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!
Two things in the mail today for which I’d like to express heartfelt thanks (in the order of which envelopes were opened):
The University Student’s Council of The University of Western Ontario has awarded me a “USC Teaching Honour Roll Certificate” for the 2011-2012 academic year, which basically means my student evaluations scored me at 90% or better across the board, which quite frankly means more to me than any paycheck. A big thanks to the USC and an especially huge thanks to my students last year, you all made the experience just incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. I’m honoured you all thought so highly of me as well.
And an enormous thank you and my heartfelt gratitude to the Ontario Arts Council, who have generously awarded me a Project Grant for 2013 that will be of tremendous benefit to my current project, the once and future king. The OAC facilitates literally hundreds of grants every year for artists working in Ontario in all stages of their careers, they are simply essential to the lifeblood of arts in Ontario, and I’m deeply honoured that they’ve chosen to support my work this year. This body of work can now go into “full gear”, and will hopefully be exhibited sometime in 2014-2015.
And last but not least, thanks to everyone that has supported me in this work and all my endeavors, both practical and personal, over the past years, I literally wouldn’t be here without you.
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.
Base layer of stain down, metal-leaf done, all that was left was a few more layers of stain and some other adornments. As seems to be typical, once the leather is wet, the “look” goes quite dark, so I had to let things dry over a day to really tell how strong the effect was.
Shortly after staining, first layer after the metal leaf:
And sometime the next day after it dried:
And the second layer of the day, still wet:
For these layers I also added a few embellishments, some very faint traces of alizarin crimson acrylic paint, and just a touch of india ink in some places. The wet surface nicely suffused these tints into the grain of the leather and the end-product (eventually) had some subtle suggestions of burn-damage or blood stains.
Final pics in a day or two, and hopefully some test-shots “in-studio”.
The book is all but finished, figured I’d break up the “in progress” photos into a few posts.
After imprinting the covers, I decided to allow the book a few days to rest and dry, just to make sure the imprint stayed – it did nicely, and meanwhile I experimented with some of the water-based (I think acrylic) stain I had on hand for the leather, and the metal leaf I was planning to use. I “concluded” the best approach was to apply a base stain, then do the metal leaf on the lettering, and then work up the effect from there.
To (hopefully) get a more even effect with the stain, I wet the leather with water first, and then applied a diluted solution of the stain with a sponge brush. Initially it looked quite dark, but as it dried the effect was more subtle:
And then it was time for the metal leaf!
I chose an imitation gold leaf for a number of reasons, but most pointedly cost (way cheaper than the real thing) and the fact that it would patina naturally over time. I wasn’t going for perfect, a rough look was sort of the goal, so the effect looks pretty shoddy at first. The “kit” I bought included an adhesive and sealer and “antique glaze” as well as a “base coat”, I experimented with all of them but eventually decided to just use the adhesive primarily, and then layer a bit of the glaze and sealer on later:
The basic steps:
1. With a ridiculously tiny brush, line the inside of the letters with some adhesive.
2. Let that get tacky for a few mins.
3. Place down some metal leaf on top and use a soft brush to adhere it.
4. Use a coarse brush to brush away the excess and texture what leaf has ‘adhered’.
The results looked pretty good, nice and rough, though a little brilliant. The plan was for the subsequent layers of stain to reduce that intensity (the antique glaze helped a little). I applied some of the ‘sealer’ to the letters as well and I’m honestly unsure as to what effect that had.
Two views of the result:
And next up, the next round or two of staining, blood and ash!
Little behind but things are coming along well. I acquired some simple leather-stamps to imprint text on the cover, and while I know I don’t have quite the right type of leather for this operation it still worked out fairly well.
The plans for the back and front covers were made well ahead of time, and some happy errors on the back cover taught me a few lessons and ended up acquiring the look I wanted.
I first placed some greaseproof paper between the cover and the text block, before brushing the leather with water:
A few tests and some of the tools I used:
And the cover, slightly saturated with water but mostly dry to the touch – took about 3 minutes to reach this stage. I didn’t want to over-saturate the cover and end up softening the glue, but I gather the leather needs to be damp to properly hold an imprint and not simply get “cut” by the stamp:
Back cover, stamped, first still wet and then after it dried:
Front cover, before and after drying:
A week later the imprint has held beautifully, even if it fades a bit once I begin staining/”decorating” the cover the text should just become more intense. That’s sorta this week’s project.
Something I forgot however, was headbands – these should have been added before casing in, but I improvised and it worked out ok. Lacking time and motivation to order headbands online, I used this wonderful tutorial from MRX Designs to make my own, which I’ll link here for the sake of brevity:
I used that basic technique and then attached them with some neutral-PH glue; I’m still confused as to what purpose they serve, historically it was to keep the “leather from being crushed when pulled off the shelf” … still reading to see how that works. For now, they look kinda pretty:
More to come as I stain the cover and possibly attach some metal leaf to it … we shall see.