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.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fact & Fantasy Winners: Zoe Zimmerman

Director’s Choice winner for Fact & Fantasy, Zoe Zimmerman speaks about her studio practice.

Her Mother's Garden

Describe your path to alternative process photography. What led you to it, where did you start, and how did you end up working with albumen prints?

When I was a kid my mother taught me how to make a soufflé. She did not tell me that people find making soufflés challenging. It was something we ate. We had chickens, lots of eggs at all times and not a lot of money. To my mother a soufflé was the logical choice to feed the family. I did not find making a soufflé difficult, just that there were many steps involved. More than making an omelet. The steps were worth it. An omelet is good but a soufflé is miraculous. So delicious and truly much more than the sum of it’s parts.

I came to albumen printing in much the same way. I already had a leg up, what with the egg separating expertise from the soufflés.  Albumen printing requires more steps for the final satisfaction of a beautiful print. Each step in itself is not difficult, there are just a lot of them. The result is definitely more than the sum of its parts. It is miraculous and better than an omelet.

That is the poetic answer, but there were also circumstances that drew me to alternative process work. I have always been a stickler for print quality and when I was in art school there were students churning out ‘work’ prints for critiques, hundreds of the horrible, muddy things that we were then expected to discuss. I was genuinely offended by the ugliness and the gross quantity of what I was seeing week to week. Couldn’t I find a process that was involved enough and beautiful enough to justify pinning up just one or two gems for a critique? My teachers did not love me for it, did not encourage my methodical insanity, but I felt so much better with one successful albumen print than with reams of concept driven drivel. I started making albumen prints as a form of rebellion. I was not a Julia Margaret Cameron throwback, I was a cocky little punk.

Her Dream III

Your work has a surreal and sometimes theatrical element to it. How much pre-planning is involved in the making of a photograph?

My brain stays pretty busy. I have files upon files of ideas in there. Most of them will never see the light of day. I suppose one could say that the pictures take a lifetime of planning…or no planning at all. I keep things very simple in the staging and execution of the images but some of my operatic nature leaks in nonetheless.

The image Her Dream III was planned for a long time. I bought the dollhouse from a junk store with the intention of burning it (there is a sub-theme of cathartic arson peppered throughout my work) but at the time my daughter was too young for the picture to tell the story I intended. The picture is about being a tween; that uncomfortable edge one walks between child and teenager. This year my daughter announced that she wanted to get rid of all the effluvia of childhood in her room…so I knew it was time to take the picture.


Tell us more about this series. What was its evolution? How has using your daughter as your model influenced your work?

The ongoing series of pictures of my daughter is the marriage of my two main modes in life. The dance of Artist/Mother is a challenging one for me and though the ultimate goal is grace and balance, I do not find it easy. How does one carve out the time and energy for a creative endeavor without neglecting some of the needs ones children? How can I say, “ I am here for you.” When what I really want is to be in the studio messing with pictures? This series started as a means of including my child in my studio life.

When we first began, I directed her and she happily joined the game, but quickly she began to have ideas of her own and the project became a collaboration. Her ideas are always more spontaneous and less concept driven and this keeps the project from becoming too static. Now that she is older, she reminds me to continue the series. “Mom, we need to make a picture today” Do you know how satisfying that feels?

Her Dream

Working in the studio you have to construct your images from scratch. How does this process influence your work?  

I did not always shoot in the studio. When I was learning my craft, I was more of a hunter/gatherer; loading the large format cameras into some disreputable vehicle that was bound to overheat and scouring the countryside for a beauty that sparked me. It was good. I was a professional trespasser.

I moved into the studio because my life changed. I had my son and, well, if he wasn’t with me then someone needed to know where I would be. If I was going to get any work done, I had to be available.

The studio was intimidating at first. It was “creating” as opposed to “finding.” I started slowly with still lifes that were metaphors for emotional states and then worked up to more narrative images. I have grown more comfortable with the process and appreciate the control the studio affords. Creating things from scratch comes naturally to me. You know, like the soufflé. It just takes more steps.


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

Success as an artist is having at least one person (who isn’t your mother) who gives a shit about your work. Art is a form of communication. If you are communicating clearly, someone is going to get it and applaud. If you are lucky, that somebody is a curator or a gallery director or an art critic who can lead you to a larger audience of somebodies who get it and applaud. Applause feels good. Understanding feels good. But really all you need is one person (who is not your mom) who would be heartbroken if you quit.

Fact & Fantasy is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through June 28.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

In the Abstract Winners: James V. Mignogna

Like many people, Juror’s Choice winner James Mignogna developed a love for photography as a child. First borrowing, and then later “stealing,” one of his father’s cameras. Working long hours, Mignogna’s father spent his weekends photographing with his son. After his mother passed away, photography also became a way to navigate their relationship and the grief they both felt. “The one thing we could always talk about was cameras and photography. It was really the only time I feel like we were connecting. Many more years went by and things got better. We got better. Photography became that sweet sentiment between us.”

 Juror's Choice image Belleville

As a new parent, Mignogna has a more flexible schedule than his father did, and has loved sharing his passion for photography with his son. Even though his son is still much too young to understand, Mignogna sometimes holds him while washing a print, delighting in his curiosity.  

Egg 2

Mostly known for his black and white documentary work, Mignogna has recently begun to show his body of abstract work and the response has been very positive, like earning him the Juror’s Choice award. Mignogna admits to becoming so absorbed into a particular technique or subject that the work begins to look forced or stale. He is embracing this new direction as a way to shake up his work and his own artistic vision. Moving between two very different styles of work can refresh his perspective.


One of the most compelling reasons Mignogna has chosen photography as his medium is its ability to “describe what exists in the world…and what exists in the world is miraculous. ”Regardless of technique or subject, he thinks of his photographs an act of veneration. With his abstracts especially he feels a kind of communion with the world and the divine. Perhaps that is one reason why he chooses to ignore the labels so common in the world of contemporary art. “I find the more I think about trends and movements in contemporary art, or what the market is interested I get very anxious. It’s a good way to kill your love, you know? If I had to think about what others would like I would probably give myself an ulcer.”

Instead, Mignogna prefers to create work that speaks to him when he’s out in the world. Looking for a balance between the manmade and the natural, he responds to graphics around him. He loves using abstractions to challenge the audience’s experience of looking at a photograph. “That is the reason I first started shooting abstracts. People are so used to photography as a tool, and their life is so full of these symbols that they lose the ability to view in image critically. Abstraction subjugates this kind of consumption.” And his proven ability to alter viewers’ sensibilities about the definition of photography just goes to show that he has been successful in his endeavors. Mignogna’s compositions reference the New York School of abstract expressionism. Printing onto canvas, these photographs are sometimes mistaken for paintings, but he hopes that the viewers will look closely for the subtle differences between the two.

Englewood Cliffs

In the Abstract is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through May 31, 2014.