A friend found out about this show only after it closed, so it occurred to me to post the pictures and commentary here. . . by request.
Although I am forced by current market and viewer expectations to operate in the digital realm I prefer traditional photochemical processes for many picture making tasks and for almost all of my artistic work. I consider film photography no more rendered obsolete by digital imaging than drawing and painting were rendered redundant by photography. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Such digital image processing as I’ve done in the last decade has been entirely accomplished with used, recycled and re purposed equipment…most of it from Finger Lakes Re-Use. Largely this is because it has taken half a century for me to accumulate and learn to use the analog equipment I have, and partly because I am not in a financial position to throw vast amounts of money at the latest of the constantly changing array of digital gadgets. Learning to use ‘behind the curve’ technology means that it is not immediately junked, but rather used out, in a reasonable, sustainable, service life. Additionally, I’m thus forced to understand the workings of the technology I decide to adopt. Since I am not a digital native this requires learning the compatibilities and interfaces of devices from chaotic markets.
The picture “Ship Breaking Bath,” was made on the banks of the Kennebec River in Maine, upstream from Bath Iron Works. At that time the steel of ships past their useful service life was still reused within the US economy. Maine once was a leading location for ship building for the American merchant marine, the world’s foremost. Today, ship breaking for the salvage and re-use of steel is mostly performed in Bangladesh, Mumbai, Istanbul and Korea…sometimes under nearly inhuman conditions. It has been decades since Bath Iron Works has built any shipping except missile frigates for the U.S. Navy. The American merchant marine would today scarcely exist save for contracts with the DOD Sealift Command. Complex economics dictate these circumstances and no administration of past half century has addressed the problems of global shipping.
“Russian X-Process” is a picture about technological evolution and social change. It was made during the late 1960’s on an abandoned farm in Tompkins County. The technical aspects are interesting in themselves. In the early 1960’s reports reached the west that Soviet spies has developed a technique for making very high speed color photo’s. At that time in the west most color films were limited to a speed equivalent to today’s ISO64. The Russian process allowed espionage at ten times that speed. The process was to partially develop positive color slide film in color negative chemicals, pause the process, and add a step of high speed B&W chemicals. The film was then re-finished with the color negative process. The results, using made-in-USA Kodak materials, delivered the promised speed advantage, but proved an awesome challenge to print with faithful color balance. Kodak concentrated its attention on juicing up it’s own materials and the Russian Cross Process was quickly abandoned, despite its ingenuity. Except by me.
The one roll of film that I processed this way in the late 1960’s contains emotionally evocative pictures of the decay of Tompkins County rural life that I couldn’t discard. Many are personal, but this image of the neglected pump which once supplied a hilltop homestead kept nagging at me for a faithful color rendition that I could never achieve handcrafting dye coupled analog prints. No amount of filtration ever seemed to yield natural appearance. Finally, in PhotoShop, I was able to re-curve the color channels to an accurate representation. The next problem, still not completely solved, was that Windows and Linux drivers for my Finger Lakes Re-Use refurbished HP 9800 printer produced different levels of control over print effects. This print very closely reproduces the graphic effect of the original scene, except for an overlay of forty five years deterioration of the negative emulsion. Still unanswered is why the homestead became abandoned…a generation of work to build a farm. Why did they walk away ?
“Doomed Tree.” Is the clearest statement of my study of this site while on an artist’s residency in Cape Cod National Seashore. The entire residency addressed the re-processing of lifestyles, openness to the lessons of nature and of personal memories. It recapitulated the experiences of Henry Beston’s nature journals and of the Provincetown artist’s colony of half a century ago. It also allowed me to reprocess memory of my own life on Cape Cod ion the early 1960’s. The tree seems a metaphor for my own life…its support blown away by years of winds of change. With each storm more sand joins the shifting dunes, more roots lose their sustenance. There will come a gale….
I re-use analog photo techniques in large part because I find the planned obsolescence and chaos of digital markets distasteful and grappling with manipulations in software to be frequently frustrating…even maddening. I still like working in the traditional craftsmanship of analog photography; nothing quite beats the magic of watching a fine print emerge in the darkroom trays. Unfortunately the economic pressure of the digital world means that the entire idea of silver based photochemistry must be restricted to subjects of actual artistic importance.