I use traditional analog photographic materials in unconventional ways to create multi-image works that explore photographs as three-dimensional, contemplative objects. The darkroom is a key component in the process, often serving as both light source and output device. I am currently informed by the tradition in various spiritual disciplines of using visual aids to deepen awareness, including the Tantric yantra (a form of mystical diagram). My works are meant to represent various states of mindfulness and consciousness, with the goal of engaging the viewer in a state of quiet contemplation. Each piece is a visual meditation, highly informed by my own sitting practice.
About Multiples, Series 2 and Meditations
I’ve worked in an analog black-and-white darkroom for many decades. Over the past five years my primary practice has been to manipulate and repurpose traditional photographic materials in unconventional ways to create multi-image works that explore photographs as three-dimensional, contemplative objects.
My current work is influenced by a tradition in various spiritual disciplines of using visual aids to deepen awareness, including the Tantric yantra, a form of mystical diagram that uses geometric shapes and patterns to represent contemplative mindsets. The works of Multiples and Meditations are meant to visually represent these states of heightened consciousness, with the goal of engaging the viewer to use mindful looking to evoke an experience of quiet contemplation.
One of the key components in the Multiples and Meditations series is the use of the repetitive grid form. I draw on the inspiration and frameworks of many grid masters before me, including Bernd and Hilda Becher, Agnes Martin and others who used of the visual power of the grid to mirror various psychological shifts I hope to evoke for viewers of my work. I am also influenced by living for decades within Manhattan’s intricate gridded streets, as well as the grids of the many thousands of photographic contact sheets I’ve printed over the years.
There are two approaches to the image creation and assembly in the Multiples and Meditations projects, both incorporating highly repetitive structures and intricate hand cutting techniques. The works of Multiples utilize sequences of like images, with one image being different than the others, meant to visually symbolize the flash of insight that sometimes occurs when a repetitive process—usually a form of meditation—is practiced on an ongoing basis. Some Buddhist practitioners call this transformation satori, or enlightenment.
The works in the Meditations series are a related version of the grid form, still using repetition as a seeing device, but also reinterpreting the precise formations of the Multiples works into renderings that are a bit looser, inviting the viewer deeper into the process of looking again and again. Many of these works are larger and more intricate and are titled according to the specific analog darkroom tool or process they reference and reinterpret (e.g. Gelatin Silver Paper Meditation, #1; Enlarger Lens Meditation, #2, etc.)
The images for both Multiples and Meditations are created two ways, both with and without the camera. The first approach uses a multiple-exposure layering process on film. Later works use the darkroom itself as a light source for the final images, an interpretation of the photogram form, also known as a cameraless photograph.
In both approaches, a period of quiet waiting, contemplation, observation and acceptance of much failure while “figuring out” the works is integral to the process. Each takes many days (or even weeks) to complete. The actual construction of the final grids is also assimilated into a repetitive practice, with the rendering of the pieces themselves a form of meditation. By working this way, the darkroom and studio become places of contemplation and maybe, enlightenment.
Meant to be a exploration of the subtleties of imperfection, the final pieces visually shift after repeated viewings. Some people have said that they experience them as a kind of optical illusion, changing and shifting the more closely they are looked at.
In the end, my works are not about rendering what the physical world looks like, but instead I aspire to create abstract pieces that invite viewers to experience what it feels like to stand in front of something consciously and to see it in a new way. I hope that these works are an extension of the senses, to be not about what is being looked at, but instead reflect back the mindset of the individual viewer.
About 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