Still and Not so Still Life

For thirty five years I have made pictures that come out of the still life genre:  the comfort of the table with food or a vase of flowers and the despair of the vanitas and memento mori with their reminders that life and death are inseparable.  The  images retain the formal shell of the expected, but have elements of the unexpected.

Still life has sometimes been spoken of as a small art form, insignificant compared to the grand traditions of portrait, religious, and history painting or 20th century statements tendered as huge abstract and/or expressionist canvases, not to mention the exotic or the all too terribly real transfixed in the camera’s eye.  Yet still life remains.  Sometimes it is a vehicle for learning, but I suggest that its persistence has to do with its proximity to the most basic concerns of human life: food; shelter; sex and accompanying life and growth; and death.  Also, the simplicity of content in a still life allows for endless expressive experimentation within a form which remains close to universal human experience.
The images in this exhibition have a specific reference: 17th century Dutch, Flemish and Spanish painting, light against a dark ground.  To begin with the pictures remain photographic, light and lense shape them.  Many have a sharply photographic foreground with the background dissolving into darkness pierced withm windows of glowing light.

Some of the objects are the expected, although one might not anticipate finding a human brain in what looks like a canning jar.  Instead of collected objects ‘The collector’, an animal that sticks small shells, sponges and more to its shell, is on the ledge.  Then there is motion that you will see here and there.  The rest is for each viewer to find.

Olivia Parker©2010

The Eye’s Mind

In this body of work I am exploring the relationship between visual and verbal thinking.
’What does this picture mean?’ is a question I am asked over and over.
Trying to explain what a picture means is much harder than paraphrasing a poem
and both endeavors usually yield only clumsy bits of information.

Words and pictures gain authority as soon as they enter books, tablets, and pages.
Despite increased saturation of the visual we live in a culture of words.  If I am waiting in an unfamiliar room, my eyes dart around for something to read.  If there’s a cereal box on the table I start reading.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth century some books contained illustrations but many
of the pictures were masterpieces of verbal misinformation; their creators had only
words about the subjects, verbal information handed down for generations that yielded
monsters and fabled lands.  Other artists and illustrators observed their subjects, vision informed the visual.

Most of my books, tablets, and pages have more pictures than words.  A few
are tribal books that have left their culture and because no one can read them anymore they have become visual.  One of the books that I photographed several times is an internet book that I made so that I could photograph it.

In this group of pictures are two of a schoolbook that belonged to a boy named Sam.  He was trying to write but he could not resist bursting into pictures.

Olivia Parker©, 2008


A photograph captures a moment but it does not necessarily render that moment as our eye sees it.  A normal lens with a tiny aperture will usually result in an image with overall sharpness.  As the lens opens the plane of sharpness narrows until all but a narrow slice of image parallel to the lens is sharp, all else becomes a shimmer of light.  As I look into the camera’s viewfinder I travel through each tiny subject and leave with a membrane of sharpness that dissolves into light.

Why Bugs? When the first great illustrated natural history books were published in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century scientists did not pay much attention to insects.  Before Thomas Moffett’s Insectorum Minimorum Animalium Theatrum  of 1634 occasional bugs did appear in books, some with almost human faces, few closely observed, most drawn from verbal descriptions. I am interested in the relationship between verbal and visual thinking and images that result from verbal information in relation to those that are informed by close visual observation.  Photography allows observation that goes beyond that which the eye sees into what seems to be an imaginary world but is real in terms of the lens and light.

For the last five years, during the renovation of our house, I have been photographing ordinary things that I had never looked at closely.  There were plenty of dead bugs: flies, dragonflies, moths and an occasional butterfly.  I have also included a green bug I found squashed on the street in Chicago. Once more I am amazed that photography can reveal much that our eyes do not see including insects that flit at the edge of our vision and dissolve into light.

Olivia Parker© 2008


Introduction to Weighing The Planets, 1987

These photographs have been assembled as a book so that they can speak together. I will not attempt to  explain their meaning in  verbal terms, because my process is visual, but I can suggest what is on my mind.

I am interested in the way people think about the unknown.  For most of human history people have looked to the spirit world to explain what was going on.  Animals floated in the night sky, and each  object had its own “Anima Motrix”, it’s own moving spirit.   By the seventeenth century clockwork explanations begin to invade the spirit world, opening doors to modern physics.  New ideas form, the old are shattered, and sometimes old ideas pop up again among the new like graffiti on a wall.  All is uncertainty and change, but optimists  and bingo players  are on the lookout for moments of perfect knowledge and perfect cards.

In thinking about  the way we understand both contemporary objects and old objects as well as the way people have understood objects at different points in time, I wonder at the vast changes in the human world in an instant of geologic time. In the  past people primarily had to make sense out of the natural world.  Increasingly there is a manmade landscape too, some of it beneficial and some of it unforeseen and chaotic.  We are learning the rules of the forest, but we know little about the rules of the city dump.  Reading objects, Archaeologists search for meaning in bones, earth, and stone. Today, some anthropologists try to figure us out by checking our garbage.  What if each cereal box, grapefruit rind, and hub cap were perceived to have its own moving spirit?

Objects rich in human implications are the ones which interest me.  I work intuitively, but only part of the time.  There is a fluctuation between visual intuition and an editorial process that presses me to throw out what is not working and to go beyond the content level of individual objects.  The  objects become a language for me.  My intention is not to document objects but to see them in a new context where they take on a presence dependent on the world within each photograph.  Often I use old objects, for as the Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz said “I am much more interested in an old piece of burlap than a new one, for the beauty of an object is to me, in the quantity of information I can get from it, the stories it has to tell.”  If I use new  or organic materials they only become interesting in context; a bone and a machine part must transform eachother.

When I am browsing along a gutter or entering a junk shop, and someone asks what I am looking for, I have to say that I don’t know until I see it.  What I bring home may or may not end up  in a photograph.  If it does enter a photograph, it will be in a limited space defined by the edge of the image.  This is not, however, a precious keepsake box.  The velvet lined case picture is gone, but the glut of photographic images we experience daily cannot erase the power of the the edge of the photograph to structure and call attention to what is within.  Even if it is rigidly confined at its edges a photograph can still have areas of brightness or shadow left for exploration.

Although I work primarily in my own studio, I often think of those who had the courage to go beyond the edge of the map, in body or spirit, especially those who tried to make sense out of what they saw, or thought they saw.  A  hole in the map, a puzzling phenomenon, and an ambiguous image all invite speculation and invention.  Where there are gaps with insufficient information, we tend to fill them in with handy thoughts of our own.  I invite those who see my pictures to participate with their own thoughts. This is not to say that whole photographs are ambiguous.  I expect that each of us has a circle of meaning for each image we see.  We overlap extensively for some,  for others large segments remain private because of what we bring to the image from our own lives.  Shadows of figures can move forward threateningly or run away.  A dove- pigeon can be a symbol of peace and love, a humorous creature, or a dirty street pest depending on its context and the  experience of the viewer.

I do not choose objects for sentimental reasons.  With the exception of a few rocks none of them are from childhood collections, and none came from the family attic.  I claim no control over other peoples attics, their contents and associations.   Although I do not use actual objects from my childhood, I am interested in remembered stories and games.  No matter how bizarre, a story or photograph can work if its own world rings true.  Fairy tales speak of strange tensions and balances: life, growth, and sex versus death and decay; Beauty and The Beast.  Games, those dependent on both chance and thought, creep into my pictures.  Cards fall by chance, full of magic and significant numbers, but some card games require  rational thought and skill.  A child’s game can be a rehearsal for adult activities, a way of understanding or misunderstanding them, as in playing house and playing war.  Games can explore and lead off the map.  In the game of telephone, a word starts and ends up as another the same way an image starts and changes in multiple generations on a copier.  In the world of play, magic and alchemy are still possible.  The rabbit disappears; shadows slide off a page.  Light burns white.  Light burns black.  At the edge of imagination there is a black sun.

Light and silver {now pixels) transform all that is photographed and yet we expect a photograph to be closer than a painting or a drawing to what we think is real.  My constructions do not exist as permanent pieces; they vanish after I make the photograph.  Shadows move as the sun moves; flowers decay; forms alter as the light shifts; objects rendered transparent when they are removed  during an exposure  become solid again.  Objects and texts placed on a photo copier yield images of reduced information which I often use as part of my pictures. (Now I make use of a scanner that records in great detail necessitating choices as to how much of each image I keep as part of the final image) Also, the toned silver prints are different from what my eye sees in front of the camera because of the character of the print medium I have chosen. ( At this point my prints are ink on paper just another translation of what I see.) The photograph is a transformation of what I see, caught on an edge in a delicate balance.

Since Newton’s time we have been weighing the planets mathematically, but Anima Motrix persists.  Recently in Hong Kong there was a furor, because the new Bank of China building has not been sited in accordance with the desires of benevolent dragons.  Some say God is lurking at the outer edge of high- energy physics. It appears that Anima Motrix will last until all is known.

Changing Spaces

Photography is particularly good at evoking fleeting qualities of a moment.  Even pictures of natural or architectural spaces can seem so ephemeral that thoughts of what might lie beyond the place the photographer is standing immediately come to mind.  What lies sideways, what lies back?  Is the passage open, or does it go into another room?  In the process of photographing in Cambodia some temples had a mazelike quality.  A tree or a pile of rocks might block intended passages while a crumbled wall opens a new path.  Contemporary cities offer spaces of invention and imagination, sometimes flickering through panes of glass.  A mountain may reveal a frightening chasm that later becomes a receptacle for constantly moving clouds, undoing any certainty regarding the placement of the granite walls.  A Chinese Garden offers many choices and surprises in its rooms.  Spaces that flicker and change as they are seen, places lying part way between vision and imagination have interested me for a long time.  Questions provoked by these images make me want to look again.

Digital printing has enabled me to control my color images in much the same way that I shaped my black and white prints in the darkroom.  All of the Changing Spaces images were made with digital cameras, sometimes in difficult light situations.  Some needed no correction; others required the equivalent of burning and dodging. Most importantly all of these prints benefited from the range and subtlety of the color and tonal values available in digital printing that I have used for subtle changes that heighten both my memory and vision of a space.

Olivia Parker©2004

Image and Memory

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

In 2001, while printing the photographs that I made during my 1997 residency at The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, I thought about my memory of repeated visits to the Gardner over a period of many years.  With each return and memory I had changed, and in certain inevitable ways for me the Gardner had changed too.

As a child I imagined that the Gardner existed only for me.   Almost no one else was there.  My only frustration was that the courtyard was out of bounds.  At least I could sit on the edge and imagine climbing the radiant nasturtiums cascading from the floors above.  Entering the courtyard to photograph in 1997 seemed at first like trespassing.  That impression quickly faded as the garden revealed spaces and vistas I had never seen before.  On returning in 2001 the courtyard made me think of the way a Chinese garden reveals its secrets slowly.  At the age of seven I wanted to dig straight through my back yard to China.  Although I have been interested in Chinese Art for forty years I did not get to China until 2000.  The one large garden that I saw there far exceeded anything I imagined reaching through that hole in the back yard and it made me realize that sometimes it’s best if a garden reinvents itself as people move through it.

As an art history major in college I probably lost some of my sense of the Gardener as a whole place because I was looking at paintings.  My seat at the edge of the court was now a refuge for writing papers and thinking about paintings.  In the nineties the museum became a new place in that it was often filled with people.  Mrs. Gardner, always eager to share her treasures, would be pleased and I know that I must share too.

In trying to sort out memory, new experience and photographs I found that they were so bound together in my mind that it was impossible to isolate them.  As it is we only see a tiny spot of our visual field in very sharp focus from the center of the eye(the macula).  We do a lot of scanning about and assuming.  What do we remember visually?  Sometimes I remember no specifics, only light, color, space, and the general forms.  In 2001 I returned to The Gardner to see if a camera not focused on an object or a place could reveal these aspects of vision that are pervasive in memory.  The resulting images are not exactly like memory images, but they surprised me with strong structure, color and light.  Memory seems to lie somewhere between the 1997 pictures in sharp focus and the 2001 unfocused; fragments sharpen, and then fade within a place that always keeps light, color and structure.

Do photographs interfere with memory?  Do we count on the image on the paper to be memory and leave the shifting shimmering vision in our minds behind?  I think not.  Photographs too shift into memory each time we leave their physical presence.

Olivia Parker©2004


Imagine several paths each a different color winding through a desert.  From time to time sand blows hiding some of the paths.  Most of the paths will reappear, often crossing each other before continuing on.  As the paths cross they leave their color on each other.  The invading colors do not always blend in. At times they retain their original hue as a strand of one color in a path of another.

I think of the themes that inform my images as continually changing paths.  Sometimes they disappear for a while only to emerge and grow and change.  Traditional still life in a contemporary form, toys and games, the history of science, museums and the edge between imagination the manmade and natural world are all of interest to me.

Although I have used many different cameras and printing technologies, I am so interested in the ideas that inform my work that the cameras, darkroom techniques and digital equipment remain tools for me and experimentation with them has never been more than finding new ways to put growing and changing visual thoughts on paper.

Olivia Parker©2003


For thirty years I have constructed what I photograph in the studio, combining objects and surfaces into new entities by the manipulation of light, space, and photographic materials.  For composite work I use a computer as a natural extension of my way of making images and now everything out there is my palette; I am not restricted to the stuff I can haul into my studio. Fortunately I already had a group of themes and ideas underway when I gained access to a computer.  Otherwise the question would have been: now that I have the freedom to do anything with images, what do I do?

Although now in addition to straight photographs I make images of objects that never existed, my composite images still have something of the odd relationship to reality that a straight photograph does.  Both photographs and digital images can be fact or fiction or part way between. A digital image differs from a photograph in that it is fluid; it can change to another then another version.  Fiction is waiting at the door.  The author can keep or destroy the generations of change.  Although certain variations and manipulations in its printing are possible, a negative is what it is.

We may think that we know more about what is real than our ancestors did.  Until September 11, 2001 I had not been paying attention to the quantity of visual images from movies and television that are stored in our brains.  They seem real enough, but usually we can sort them between fact and fiction.  Seeing something real on television that the rational mind would designate, as over the top fiction is a disturbing experience. Being in the middle of something that is supposed to exist only in fiction is still unimaginable to those of us who were not there.

“Heraclitus said: “All is flux-nothing is stationary”. I am interested in changes in ideas, the continual reshaping of our mental map of the world as we know it.  What is real?  What is fiction?  What is the relationship between the two?

Olivia Parker©2004

Fictional Toys, Games, and Teaching Aids

My Toys and games are fictional but they always maintain connections to real games and the real world.  To me games are a manifestation of mental models or metaphors of life situations.  My games have an obvious relationship to the structure of a real game, but usually something has gone wrong: players are using different rules; the instructions are missing, to be ignored or never existed; pieces are missing or replaced with unlikely substitutes; and occasionally the rules, the mental guide lines of the way things are meant to be, break down and the game gets as messy as life.

Sometimes toys get more real than they are supposed to and emotions waver between fiction and nonfiction.  Occasionally my toys may seem bizarre, but when compared to what is available in real toy stores for real children they are not very strange at all.  They evolve from such traditional strategies of toy making as the creation of automata, the changing of human or animal forms toward caricature, the monstrous or the juvenile, or the piecing together of odds and ends.  Some reflect the method of toy makers who know very little about the sources of their toys be they helicopters or elephants but proceed anyway.  This approach reminds me of a Reverend Mr. Johnston, who in the seventeenth century published an elaborate illustrated natural history filled with pictures of animals he had never seen.  There is a  pull toy in this exhibition dedicated to him.

Olivia Parker©1996


Someone tried to tell me that what the teacher wrote on the blackboard at school was so.  I wasn’t so sure.  My uncertainty is evident in the blackboard pictures.  All I can say is that the chalk drawings and taped paper on my blackboards came from books that were known to be true at the time they were published.
Blackboards began as small slates, almost an educational toy. They have been around so long that they have become an icon of education but when left unguarded they can become tools of subversion or items of play again, open to graffiti, games and gleeful expressionism.

Olivia Parker©1996

Snow Globes

Snow globes can contain anything: Alligators to Elvis.  Turn them over and back and watch the snow come down as many times as you want.  They usually have a good chunky base to keep them from rolling away.  Mine don’t have bases, but they have chunky frames that keep them from traveling.  Also the snow in them stays the same, but the contents change.  In each frozen delight are the contents protected, trapped, secure, isolated, clarified, or limited?

Olivia Parker 1996

Luminous Places

As a photographer I constantly observe light.  What is it doing in front of my eyes and what will it do in a photograph?  In the 1970’s and 80’s I often used shadows of people and things that were outside of my photographs.  The photograph became something different than what my eye saw.  Attention and meaning shifted: in a photograph of people our eyes immediately search out the faces; in a photograph with only shadows of people we see gestures and movement.  Light coming through shaped and or broken glass can cast a shadow that totally changes the space in a photograph.  It also changes the emotional tenor of the image often increasing visual intuitive response as verbal response becomes more ambiguous and difficult.

Looking into a space my eyes see surfaces and objects each one affected by the color of the light that allows us to see.  About four years ago I began to make photographs without focus, first to use as still life backgrounds and subsequently to find out if each place that I photographed revealed a unique quality of light. The first two environments that evoked a strong sense of place were the Mauritshaus in The Hague and the Fairbanks Museum in Vermont. Spaces and objects dissolved into apparent light seem to have an emotional connection to our perception of the image.  The only experience I can link this to is the rush to interpret something that has flashed by too fast or appeared only in peripheral vision. A blurred image from a swamp can be much more unsettling than a sharp image of the same space with dark water and snaking tendrils.  A mundane landscape of a road disappearing into the sky becomes a vast space of air that is more intense than the sharp image.  Although photographers have been making out of focus images (intentionally or not) since photography began, I think there is something for me in this way of working.

In 2001 I returned to The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum where I had done a residency in 1997.  As I photographed the museum during my residency I never added light to any of the pictures because I felt that each part of the museum had its own particular light.  Each day the natural light changes and the artificial lights, which are not usual museum lights, are either on or off.  The light colors mix and bounce from walls with strong blues and reds, browns and golds of wood paneling, and the pinks of the court.  A swamp and a vast landscape are much easier to feel and describe than a complex interior space shaped by a strong individual.  At the Gardner strong colors become all important because there are no details to snag attention.  Bronze sculpture takes on a life of motion.  A bare light bulb near the floor draws attention to itself overriding the space and furniture around it. Light seems to detach itself from objects and spaces and swell into a form of its own.

Olivia Parker©2004

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How did you become a photographer?
A: As a self-taught photographer I learned by filling trash barrels with bad prints.  This sounds expensive and wasteful, but at that time I could not both go to school and learn by doing because I had two young children.  Also, I already had a lot of visual background: a degree in art history and several years of drawing and painting.

Q: Why did you become a photographer?
A: Photography is the only medium that demands light and natural light is always changing, transforming whatever is before out eyes. It can be a rapid process allowing ideas to progress and mingle, or using a view camera, working in the darkroom, and even in front of a computer screen it can be a thoughtful visual experience.

Q: When you were beginning to develop your work in the 1970s what did Boston have to offer?
A:In many ways I felt I was in the right place, at the right time. When I started my career, there was only one photography gallery in Boston, Carl Siembab, but there was Project in Cambridge that offered classes for beginners like myself. I attended a class with Henry Horenstein, which was great, and Henry really helped me with the nuts-and-bolts. At the time I started using a view camera, Kip Kumler would have students at his house once a week, and Minor White offered one day workshops at Project.   Whenever I could I spent time at The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Gardner Museum, or The Fogg Museum at Harvard.

Q: You had young children at the time you were learning photography. How did you juggle honing your talents with parenting?
A: When making art, unless you are in the performing arts, you can tailor your schedule quite a lot. Both my children took very good naps in the afternoon. I began my career working with some borrowed equipment, in a jury-rigged darkroom, while they were napping. When the kids were older, I put a double door in the darkroom so they could come in and out when they came home from school. We had many hilarious situations, For example one day our daughter came in and said: “Johnny put his socks in my spaghetti!” By the time they were school-age, I would be doing more routine things in the darkroom when they came home from school, so that I was available, even though I wasn’t downstairs. My studio was in the living room, and once I saw three little girls peering around one of the doors. One of them turned to our daughter and said, “You’re mom’s weird.” I took it as a compliment.

Q: Do you intend your work to communicate something?
A: At first I thought that good work had to communicate my exact ideas to an audience.  Wrong.  I now know that every piece of art will communicate with each person in its audience in a different way.  Each one of us has an accumulated frame of reference that I call a circle of meaning.  My circle and your circle are not likely to overlap perfectly.  Both of us will have private knowledge that remains outside the common area of overlap, as well as the overlapped area where communication takes place.  Now I find this ever-changing process of varying communication fascinating and alive. Looking at photographs would be much less of a living process if each of us did not arrive in front of pictures with our own baggage.  The experience would be meaningless, however, if our circles did not overlap at all.

Q: What did you do to make your work successful?
A: I have always found self-promotion uninteresting.  My earliest break came when David Godine published my first book, Signs of Life, after he had seen my show at Vision Gallery in Boston.  The show happened after I dropped off work at the gallery.  Vision was a new gallery and I did not know anyone involved.  Because of the book I got a lot of letters from people who subsequently became my friends.  Also, Ansel Adams invited me to teach at his workshops.  Suddenly I had a group of friends to share ideas with, contacts that I had not had before because I did not have a college or university network in my field.  Also, a supportive family has been a great help.  A real love of doing the work is, however, the key to a career as an artist.  No amount of networking or knowing the right people will do any good if the work isn’t there.

Q: How did you find your original way of making images?
A:  I wish I could give a direct answer to this question, a question that I remember asking, convinced that if I tried hard enough I would find my own style. The more I thought about it the more elusive it seemed.  After a while I got more and more absorbed in my work.  I forgot about the style thing.  Time flew by and I wanted to work all the time.  The problem was getting all the other stuff done.  Suddenly I had a cohesive group of about thirty prints, the beginning of Signs of Life. This answer and the ‘I can’t understand where it came from’ answer seem most unhelpful, but I think that a lot that happens while we are working on visual images occurs in the realm of visual thinking and it can’t necessarily be translated into the verbal.  While working I tend to switch back and forth between a visual-intuitive mode and an editorial-verbal mode.  Both modes are important to me but the possibilities and complexities of the visual-intuitive mode seem best for traveling beyond the edge of the map.  In other words dive into your work and if there’s a style there it will come out.  With Photoshop you have the freedom to do all.  Answering the question of what to do is the hard part.

Q: What influence did your childhood have on your work?
A: It helps a lot to never feel like grownup when you are making art. I was so much the youngest of four that my parents hired a woman to take care of me.  At the time I had no idea how lucky I was.  She took me to museums, opera, ballet etc. because that’s what she liked to do.  Art museums tended to be empty then so that I could lie on my back and contemplate my favorite pictures. Also she read to me a great deal, fairytales in their old unsanitized forms and all of Dickens by the time she left when I was ten.  I also spent a lot of time rummaging around by myself and that may have expanded my imagination.  When I was 13 I wanted a dog; I even had her picked out and I had earned the money for her by drawing portraits of people’s dogs.   My parents said that if I worked in a kennel the next summer I could have a dog.  That meant waiting a whole year.  I bought a good 35mm camera with my dog money, but the next summer I did work in the kennel and I got my dog.

Q: How do you find the objects that you often work with, and can you describe your process in developing a piece? How much is pre-visualization and how much is serendipity?
A: From 2003 to 2008 I was living in a house undergoing extensive renovation and we lived in the middle of it.  During that time I worked on a series that’s caused me to notice so many things at home that I never noticed before, just mundane things in the day-to-day environment. When we were eating breakfast at the local eatery I kept noticing the creamers that my husband was using.  I brought some of those little cups home and they turned into a picture.  Sometimes we’d get a package in the mail, perhaps a bowl with a piece of tissue paper that was coiled inside and had a distinctive shape.  I’d open the package and say, “Yup, the bowl’s really nice, but look at that tissue paper”, and I’d turn it about in the light think what might happen with it. I’m always looking to see aspects of objects that I’ve never noticed before.

I have a large collection of objects gathered at the time my family would refer to me as the bag lady. We had to put them away the year I broke my leg. Now that those are coming out again, I see them with fresh eyes but I still work with themes that have interested me all along, for example: The history of science; the tradition of still life; toys and games and the interplay between visual and verbal information.

A lot of my work has become intuitive. I find that if I have too set a verbal idea, of what I am going to do, it almost never works. For example, in the context of my new studio my old stuff (most of this is all stuff that I picked up intuitively on the street or at flea markets as well as the things that just arrived like the bottles that fell out of the ceiling during construction.) looks new: new light, new context.  Just looking around, and seeing things that are different, will give me the visual start of an idea. Then I’ll pull back and think about it verbally, and that’s the sort of back and forth between intuitive and editing that I do. It took me a long time to figure out that that’s what I have been doing, but I think that’s the best way to describe what I’ve been doing all along.

Q: Which artists have influenced you?
A: As far as art is concerned, there are usually pieces I enjoy coming back to over and over again because there’s a certain richness there, as opposed to ‘one idea’ pieces. They offer themselves up gradually, and you have to come back and look again.

You have more for your art to grow out of, if you’ve looked at a lot of art. Some young students I’ve seen, in art school photography departments, have a sort of photo-ghetto thing going on; nobody is looking at any of the other visual arts, and that’s really a shame. Music, literature, and poetry all feed our visual art too.

For me experiencing other cultures enriches my art. For those who cannot travel there is a lot available in art museums, or on the Web.  Not everyone is close to a museum, but if someone has access to a computer, he or she doesn’t have a good excuse for narrow vision.  I’ve been amazed at some of the web sites that museums do for special exhibitions. I might say, “Drat, I’m not going to see that exhibition,” but often I can get something of it from what the museum does on the website on that exhibition, and it’s certainly better than not seeing it at all.

The study of art history plus my early experience made me into a voracious watcher whether I am in a museum, a busy street, the mountains or a junkyard.   As a result I have taken in so much visual material that it is hard to say what sources have influenced me.  I believe that I have internalized a great deal of visual information.  Some of it must be influencing my work, but I can’t explain it verbally.  I can mention some visual art and artists who have made me think: Anonymous Jade carvers in Neolithic China, Anonymous Cycladic carvers, Anonymous Han Chinese sculptors and potters, Leonardo da Vinci, Science Book illustrations from the 15th to the 17th century, Giovanni da Paulo, Piero, Chinese painting Sung – Ming dynasties, Giovanna Garzonni, Durer, 17th century Dutch still life, Franz Franken II, Velasquez, Chardin, Goya, Manet, Gaugin, Mattisse, Duchamp, Cornell, Klee, Franz Klein, Beuys, Abakanowicz, Keiffer, Ann Hamilton, Chen Zhen, and many friends who are contemporary Artists.

Q:  What equipment do you use?
A: Over a period of thirty years I have worked with many materials and various equipment: view cameras 4×5 up to Polaroid 20×24; 35mm and medium format cameras; color and black and white film; silver prints; Cibachrome prints; Polaroid; Mac computers; digital files; Canon digital cameras, Photoshop; and Epson printers.  Despite this large list I have never used a lot of techniques at once.  Doing so is okay in school, but if you continue to scatter your technical learning you will spend all your time figuring out technique and be left with no time for ideas.

Q: What kind of light do you use?
A:  I like to use natural light, but sometimes for color I mix tungsten and natural giving me the play between warm and cool light.  I do not use strobe because I like to see what I am doing.

Q: How did you begin working digitally, and integrating Photoshop into your work?
A: The kind of work I was doing in the studio, combining objects so as to make a new world within a photograph, was a natural for it. Even in the late 1980s I was playing around with some, now primitive, programs. Computer technology intrigued me, and I kept an eye on it. I did not do a lot with computers until the early 1990s. There was a camera store in Boston called Crimson Tech that, at the time, also sold digital equipment to industrial and medical users. Crimson needed some digital prints to show to customers, and Don Perrin invited me to be artist in residence.   I had the opportunity to play with all the toys and learn from new friends especially Scott Burgess and Flo Scott. That work gave me a big push into digital imaging.

In 1992 I was teaching a workshop in Florida. There was a big snowstorm and I couldn’t get home. So I extended my stay, and ended up taking a 5 day Photoshop course, that helped me a lot.

In 1995 I smashed up very badly skiing. I was on crutches for a year, so that I couldn’t work in the studio or darkroom. I had just bought a Mac, and the computer kept me sane. I made a lot of composite pictures that year, as I had quite a lot of stuff stored up to work with. I did composites through the 1990s. Then in 2001, I went back towards the possibilities of the camera. I found that things really did look different with digital cameras, vs. film cameras. Although I still love the print quality I can achieve with a view camera, I came to like digital cameras a lot.

From 1998 – 2007 I did a lot of traveling in Asia, and on one trip to China I had both a 35mm film camera, and a point-and-shoot, Canon digital camera, with me. The weather was such severe pouring rain that I ended up taking a lot of pictures with the small digital camera. In that gray, gray, weather, the digital pictures were excellent, and the 35mm work looked dull. I could make beautiful 8 X 10 prints from that little Canon. That made me sit up and think, “Hmm, this may be getting close.” Over time I’ve stuck with the Canon cameras and I’ve been really excited about the way they have evolved. As someone who worked with view cameras and in the darkroom for many years, I still find it hard to believe that I am all digital now.

I love to do my own printing but  Mac Holbert of Nash Editions was printing my work in the 90s, and he did a fabulous job. That it’s now possible for me to do my own printing is partly due to Mac who taught me well. I use an Epson 7800.

Q: Was there ever a time when you second-guessed being a photographer?
A: No regrets.

Q: What do you do with your free time?
A: What free time?

Q: What is your best advice for a budding photographer?
A: If you don’t love making photographs do something else.

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