May 26, 2011
Posted by Kathleen under Travels Leave a Comment
I love the Midwest landscape. The endless fields, the flatness, and its overwhelming sky, all have a special fondness with me. Like Lori, it’s the place where I grew up and I still feel its pull and how it has marked me for life. When it rains I think about how the farmers will be happy. Throughout the summer I try to remember at what stage the different crops should be at, or what would be growing in the garden. (When is the corn knee high?) And this is twenty-plus years after moving off the farm. Those feelings just won’t go away, but the details have grown fuzzy, and that really bothers me.
See, I never dreamed I’d end up living in a big city. It was the farthest thing from my mind. But, starting with college, I gradually began a migration to the east until I somehow ended up in Brooklyn. It took a long time to make peace with my new surroundings, and if asked how I like living in New York, I’ll grudgingly say it’s ok. But, I don’t think I’ll ever allow myself to like it, and will never love it no matter how well I adapt to the urban life. I guess it makes me feel disloyal to my roots.
We had occasion to drive through the Midwest this past week and I found it very comforting. It’s like I could finally stretch and take a full breath of fresh air after months of swallowing the grit and grime of New York City. Distance was no longer measured by city blocks, but by country miles and small towns. Riding in the car my head was on a swivel, trying to take in every detail. I’ll try to soak up as much of the sights and sounds as I can, knowing it will be a while before I return. Lori and I are quite fortunate in that our Brooklyn apartment sits alongside the park, so I can still watch the seasons change and smell the freshness of the trees as they give off their oxygen at night. But for now, I’ll keep enjoying the soft breeze, the sound of the birds, and the scent of honeysuckle.
May 23, 2011
Posted by Kathleen under Studio Life Leave a Comment
Work has begun on the next diorama. (Can’t give out many details, Lori is very superstitious about talking about scenes in progress). But the division of labor is in place. She is plotting out, cutting, sanding, assembling (with a little swearing for good measure) the bones of the piece. Progress is always slow-ish at this stage because hard decisions are still being made: scale, where will the line of focus be, how high will the camera be, and how will light get into the final scene. The lighting issue is pretty key because that is what really transforms this small diorama into what appears to be (hopefully) a real space. And it’s much easier to figure that out now than after all the details are glued in place. The other tricky issue is how much floor and ceiling is needed. It is always more than you think, as it needs to extend towards the camera several feet beyond where the rest of the detailing ends. Additions almost always happen and random patches of blue on the walls and ceiling of the studio prove that figuring out how much sky/background is needed is also difficult. But once these issues are decided, there will be a brief window of time where in the space of a day, the basic structure will all come together. That is a very good day!
While Lori works on that, I’m working on detail elements. For this scene that means some lighting fixtures and wall decorations. These things are the slow-pokes and have to be started early so when Lori is ready to place them, they are complete. This scene will have some paintings, so that is where I’m at. Theme and composition are left up to me, within certain parameters of course. We try to personalize these elements, using photos of friends and family, or objects that have some meaning to us. As far as portraits go, if it ends up looking human I’m pretty happy. Getting any sort of likeness to the original subject would just be icing on the cake. I’ll confess that one painting I’m attempting is a trompe l’oeil still life. (The term is French for ‘deceive the eye’ and uses realistic painting to create the illusion that objects appear to be 3-D). My painting will have items related to my grandfather. So, we’ll see how it goes. I’m still in the planning stage. My painting background is limited (in college I did the minimum to get by) but it has improved over time. As long as I have reference, I generally do ok. And if it stinks, I’ll try something else, no one has to see it. I take comfort in the fact that in the final photo, it probably won’t be much larger than a stamp. And it may be in shadow. Or be covered with a wash of paint or dirt. A lot of trouble for such a small thing? You bet. But this is how we roll.
May 17, 2011
In the world of model building, time moves slow…..very slow. It takes anywhere from a month (when we have our shit together) to fifteen months (when we get sidelined by other projects, usually commercial projects) to finish a scene. Therefore Kathleen and I will be posting weekly instead of daily. Not much happens in the day to day except a little gluing, a little painting, and lots of attention to two needy cats. When a scene moves along at a quick pace, it’s usually because I know exactly what I want in terms of the color palette, the layout of the scene, the details. Our quickest scene was called “Vacuum Showroom” and we did it in a month. It also helped that a deadline was looming. The hardest part for me is deciding exactly what I want. Too many times there are too many options. I’m kind of a deer in the headlines when confronted by more than three choices.
I usually find inspiration on the subway commute to my day job in Manhattan, and it usually happens when the subway emerges from the depths of Brooklyn and climbs uphill over the Manhattan Bridge. Something about the darkness to bright light hits me in the head and opens my mind. I get a literal brainstorm. I immediately transcribe my idea to my phone, then send Kathleen a text message with a great, new, astounding, earth shattering idea. Even though she doesn’t reply, I know she is sighing heavily. If I still like the idea a week later, and still like it two years down the road, then I know it’s worth building. I start the research process either with Google, or better yet, books (remember those?). The absolute hardest part of the diorama process is figuring out the color palette. Sometimes I know this the minute I see it in my head, but most often I’m that deer in the headlights again, trying to figure out if the scene should be predominately green, blue or brown. Too many options! And it’s especially difficult when doing research, I see a space that I love, but when it comes to making it in miniature, I can’t seem to shake what I’ve already seen, and I can’t break free of that impression. I really hate this. Therefore it’s best for me to conduct research from afar, again through Google or through books.
The current diorama Kathleen and I are working on I have been mulling around in my head for five years. It’s gone through several revisions, and now we’re finally bringing it to life. We work to each other’s strengths. I come up with the big idea and the color palette. Over breakfast, we drag out the sketchbook and start drawing out the physical space, the position of the camera, and make a list of details we want to fill out the scene. I go home and start fabricating the walls floor, ceiling and architectural details. I set the scale. Kathleen gets the lucky task of fabricating all the nitpicky details that I don’t have the patience to do. She’s pretty darn fearless in this department. I ask for a mastodon, and within a couple of days she had gone and carved me a mastodon out of foam.
May 17, 2011
Welcome to My 8×10 Life, a journal about my life as a working photographer in Brooklyn, NY. The About and Bio sections of my website take care of the big questions of Who Am I? and Why Do I Make the Work I Make?, but I am often asked about the little things that go into my work: inspiration, research, and just the daily life of making things. The point of this blog is to flesh out some of these smaller details, hopefully without killing the magic.
Why this title? It makes sense to me for a couple of reasons. First off, I make my photographs with a traditional 8×10 camera. While a large number of photographers are moving to the digital realm, I continue to cling to this method. I love film! I love the look of it, the level of detail it provides, and the overall physicality of the process. It’s solid. It’s also in keeping with my method of working in that I do not alter my images once the final negative is created. I don’t use Photoshop or otherwise digitally enhance the images. Old school all the way. More on that in the future…
Secondly, the way I’ve chosen to work is incredibly time consuming. My photographs begin life as small dioramas (tabletop-ish and larger) that my partner Kathleen and I build in our living room. Our daily life consists of tiny tools and model supplies, glue, wire and paint. Some elements are purchased, but the majority is scratch built. It’s labor and time intensive, and after almost twelve years, it’s just what we do. But we really like it! Even if we are not actively working on a scene, it is never far from our minds, and eventually finds it’s way into whatever we are doing. Living where I work (or is it working where I live) just invites further integration.