Black and White

“Doors,” a photograph series, 2014

Working in a series offers an artist a variety of outcomes: One may be to see a subject develop through a series of pictures like chapters in a novel, each one allowing a little greater insight into the subject. Another might be to allow a viewer to compare and contrast images to come to a unified conclusion that may differ from seeing a single image of that subject. Through the “Doors” series (pun unintended) I was interested in the latter.

"Doors," A photograph series, 2014

“Doors,” A photograph series, 2014

While photographing abandoned farmsteads I noticed the differences between all of the doors I was seeing. Now, when you think of it, why wouldn’t there be all kinds of different doors and why would this be significant? The first thing that made me think of this was the difference in standards. Most doors manufactured now are a standard size. If you do not believe me walk down the door isle in Home Depot and you will see what I mean. Now I am sure there are many different styles and colors, but they are all basically the same size with only a few exceptions. While looking for photographs on the farm sites I noticed just how much doors differed 50 or more years ago. In most cases they did not conform to the standard door sizes of today. In fact, they did not seem to conform to any standard and appeared to be almost unique in each case. How times change, I thought, and how different things are now as I’ve walked through so many doors all my life noticing very little difference in the dimensions for most. From this awareness came the “Doors” series photographed the summer of 2014.

Most of the doors chosen for the series have different applications. One would not expect to see a standard door size any more than one would expect a door on a house to be the same as the door on a car, but the similarity and differences in all of the doors pictured allow not only an analytical appreciation, but a metaphorical one as well. It isn’t too hard to think of these doors as people: Friends, and acquaintances all have similarities and differences, some quite radical at that, but they are all people just as these are all doors. When I began looking at my collection of photographed doors and thinking about it I noticed that they all hide something; they restrict access to what is inside of their respective buildings. From this I began to think about how the differences we see between people really is just the beginning, just like the differences between doors is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, when compared to the differences that may be in the spaces behind them.

“Why film?” You might ask.

Or maybe, “Why old doors?”

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One Man’s Junk…

I’ve been asked why it is that I prefer to photograph old things, junk to some people. This has caused me to spend quite bit of time thinking about this subject and why it is I am so often drawn to it. One reason for my attraction to the subject, but not necessarily the most important, is the pure connection to history.

I enjoy history, learning about significant events, and trying to put myself in that time and place. I live in southern California and travel back to North Dakota in the summer and I am struck by the differences between the two with regard to their history. In California the population has increased dramatically in recent decades and the continuous construction and redevelopment is associated with this increase has hidden this history or removed it from its context. Urban redevelopment places new retail centers where quaint seaside villages once were and homes cover the rolling hills of what used to be vast ranchos so much so that it is difficult to see the place as connected in any way to an earlier time. A good example is Rancho Buena Vista Adobe, an historical rancho in the city of Vista. Some of the original buildings have been preserved and some converted into museums complete with relics and photographs but it is set so deep into urban sprawl, development, and the daily activity that accompanies such things that it has taken on a Disney Land-like quality. I am not trying to belittle the effort that so many have put into preserving a place like this but I am suggesting that a thing loses some of its historical significance when the context changes so radically as it has in Southern California. By changing the surrounding area some of the connection to history has been lost. The same is true for museums: In a museum historical artifacts are cleaned up and shown in such a way that they are hopelessly removed from from their context leaving the visitor’s experience altered from an actual encounter with history to viewing a show or commercial display. I am not alone in recognizing this as you can frequently see museums trying to change a visitor’s experience in an effort to reconnect it with the original human experience. It is a difficult task for sure to try to put a visitor into a point in time. In North Dakota, as in much of the Midwest, the places I visit and the things I photograph are not removed from context at all. In fact they reflect the very history of which they are a part. Time is evident in their very condition. Rust freezes machinery in the place they were left after their last day of work, wood erodes as it confronts the relentless wind of the prairie just has it has always done. A person can experience the history of that place as it is happening. In these places time has not stopped and the history of the place is laid bare. The are no obstacles between the visitor and the place, no filters, no Disney Land. Because of this, the experience is somehow more real for me.

“Chance” in photography

When I am working with photography I am distinctly aware of the role that chance plays in the successful capture of an image. Naturally, digital photography lends a high degree of control over an image and I understand the usefulness of this process. Traditional film, on the other hand, provides what seems to me as a greater chance for discovery and this is one of the reasons why it is a part of the process I use. Due to the mechanical and chemical nature or the process the actual image left on the film often differs from the image I think I’ve captured. I process the film myself in my studio which adds to the risk (I’ve screwed up a lot of film) as well as the variation in the imagery. Once the film is processed, I scan it using the default settings on an old scanner to limit the control I impose at this step of the process. This is how these photos have taken on this strange sepia tone from a black and white negative. I think it gives some the appearance of some early daguerreotypes or tintypes.

I enjoy the appearance these photographs have acquired. After all, I am not trying to make clear, fine quality photographs, (I’ll leave that up to the real photographers), I’m trying to find an image that is as much about expression as it is about discovery.