Photography


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Got to meet Sally Mann at a book signing at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC

Yesterday, I was so pleased to meet Sally Mann, one of my favorite artists.  She was at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC to read from her recent memoir Hold Still, and she signed copies of it afterwards.  For over a decade, two of her beautiful photography books, Deep South and What Remains, have been in my collection as points of reference, and I got Hold Still as a gift last year.  It is superbly written.  Most people don’t know that Mann’s first love was writing.  She has an MFA in creative writing from Hollins University.

I have admired Mann’s photography since first seeing it in books, and then seeing it exhibited in New York City galleries.  In a time when most photographers have abandoned film and fully embraced digital image making, Mann remains staunchly analogue in her approach to the medium.  In fact, for much of the last 20 years, she has used the 19th century wet plate collodion process to create her images.  It is a labor-intensive, chemical process that is subject to accidents and contamination that Mann refers to as “serendiptious.”  Each emulsion on glass or metal must be hand-poured.  It is often the accidents of the process that, to use her words, “miraculously transform” an ordinary scene into something incredible.

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The line outside Malaprop’s to see Sally Mann.

Mann has a passionate following among artists and those interested in photography, and this was on full display yesterday.  Her reading at Malaprop’s was standing room only, and many people (myself included) had to wait outside for the book signing.  The line to see her was out the door, stretching down the block and around the corner.  It got longer as the evening progressed.  Driving up from Greenville, SC, my wife and I had been delayed by a traffic accident on I-26, not arriving in Asheville until twenty minutes before the event was to begin.  It was clear from the long line that we had little hope of gaining admission.  Through Malaprop’s window, I caught glimpses of Mann as she read, and could hear parts of what she was saying.

After an hour online, when the Q&A session ended, we were allowed to move inside and form behind those already in the store to have books signed.  I’d brought Hold Still, as well as What Remains and Deep South.  When my turn came to speak with Mann, I told her that I thought I’d overdone it with my enthusiasm.  Mann was gracious enough to sign all three books, and we talked a bit about the wet plate process.  We also talked about a few of the people we know in common  through this archaic process.  It was the sort of thing I wish could have been done over coffee with her for an afternoon!  But as long as the line was and with as many people as there were still behind me, I moved on.

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As an MFA student in photography at Parsons School of Design, I did my thesis work at Gettysburg.  I had been studying the images of the Civil War and was haunted by their tonal quality.  The optics of 19th century lenses, especially Petzval designs, and the time-based aspect of long exposures also interested me, the way a sudden movement would render someone ghostly, or the rush of wind would move tree limbs to change a scene entirely.  It was through seeing both the 19th century wet plate images as well as Mann’s exquisite and emotionally powerful contemporary work with that process that I became interested in learning to do it myself.  I took  a wet plate workshop with Eric Tubman through the Center for Alternative Photography (now called Penumbra Foundation), and later took a workshop with wet plate master John Coffer.

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Image by Sally Mann from Battlefields.  Wet Plate Collodion Glass Plate Negative.

The idea of working very close to home has always been important to Mann, as well as working with the land to which, being Southern, she has always had a very strong connection.  In What Remains, the 2005 documentary about her life and work, she says, “I’ve nothing be respect for people who travel the world to make art, who put exotic indians in front of linen backdrops.  But it’s always been my philosophy to try and make art out of the everyday and ordinary.”  It is no wonder that one of my other favorite artists, photographer William Eggleston, shares this view.  I also agree wholeheartedly with another of Sally Mann’s philosophical points:  that if you cannot photograph the things you love, then you cannot make good art.  This is something I’ve thought about a lot and put into practice in my own art since returning to South Carolina after a sixteen year sojourn in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

I am very pleased that I had two works accepted into the Artisphere 2016 Artists of the Upstate Juried Exhibition.  One of those works, Portrait of Juile, won the Award of Excellence, and was announced at the opening reception on the first day of Artisphere, Friday May 13th.  My work was a 32″ x 40″ archival pigment print on Epson cold press paper.  The image is from one of my original wet plate collodion tintypes.

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The award was presented by Alan Ethridge, Director of the Greenville Metropolitan Arts Council.

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Julie’s parents, Rev. Bob Chiles and Christine Zimmerman Chiles, were at the reception along with my wife, Debbie Rice.  Julie posed for my tintype on location at Tigg’s Pond in Zirconia, NC.  Julie is a very talented musician in The Buck Stops Here, a bluegrass band that just released their first album.  She had her fiddle with her in the shot and was wearing her mom’s wedding dress.

 

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Ambrotype by Bryan Hiott.  Photo:  Madge McKeithen

A few years ago, New School writing professor Madge McKeithen gave a workshop for my wife’s Blueridge Writer’s Workshop at Lake Summit, NC.  She posted about her experience there on her blog  New York + Points South.  These are some of my favorite excerpts from that post.

Who expects surprise when a creative couple leaves New York for up-country South Carolina? Debbie Rice and Bryan Hiott made the leap in 2012, friends’ admonitions trailing them — “when you move to a rural place, your mind slows down.” A year later, Debbie has produced two successful rounds of the Blue Ridge Writers Workshop, one at Lake Lure, NC, and this year’s at Lake Summit, near Saluda, NC; she is volunteering at Hub City Press and Bookshop, is writing poetry, and has a treasured routine visiting her 90-year-old father’s nearby home every evening. Bryan Hiott is up to his elbows in the ambrotype photography he loves in a spacious studio north of Greenville, SC, and is teaching photography and art history at three area colleges this fall (two more than last year).

The week-long workshop emphasized interdisciplinary work in the arts and combined writing with music and the visual arts.  As part of the workshop, I made ambrotype portraits of the participants as well as landscape images.

Wonderfully meshed with the week’s creative experience was Bryan Hiott’s photography. To watch him work, to hear him speak about it is to take in a history lesson, an artistic passion, a skilled craftsman’s meticulous attention to detail, and a content practitioner’s deep pleasure. Friday and Saturday, he set up his camera and developer’s materials, made ambrotypes of landscapes and then turned more directly to his current fascination with portraits and photographed each of us at the lake house. To sit for Bryan’s photography is an experience like none I’ve had. First there is the photographer — in this case an engagingly intelligent, serious, and yet very funny man. Then there is the process which he calmly, ably narrates, all the while attending to his materials — the box of a camera with its heavy drape, the plastic pans of chemicals — discussing exposure time, the nature of the chemical baths, the “development” of the final product over the course of multiple steps.  As the onsite developer (another box and drape under the carport, not moving), Bryan interacts with the image appearing; there is a sense of creating alongside the mechanism that is different from a typical photo shoot today.  Holding the pose for the time requested (mine for 19 seconds, best I remember) and following the instruction not to smile (smiles held for the time required can look odd, rarely good, he told us) and experiencing something not of this but of a bygone era, something of Matthew Brady, Queen Victoria, the American Civil War, the sense of being seen and not heard was a memorable experience for a group of the wordy sort.

Our very talented friend, cellist Sharon Mulfinger Gerber, gave a wonderful solo performance on the dock as twilight fell and the stars began to come out.

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Sharon Mulfinger Gerber.  Photo:  Madge McKeithen

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Portrait of Sharon – Wet Plate Collodion Ambrotype (6.5″ x 8.5″)

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It’s a pleasure to be a mentor for Antonio Modesto Milian, a Brandon Fellow at the Greenville Center for Creative Arts in Greenville, SC. Thanks for asking me to be your mentor, Antonio! You all did a superb job yesterday at the Artist Talk, and I look forward to seeing this through to your exhibition in August!  The other fellows are Naomi Nakazato and Glory Day Loflin (Photo by the super supportive Latosha Nicole Milián).

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L to R:  Naomi Nakazato, Antonio Modesto Milian, and Glory Day Loflin

Bios of the inaugural group of Brandon Fellows at the Greenville Center for the Creative Arts:

Naomi Nakazato is a graduate of Anderson University, where she focused on painting and drawing as well as the history of portraiture. Communicating the challenges and experiences of mixed ethnicity is the driving force behind her work. She is passionate about helping other young artists experience and understand their identity through art. The Brandon Fellowship will give Naomi the opportunity to explore new approaches and mediums in which to pursue these goals.
Anthony Modesto Milian is a graduate of Greenville Technical College and has pursued studies in hospitality at Bob Jones University. He is the creator of the popular Faces of the Upstate page on Facebook, which highlights the beauty of the diversity in our community, and through which he fosters dialogue and reflection on social issues.  As a Brandon Fellow, Anthony will hone his technical and artistic skills to enhance his street photography and the impact of his project. He also plans to explore publishing a book depicting the cultural richness of the Faces of the Upstate.
Glory Loflin is a graduate of the Cooper Union for Advancement of Science and Art in New York City where she studied painting and an alumna of the Fine Arts Center and the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. She has taught arts to children and volunteered her artistic abilities to benefit a variety of causes, from raising awareness of human trafficking to promoting a local farmers’ market and helping feed the homeless. As a Brandon Fellow, Glory will continue championing social issues through the arts while preparing a portfolio of ceramics work in view of applying to graduate school in this medium.
The Brandon Fellowship will provide Naomi, Anthony, and Glory with individual studio space, a stipend for art supplies, access to a variety of classes, as well as guidance and mentorship from the other GCCA studio artists and exhibiting artists.

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Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville, South Carolina

Social Media Obsessed on Main Street - Greenville, SC

Social Media Obsessed on Main Street – Greenville, SC

While out on a date, the importance keeping all your friends updated on the progress of the evening cannot be underestimated. We have all become scribes to the lives we live. How did it get this way?

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Photograph by Bengt Alm – Uneasy Streets

Since last year, I have been curating a Flickr group called Uneasy Streets.  I accept about 5 of every 100 submissions.  Most of the images are from urban streets, but I also include compelling images in close proximity to the street (i.e. along the shore and in subway entrances).  These are the guidelines for my selection process:

I’m looking for intense street photography of people at close range, images that capture interesting interactions among people and the energy of life in the city.

I’m also interested in moments that capture the tension that is evident between subject and photographer, as well as moments when people seem isolated within the city.

PREFERRED IMAGES: compelling, gritty, new visions of people in the city, compositions that demonstrate keen observation and intuition as a photographer, capturing odd, tense, or humorous moments. I also want images that provide a sense of drama, invite a narrative, capture juxtapositions and visual puns, or make me ask a question.

*** No street images without people

*** No images that are more about the architecture than people the people shown.

*** No obviously posed group images.

*** Please do not submit cityscapes, sunsets, babies in strollers, tourist snapshots, flowers, or anything not related to the group description.

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Photograph by “Johnny Shakedown” – Uneasy Streets

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Photograph by Rammy Narula – Uneasy Streets

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Photograph by ilan Ben yehuda (Jerusalem) – Uneasy Streets

 

 

 

Old Main at Wofford College (2016)

Old Main at Wofford College (2016).  Image by Bryan Hiott

 

I’m pleased to have two of my archival pigment prints accepted into the Wofford College Archives in Spartanburg, SC. Both prints are from this digital image of Old Main, which was built in 1854.  The original image was in color, and I converted it to black and white and toned it in Photoshop. I then combined it with a portion of a digitally scanned glass plate from the 19th century. I wanted the final image to have the look of an albumen print from a wet plate collodion negative. Ancient and modern!  Backpacks and shorts were not worn on campus in the 19th century.

In researching artists whose practice combines photography and constructed landscapes, I found some interesting work by Vanessa Marsh.  Last May, she had a solo exhibition, Always Close But Never Touching,  at Ampersand International Arts in San Francisco.  One of her pieces from that exhibition was Incomplete Highway On-Ramp, Seattle, WA.

 

Incomplete Freeway On-Ramp, Seattle, WA

 

Installation View: Incomplete Freeway On-Ramp, Seattle, WA

 

Vanessa Marsh’s Artist Statement


It was in high school that I began to find my true artistic vision. It started with a basic photography class and my mom’s old Nikon E series camera. The next year I had my first car and would take long drives out onto the edges of the Seattle suburbs. Wandering through the damp richness of Washington State, I rediscovered a landscape I had grown up with; flooded fields and medians overgrown with blackberry bushes, evergreens dripping with water and rivers always at capacity. I found myself fearless with my camera, exploring defunct industrial sites, climbing past “no trespassing” signs, keeping my eye out for security guards and taking as many shots as I could. I’d let myself into abandoned houses decaying with mold and half heartedly boarded up, looking for the perfect pile of detritus to photograph; an open fridge in the backyard or a baby carriage overgrown with blackberry vines. These buildings were all on the edges of fields that within a few years would become Wal-Marts or a sea of cookie cutter houses, not yet torn down, but no longer functioning as they were originally intended. They were places where I shouldn’t have been but where there was no one left to tell me to get out.

The idea of spaces between meanings became a fascination for me whether regarding the physical landscape, in considering memory or in making art. I think about ways that my art can tell a truth and yet be rooted in imagination simultaneously. My practice of model building began as a means to create a certain kind of photograph, an image that was at once real and surreal. As I worked more with miniatures I realized that the experience of looking into a model was similar to the feeling of being in abandoned places: of being an unintended visitor in a place that is at once somewhere and nowhere.

The models are built referencing snap shots and many details are filled in from my own imagination. When I build the models I am thinking of the places I’ve explored on the outskirts of Seattle, places on the brink of evolution and extinction – between meanings.

Building the models is an attempt to fully embrace my own sentimentality of where I grew up; the home where I no longer live. The environment where I feel the most comfortable yet choose not to be. The models are about recreating something important again that has been deemed unusable and outdated. In building them I am creating on a miniature scale a part of my own history, exploring the ways in which memory and identity are tied not only to location but also to one’s own imagination.

For  an interview with Vanessa Marsh by Matthew Hughes Boyko:  Click Here


Sea Metal Moon No. 1

 

Paul Kenny’s Artist Statement

Seaworks

 

I have for many years made studio works using material gathered from the landscape, stones, shells, and driftwood etc. In common with many people, I have always brought home “treasures” from the sea pebbles, shells etc. They act as an “aide – memoir”, bringing the landscape into your home so a mere glimpse or touch might recall the feelings of being alone on a remote beach.

Realising that I (naturally) tended to bring back to the studio particularly beautiful objects to photograph, I began to make works out of increasingly insignificant material collected at random rather than highly selected. In 1999 I made a series of works called “A day at the beach” which were studio works made from (literally) a random handful of beach material collected after a walk on a beach, arranged and photographed in the studio.

Out of this work came the idea to find the most trivial and insignificant thing from which to make beautiful and thought provoking work. I started to bring sea water back from my trips to remote beaches and it took about four years to fully develop techniques where I can construct a negative made of sea water dried and crystallised in an organised manner on clear acetate or glass plated. They take many days to make, repeatedly applying drops of seawater and waiting for it to dry. I call them Seaworks.

 

Blue Cheswick Moon

 

 

Full Moon Over Mayo

 

 

Flying Over Colonsay

This abstract image on an aluminum plate is the result of chemical reactions using the 19th century wet plate collodion process.  I scanned portions of the plate surface to a high resolution, revealing intricate patters that suggest the topography of another world.


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Image:  Bryan Hiott & Alexander Gardner

Image: Bryan Hiott & Alexander Gardner


Above:  My Dundee, NY landscape (August 2009) combined in Photoshop with an Alexander Gardner image of a dead Federal soldier at the McPherson farm in Gettysburg, PA (July 1863).  Whole plate image on aluminum.


Image manipulation has been with us from the beginning of  photography – whether staging photos or enhancing them in the darkroom or (as we do now) in Photoshop. Alexander Gardner himself staged a shot at Gettysburg, moving a dead Confederate soldier about 40 yards to make his famous Rebel Sharpshooter image in the Devil’s Den. He even arranged the rifle and cartridge box.  Moving a soldier he photographed through time and pixels to 2009 was something of the same staging.

In my Civil War Smash Up, I was following an instinct I’ve had with wet plate to weave in and out of historical period and create a sense of displacement. Combining an actual Gardner image from Gettysburg with one of my landscape tintypes was one step in that direction. I think we’ve become so accustomed to seeing carnage in Civil War images that the tragedy doesn’t register. Transposing a dead Federal soldier to a modern scene asks questions about the sacrifices of that war and what our culture has become.

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Portrait of Debbie Rice.  Whole plate alumitype by Bryan Hiott.  I made this image last weekend during John Coffer’s Jamboree, an annual gathering of wet plate photographers from around the United States.  Actual size of the plate is 6.5 x 8.5 inches.  Exposure time was five seconds with an f8 Dallmeyer Rapid Rectilinear lens.