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.