x 20 x 10 inch camera that Judy built, we place it in this immense SUV with B (Judy's brown eyed bird dog and constant companion) as our guide and take off down I 90 for a place to park. I carry the camera to the beach and we decide what we want to say that day. We watch the tides, preferring low tide when we can capture the script left by the waves. The camera is placed on the sand, no tripod.

After the exposure is made, the plate is whisked back to the dark room to be processed and varnished. 

Residing on opposite ends of the country, Stevens in Illinois and Sherrod in Texas, the team selected Pass Christian, Mississippi as their meeting place. In addition to its desirable location on the gulf, other motivating factors included Stevens’ dark room below a friend’s house and several connections to patrons of the arts. “Such a large undertaking is expensive and we had about 30 patrons who supported the work. Without them this would have been only a dream,” says Stevens. Since its launch, Nocturnes has had a tremendous amount of success in finding an audience. Although they appreciate their commercial success, their main concern has always been the production of unique and interesting work through innovation. Sherrod explains, “We were just being ordinary and in being that way, created something that is extraordinary. We discovered a way to convey an interpretation that’s not been done before. We weren’t trying to do that. It’s just what happened.”

That attitude fits in well with both of their personal definitions of success and exemplifies why their partnership has worked so well. For Sherrod, success is all about her camera, “If I can make a box without injury, that's the first step toward success. If the little boxes don't fall apart, that's the second step. If they actually make images, real, honest-to-goodness authentic images, how could I ask for more from them? That's what makes me happy.” And for Stevens, it’s all about her calling, “I make art because it is too painful not to make art."

Portfolio Showcase 2014 is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through July 30, 2014.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Portfolio Showcase 2014: Bootsy Holler

For many people, family photograph albums are among the most cherished possessions. For someone who may not have had the chance to know their distant relatives and ancestors, photo albums can offer a glimpse into a personal history. In her series Visitor: Rebuilding the Family Album, Bootsy Holler has incorporated new composite technology into vintage family photographs to reconstruct her family album and find her place alongside relatives she never met. 

Holler originally conceived of the series while taking a photography workshop. Her multi-step process is as complex as the relationships she is constructing. Beginning first with a family snapshot, she examines the photograph to determine where she would fit in. She then draws on her love of vintage clothing to find costuming appropriate to the scene and time period. Using a self-timer, Holler photographs herself sometimes against a background, sometimes in an environment, paying careful attention to replicate the lighting in the original photograph. Dressed and posed, Holler imagines herself in the photos’ era, which ranges from the 1920’s to 60’s.  After selecting the images of herself that will fit in with her chosen vignette Holler creates a simple composite of how she sees the image fitting together. She then sends her work to her expert “composite and deconstructionist” who fine-tunes the image.

The photographs themselves are at once delightful, poignant, and fascinating. But it is in the presentation of the photos that the series really comes together. Holler prints the photograph at the original ratio and replicates the imperfections of creases, slight tears, and odd borders. The photographs are framed in shadowboxes and mounted to black photo album pages. Each page is labeled with a description and date in the artist’s own handwriting. The subjects of the photographs are labeled as well with arrows attached (Willie, Mom, Ginger), but Holler is always identified by the label “me.” Each frame has a small magnifying glass attached by a chain to allow the viewer a closer look. 

What began as a simple assignment has blossomed into a rich and complex portfolio that has helped Holler find a recurrent theme in her work. “It was not until I finished the Visitor series that I realized I had a larger story about a time and place and a people (my family) in the last three bodies of work I produced.”

With Holler’s successful foray into digital composites and clever approach to presentation, it’s no surprise that she finds inspiration in graphic design. And as the niche of composite work continues to grow, she is just happy to be able to continue doing work she loves. “Success in art might just be finishing a body of work and showing anywhere on any platform. Then being able to come up with another idea and do it again. Being a working artist that is consistent is success in itself.”

Portfolio Showcase 2014 is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through July 30, 2014.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Portfolio Showcase 2014: Susan Keiser

When trauma occurs in a child’s life, it is not uncommon to explore the event and its effects through play therapy or art. Susan Keiser’s unsettling photographs of battered and chipped dolls make reference not only to a dark past, but also to how a child might cope with it. Her photographs do not record or replicate actual events, but rather explore abstract emotions connected to the situation. In her series, A River Made of Time and Memory, Keiser’s work is very personal, yet she wants the viewer to find their own meanings as well. “While the project emanates from my life and experiences, working with relics from my own childhood would tie it too closely to my personal history. I didn’t want viewers looking for me in the images. I wanted them to see themselves”

Keiser has indeed removed herself from the photographs, using instead a doll family from the 1950’s. These dolls, mass-produced and dressed more formally than contemporary playthings, allude to a different time. The scenes depicted; dolls left on the ground, iced over, and covered by leaves, could have been made in almost any era. Using natural light and careful compositions, Keiser brings life to these inanimate objects. It is through this attention to texture and detail that Keiser’s background in painting becomes apparent. The delicate lines of translucent leaves on the chipped wooden figures are deliberately photographed in contrast against the smooth ice over rough materials.  

Though all of Keiser’s photographs are made in-camera, she still finds the editing process tiresome. Sorting out the good from the really good can be very painful at times stating, “Very long term projects can be like long term relationships. It becomes difficult to be objective.” Even so, she delights in the printing process, believing that the act of printing is one of the best ways to understand her images. Of digital printing she says, “Seeing an image come up in a developer tray is magical. But what you see when the lights go on is often disappointing. Making digital prints doesn’t have the mystique of the earlier processes, but getting it right…even figuring our what is right, can be just as difficult and ultimately satisfying.”

Like many photographers, Keiser has cultivated a relationship with her subjects. While Keiser’s relationships may be one-sided, and her subjects inanimate, in order to project her emotions onto them in a convincing manner, she has developed a rich backstory attached to each doll. We see the same figures over again, playing recurring roles in the stories she constructs. Photographs of dolls go in and out vogue, as does constructed imagery, and Keiser recognizes the shifting trends around her. “The art world has changed enormously since I created the first image, and it will continue to change until I create the last. Right now I don’t see it so much as fitting in but as developing in parallel.”

Portfolio Showcase 2014 is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through July 30, 2014.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Fact & Fantasy Winners: Angelina Kidd

At only seven years old, Angelina Kidd had caught the photography bug from her mother.  By trusting her daughter to use her 35mm camera, the Kidd’s mother planted the photography seed in Kidd’s mind. Since then, Kidd has had encouragement from a variety of people in her life and one very important mentor. Her photographic eye evolved over time into the surreal and theatrical work that defines her style today.  Her winning image, Jumping Into the Vortex, is a prime example. At first glance it appears to be constructed set pieces, perhaps from a theater stage, but closer in reality the set is small-scale cut paper and shadow puppets.

Jumping Into the Vortex

Constructing images is Kidd’s preferred method of working.  Unlike most photographers who record and interpret the world around them, even if aided by props and costumes, Kidd finds freedom in creating a tableau from raw materials. Of her process she says, “I know very little about Photoshop. Not because I am against it, but rather I relish in the experience of cutting paper, using tape, playing with textured fabrics and then my camera translates it into something even more magical than I expected.” It is the unexpected that keeps her interested in the medium. Each photograph begins as a dream or a flash of inspiration. She allows it to marinate in her consciousness until it is time to enter the studio. Once there, she allows her subconscious and emotions to take over and guide the camera to the final image. Her photographs require some pre-planning to determine what materials might be needed, but once she is behind the camera, the characters and scenes she has created take on a life of their own. 


In an age when images are consumed at a rapid rate, Kidd’s way of working is extremely time consuming and her hope is that her viewers will take their time to examine the photographs, as she has taken time to create them. The series itself is about time and its long-term effects, focusing on the life-death cycle on a macro scale, examining multiple lifetimes.

New Mexico

Kidd has been taking a much-needed break from creating new work. Having recently completed her MFA in photography from Lesley University College of Art and Design. For two years she traveled between her school in Boston and her home in Washington State. The intense travel and curriculum pushed Kidd out of her comfort zone and “took me to levels of creativity I never thought I was capable of.” This current period of repose has allowed time for reflection and inspiration as she contemplates the next direction for her work. Kidd has also used this time away from the camera to exhibit this series, which has garnered positive press.

Silhouette of Silhouettes

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Barbara Crawford

We are pleased to exhibit the paintings of Barbara Crawford. A prolific painter and Lexington resident, Barbara’s work examines memory and place. We spoke with her about her work and inspiration.

Anticipating Memory
32 x 36 oil on linen

Tell us about your upbringing and its influence on your identity as an artist.

I was born in southwest Oklahoma where the vastness of the prarie and its partnering sky still haunt my memory. There is a raw beauty to be found in the starkness of the landscape with its severe contrast between sky and land. This is the heart of tornado country and they were part of the drama of my childhood.
Summers were spent “camping” in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and on the Comanche Reservation. The animals in my life were the longhorn, buffalo, rattle snakes, scorpions, scissor tailed flycatcher, prairie dog, tarantulas, and a pet rabbit called “Peter Underfoot.” My father grew up there and knew every secret fishing spot and every resident: human, animal, insect, bird and reptile. (I killed my first water moccasin at age 8 because he had my fish in his mouth!) I say “camping” but all we really did was throw a sleeping bag on the ground. Every three or four days we would head back into town, clean up and refresh our supplies. I thought all children grew up like this. It was during these summers that my mother was running the family business which was a combination of art supply, framing and toy store. My parents made valuable contributions to the arts in our small town and from as long as I can remember, I had all the free art supplies I could want, in addition to unending encouragement from my mother.
When I look at my current painting I can see a resonating spirit from the landscape of my childhood and the accompanying experiences.

Anticipating Memory
32x36 oil on linen

Anticipating Memory took your work in a new direction from your more traditional landscapes. How did this shift come about?

I think of myself as a painter, not so much as a “landscape painter” but with a strong connection to the land; it seems logical. I do work in series, but to me all my paintings seem connected, where one emerges from another. If I could line them all up in the studio, I think it would be evident. There are only three notable shifts or changes in my work, thematically speaking. I had been doing a series called Felled by Bliss, where there was mostly sky with a low horizon line and just a slip of land. One beautiful October day, while working in the studio, and having just painted one of these skies, but without the land, my husband came to the studio and told me about the shooting at the West Nickel Mines School, the one-room Amish school house in Pennsylvania. Here ten girls were shot, and five died. The horror of that event touched me to the core. Each time I returned to the studio, I attempted to finish the painting but could not. I had the feeling that on that day, October 2, 2006, there was a separation of heaven and earth. From that experience came the sky-only paintings. Later, the inserts were added, as if there was a piecing in parts of memory. This evolved to where the works were enclosed within architectural frameworks with additional arched inserts. The Sanctuary series, with it's animals posed in religious structures, also grew out of that group.
Prelude to the Night
30x40 oil on linen

You spend part of each year in a small town in Italy. How has that environment influenced your work?

The architectural elements in all of the works are obvious references to my experiences in Italy. I have taken my art history students to Italy for over 30 years and my husband and I have had the good fortune to spend our summers there.

11x14 oil on canvas

You have participated in several prestigious residency programs overseas. What is it that you hope to get out of a residency on a creative and personal level?

My first residency—at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts—was valuable in that it offered me the opportunity to deeply immerse myself in long, uninterrupted periods of work.  These periods often felt like a long, deep dive to the bottom of my creative self. When I did surface for air, I found myself among fellow divers, who wanted to talk about their discoveries and to hear about one's own. The result mirrored art itself, in that experiences that were entirely personal became shared experiences. 

The experiences I described were repeated in subsequent residences. But I became more attentive—my gratitude extended—to the qualities of the place of the residency. In Ireland, it was the land, sky and people; in Rome, it was the buildings and the history their bricks and stones contained. Of course, Italian life enriched the experience.

11x14 oil on canvas

Finally, we ask this of all of our artists, what does success in art mean to you?

I find that if my work is based on honesty—with myself, the subject, the materials used and the public—then I have been successful.

Poetics is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through June 28.