I have worked in a traditional black-and-white darkroom for several decades, first as a professional printer and then as a fine artist, printing my own analog images by hand. I always had a deep interest in the technical characteristics of the gelatin silver process, and from the beginning pushed the limits of the light sensitivity and tonality of my materials. Over time I became less interested in rendering specific subjects and instead directly explored and manipulated the effects of light on the photographic materials themselves. The repetitive use of light and chemicals on paper within the darkroom became the final works, rather than just contributing to them.
I began to consider what certain states of consciousness would look like if they could be rendered visually. I studied Eastern philosophy and realized how much it contributed to my own creative practice, particularly the Buddhist concepts of slowness and repetition. Subsequent experimentation led to the use of the grid form and the creation of Multiples.
I drew on the inspiration and frameworks of many before me, including Bernd and Hilda Becher, Agnes Martin and others who used the visual power of the repetitive grid to mirror the psychological shift I hope to evoke for viewers of my work. I am also influenced by living for decades within Manhattan’s intricate streets--one of the most famous grids in the world--as well as the grids of the many thousands of photographic contact sheets I’ve printed over the years.
In the end, I hope that my works will be an extension of the senses, to be not about what is being looked at, but instead reflect the mindset of the individual viewer. Or, as James Turrell said, “I hope that when you see my work, you are looking at yourself looking.”
The images of Multiples are made up of repetitive sequences of like images, with one image in each series being different. This specific parameter is meant to visually symbolize the flash of insight that sometimes occurs after a repetitive process is practiced on an ongoing basis. Some Buddhist practitioners call this transformation “satori.”
The works are created two ways, both with and without the camera. The first approach to create the grid elements uses a multiple-exposure layering process on film, with images made over many hours, and sometimes even days, after visiting and re-visiting certain locations, intriguing for the light they contain.
Recent works use the darkroom itself as a light source for the final images. Most analog users spend time sealing their darkroom space to avoid extraneous light; here, ambient reflected light from the enlarger itself, scattered window and “under the door” light leaks from the imperfectly constructed darkroom space are encouraged onto the light sensitive paper. For these works there is no camera involved and the ambient light in the darkroom is embraced as a creative element. I seek to repurpose the technical elements of an analog darkroom into works that reconsider the range of what is possible with these traditional image-making tools. The goal is to create images that are both homage and reinvention.
A period of quiet waiting and observation is integral to the process. There is a slowing down needed to consider the light in a contemplative way, as well as to utilize the physical space of the darkroom itself as a key contributor in making the final images.
Another important component in/of this work is imperfection, a concept deeply engrained in Buddhism. Meant to be a visual exploration of the subtleties of works made by hand, the grids visually shift after repeated viewings. They first appear relatively perfect in alignment, and then a closer look reveals how imperfect they actually are, with the spaces between images variable and sometimes even just a slight bit crooked. Looking this way is meant to encourage the mindset needed to truly see something deeply, or as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke called, “in-seeing.” I believe that the analog process - the results of which makes the pieces more human and would be impossible using other more automated means - strengthens the viewers’ consideration of imperfection.
In order to explore the boundaries of this imperfection, the actual construction method of the final grids is also assimilated into a repetitive practice, with the rendering of the pieces themselves a form of meditation. The works are printed and assembled by hand and then are built out from the center, aligned by hand and eye. Each takes many days to complete and the failure rate for assembly is high, due to the challenges of cutting each image individually and mounting them by hand one-by-one. The cutting and manipulation process is another part of the contemplative, highly repetitive process. By working this way, the darkroom itself becomes a place of contemplation and maybe, enlightenment.
STATEMENT: TURNING POINT
I spent five nights in darkness after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, on the edge of the blackout grid in New York City. Walking under the glow of a generator-powered Empire State Building, I remembered the rich legacy of photographers’ renderings that depicted various states of urban darkness, including Bill Brandt’s iconic images of wartime Britain during the second World War and Alfred Steiglitz’s early renderings of city scenes, created when manmade light was still a novelty.
During the blackout, I marveled at the newfound geometry of the darkened buildings powerfully silhouetted against the night sky. The city, for that brief time, was redefined visually. I studied the era of Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and the story of the introduction of electricity into urban life.
I wondered how it felt when carbon arc streetlights came on in 1880 for the first time. I saw man-made light as a symbol for progress and transformation, how it relates to photography’s history and also how both technologies were introduced to a mass audience at the same time. I also realized, while standing there in the forced darkness, how delicate our whole electrical grid still is.
Since then, I’ve worked with traditional medium-format black-and-white film and a 25-year-old camera, searching for, as Henri Cartier-Bresson famously referred, the places where "the pulse beats more." The final images are constructed over time, the result of multiple layers of exposure manifested over a period of hours, and sometimes even days. The prints are constructed as well, made by hand in a darkroom slowly, using the light of an enlarger on silver gelatin paper.
I’ve explored the areas where Edison launched electrical power to fifty-nine customers in the Financial District of Manhattan as well as other neighborhoods where artificial light was first introduced, including the Flatiron District and the area around J.P. Morgan’s historic home in midtown Manhattan. I like to think that the wonder of seeing created light for the first time still dwells in these places.
Press: New York Times T Magazine
Press: The Harvard Review
Press: Provincetown Arts
Press: New York Public Library