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.
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.
The book is finished being “bound” and all ready to be “decorated”. I attached the end-papers today and “cased in”, ie; mounted the block in the case. It looks pretty good. Here’s some shots along the way.
After much debate I chose this cream, black and blue art-deco-ish endpaper, here’s the paper before trimming along with my template:
Endpapers trimmed folded:
I used the method from the aforementioned videos http://youtube.com/#/watch?v=glbe_fDpCiU for gluing the papers, essentially by overlapping them a little less than a centimeter, and placing a sheet of paper as a mask to glue off of. A roller would be preferable, but I don’t have one, so I’m using little foam painting “brushes”, the cheap disposable kind.
The book block, ready to take the end paper, and the endpaper attached:
Once positioned I used a bonefolder to smooth out the attachment edge. This is a messy book block so it was a bit scruffy, I had to re-trim the endpapers after the fact.
The book block, positioned and ready for gluing – I placed a sheet of parchment paper undernead the end-paper to both avoid getting glue on the book block while gluing:
I glued beneath the mull and binding tape first, and then over top of both, before securing the end-paper in place on the case.
A clean sheet of parchment/grease proof paper was placed between the case and the loose leaf of end-paper, to avoid any transfer of moisture from the glue as it dried. Then, while not necessary, I decided to place the book for a time – again, protected with parchment – under some heavy books, since my book block is pretty wonky:
And an hour later, all finished and ready for me to make a mess of the cover:
I’ve found the cover is easily marked, likely because of the type of leather I used (which isn’t the ‘right’ leather), but as the book is meant to be worn and look aged and possibly bloodstained or possibly dirty or it’s really hard to tell what happened to it … I think it’ll work well. The next step is stamping in the title and “decorating” it for its final role as a prop … well, and the writing that goes inside.
Starting to enjoy this a little too much!
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.