First in a series of three (so far), The Ballad of Randall Carter tells the strange tale of young Charles D. Ward (pictured here), and his boyfriend Randall Carter, who mysteriously vanishes from his Jeep on a country road a cold rainy night in November. These works continue my exploration of fine detail as a means of layering multiple narratives within an image.
Some details follow:
This work was generously supported by a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, to whom I am eternally grateful! Thank you!
(update: these works will be on display throughout august at Nathaniel Hughson Gallery, which is at John and King William in downtown Hamilton. The “opening” will occur during the Art Crawl on August 9th, 7pm-10pm)
In a perfect WordPress world, these would be alongside each other as a two-panel presentation, but I can’t seem to figure that out.
Anyway my friend and colleague Stephanie Vegh asked me to join her in a group exhibition at Nathaniel Hughson Gallery, I believe showing in August of this year, which was fairly last-minute but a fun opportunity nonetheless. I always have a few side-project and prototype ideas running around, and as serendipity may have, a newly “spare” room, so I decided to execute these two works which, originally, were simply stepping stones for other works, but have come into their own independently.
Lacking, at present, a formal statement for these works, I’ll say very little, but narratives of divination, unanticipated trajectories through history and the “monster” that is the forgotten past certainly pervade a lot of my thoughts regarding the work. They are both composites of around 50 images each, so the detail in the final works is quite pristine. They are currently being printed and mounted, hopefully I’ll see the fruits of my efforts sometime next week. I’ll be sure to update when I get specifics on the exhibition itself.
This past weekend I had the good fortune of seeing Laura Letinsky’s still-life retrospective at the Rodman Hall Art Centre in St. Catherines, it was a great show and a lovely venue I honestly barely knew existed (I’m a bad artist).
I always credit Laura Letinsky for re-invigorating my interest in still-life, her largely white-on-white “found” compositions of human activity incorporated a narrative element I wouldn’t have expected from a studio-composed still-life. Most of Letinsky’s compositions are “found” somewhere in “real life”, and then used as a resource of sorts to recreate and refine the composition in-studio. This to me, at least, is what really sets her work apart – her work is not simply documentation of something found, but the recreationg – the retelling – of a story, careful crafted, in the context of the studio (to be blunt, bitter and a tad egotistical: millions of people take photos of broken and rotting crap they find every day; to recreate, control, script, manipulate, narrate and re-narrate that rotting crap into a complete story is a much more challenging and worthy endeavour).
The work above stood out for me – if you google Letinsky you’ll see mostly her white-on-white compositions, but this exhibition had a couple of her digressions into black-on-black, which I thought were quite wonderful (though it would appear she has abandoned this trajectory). Most of the works were in the 40″x50″ range, and the chromagenic prints were beautiful.
Letinsky’s newer works, however, executed digitally and printed on inkjet, could use some serious work. It breaks my heart when I see established, well-known photographers jumping to digital and producing significantly poorer work, whether it be due to a lack of education or worse, bad technique on the part of their printer. What pains me the most is that not only is it a slight against the artist, but within the often snobbish photography community, it diminishes the reputation of digital across the board.
(In short: put an exhibition of large-format view-camera chromagenic prints alongside poorly executed digital prints of the same size, and digital looks terrible. Do the reverse – terribly processed and printed large-format film prints alongside pristine, perfectly executed digital … and well I’m sure someone would make a bullshit argument about the “nostalgia” of film or some crap … but chances are the digitals would look amazing by comparison).
Despite (presumably) the curaetor’s plackards about Letinsky’s interest in “spatial and perceptual puzzles”, the fact of the matter remains that these newer works, while certainly an ambitious dive into digital format and inkjet print, lack a great deal of technical refinement, especially in comparison to Letinsky’s earlier film-based practice. A mixture of fairly poor image compositing, especially with respect to lighting, a mixing of resolutions (rendering, essentially, the “film grain” at different sizes and levels of crispness across the image, to use a film analogy), and a general lack of dynamic range (likely from poor processing technique or over-processing), really kind of kick these works in the teeth, and yes, I’m being pretty nit-picky there.
Beyond all that however is a very simple fact: the works were simply not shot or composited with sufficient resolution for their print size. The pixels are visible and blurry, lines and edges are indistinct, and the detail falls apart even standing a meter away from the work. Somewhere along the line of production for these works some bad advice, a low-megapixel camera (for prints this size, at least), or some very bad film-scanning really failed to bring the same level of detailed robustness at this print-size in comparison with Letinsky’s other works.
I would never argue a case for her to jump back to film, but I certainly hope these newer works are stepping-stones to something more technically sound.
REGARDLESS – this is an amazing show you should definitely try to see if you’re in the area. Letinsky’s work represents a rare and very unique milestone for still-life in general, and certainly a tremendous boon for photography at large.
Seven years ago, when I first started work that would become The Jacket Series and “Friends and Family at the End of the World“, I sourced most of my vintage military and military surplus items on eBay. I was delighted to find a literal surplus of items – I acquired jackets dating all the way back to WW1, rarely for more than $10 a piece, I think the most I ever spent on a jacket was $30. There were many sellers on eBay with whom I developed a wonderful relationship – one in particular, now gone, it seems, from Texas, sent me 10 of an item of which I only purchased a single unit, simply because I’d bought so much from them.
How I regret not spending ten times more back then – seven years! – now. I can’t find a m65 or even a contemporary BDU jacket for less than $50, let alone the more unusual items I used to get.
And worse – eBay seems now inundated with scammers and people looking to make an extra buck. Of all the auctions I bid upon, which was a good dozen, only one went to completion – the rest “cancelled early” for no apparent reason. Doing some research, it seems it’s now common practice to use eBay to advertise your product, and then sell it privately.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was the auction I did win – the seller pestered and inundated me with requests to cancel the transaction, sell privately, even AFTER I’d paid for and received the jacket in question. On the site they represent themselves as a business – branding, statements, quality assurance, everything – but conduct business in the most unprofessional, childish manner I could imagine. Looking into their feedback history, their response to negative feedback – which was admittedly very few – was to pester the buyer, ridicule and accuse, and end the sentence with “SHAME ON YOU!!!!!” … I can’t read those words without thinking about Klaus on American Dad!, which is a shame. Ha.
Nonetheless I got my jacket, a Levi’s piece with a bizarre assortment of military and trucker patches stitched onto it in a strange configuration.
The sum total of this experience: I am done with eBay, and it seems the golden age of eBay is also done. This is why we can’t have nice things.
Meanwhile – if you know a good source on military surplus clothing, and vintage military, that you’ve done business with, please let me know. Local to Ontario is a plus, but anywhere that’ll ship here in a reasonable amount of time with little fuss would be most welcome!
Shooting for The Ballad of Randall Carter hopefully starts in June!
I hesitate to call it a ‘prop’ at this point because it feels so much more like the ‘real thing’, but the object itself is complete, it’s just waiting for the text to be written inside. Two more layers of stain ‘finished’ the job, a little bit more crimson paint, but I’m fairly satisfied with the final product, it has a slightly aged look, with suggestions of things that might, or might not, be blood stains and fire damage.
Hoping to work on and maybe even execute a prototype work for this series that will give the book some “screen test” time soon, we shall see.
The McMaster Museum of Art has generously purchased two of my works from The Jacket Series above (I have donated the third), and I am supremely honoured and very flattered to now be represented in their permanent collection. The collection at the McMaster Museum of Art is extensive and uniquely diverse; their collections of German expressionist works is almost unparalleled, coupled with an equally impressive archive of impressionist and post-impressionist work, not to mention their contemporary acquisitions, both Canadian and international.
I felt spoiled and privileged to study undergraduate art at a school with such a tremendous resource available to art students, and have always been impressed by the museum’s persistent presence and vision in both the University community, that of Hamilton, and the art community of Canada as a whole. It’s a huge personal honour to have been “collected” by them. And a personal thanks to Carol, Julie and Ihor and everyone else at the Museum that made this possible and helped the process along!
This will be pretty dry and technical but some of my former students found this useful and perhaps someone else will as well!
The composite method I use for piecing together large-format prints with a high degree of detail relies heavily on planning out what parts of the ‘scene’ will be in focus and where the crucial areas of interest lie. This is also a distinguishing factor and plays into the conceptual creation of the image, and why a single frame (for instance, from a large format 8×10 film camera) won’t achieve the same effect – fundamental to the ‘readability’ of these images themselves is the rather neurotic control of depth of field and focus across the composite frame. This allows for a ‘flexible’ depth of field that can be essentially deformed across the image, allowing the simultaneous sharp focus of several elements at once that wouldn’t normally be possible with a single-frame image.
The second work I’ve planned for The Once and Future King is tentatively titled “The Impact”, and it’s just easier to copy and paste the narrative description from the proposal here to give a sense of the final product:
The Impact (Reunion: Prologue)
On a dark rural road in Ontario, the wine-red Jeep of one Randall Carter is found abandoned, door open, several large stacks of books balanced on the seats. Carefully folded on top of the books was found a military uniform, embroidered with Carter’s name and a series of unidentified insignia. The Jeep was discovered by Carter’s boyfriend, Charles D. Ward, after Carter’s protracted absence prompted Ward to retrace the route to Carter’s residence. Ward claims he found the Jeep by following the sound of music on the radio. The combined weight of the books was found to be 167 lbs, which coincidentally was approximately Carter’s own weight prior to his disappearance.
Instrumental to the work will be the ability to “read” a lot of the details of the “stuff” piled into the Jeep – literally read the book titles, but then also a lot of the signifiers and symbols present in the rest of the ephemera spread throughout. So the first function of this test shoot is to map out the focus points / depth of field across the scene, and make sure that everything that needs to be in focus, is in focus. The second function is to test the viewing angle with respect to the composite – rudimentary at this point cuz my tripod head sucks – but because we need to be able to see “inside” the Jeep the angle of the shots, and the Jeep with respect to the camera, is somewhat crucial and does complicate the composite somewhat.
Last, the test generally brings to light unanticipated problems with the shooting/composite process, and gives me a sense of “what I have to work with” – just how much detail I get straight out of the camera under uncontrolled conditions without any post-processing. As such these images haven’t been touched and a few look a little dark or desaturated for a few reasons I didn’t anticipate. Learning!
Anyway, some fairly large images and such follow, so click below to read the rest.
After a couple years of waiting and planning, I’ve finally acquired my new camera: a beautiful, very definitely intimidating Nikon D800E. Google will tell you about the differences between the D800 and the D800E, likely accompanied by all manner of delightfully dramatized arguments shifting to one or the other or neither … the fact is the work I do is probably perfectly suited to a camera with this degree of optical resolution, and I’m excited!
I’ll be posting the results of some “readability tests” for some preliminary planning for The Once and Future King soon, but meanwhile, and much more interesting, the first dozen shots directly out of the camera, no processing, no nothing – the dogs of course (btw, this is also with my new 50mm 1.8 G lens):
A good friend of mine invited me out to her family’s house and land, to scout some locations for the new work. They have a man-made dark forest on their property, it’ll be quite the backdrop for one piece. These jpegs are slightly crappy – for some reason the dark areas don’t transition well to jpeg format – which could foreshadow some printing issues, but let’s hope not.
… ok having viewed these on a number of computers now, they really do vary wildly. By and large they look like shit. Hurray!