At least, I hope that Jerry Garcia is the Jerry that was meant by this one..
I was identified as gifted and talented at the age of 7 years old, after only a few years of out-performing my peers and having my constant distraction become a discipline problem. I attended a public school that was on its last legs so to speak. I graduated in a class of 62, and two years later my school was merged with a neighboring school. The resources for an accelerated education tailored for gifted and talented peoples, including AP courses, just were not there. I did, however, have an individualized education program (IEP), which allowed me to spend weekly time outside of my elementary classes working on my own research projects. This is how I learned to learn, by doing research, writing papers, and sometimes presenting that work to others. This is how I continue to learn, and this process has also translated heavily into my art practice. Research informs the work that I create both visually and conceptually. Sometimes the “research” is direct and happens intentionally, looking feverishly through books and spending insomniac waking hours diving through the bowels of Wikipedia. Other times it comes up by chance, through a conversation with a stranger, a stand-up comedy bit, or even through the creation of the work itself. We can make everything a relevant reference point or learning moment that leads to a reference point if we try.
Today I am posting some of the more interesting historical images that I have found in thrift stores as well as in a few family photo albums that were the property of my Great Great Aunt Lena. This is the research that I have done for an as yet unnamed project whose scope I am currently unsure of. It’s a visual study of people having their picture taken in front of / with plants and trees. It’s interesting to me that this seems like a constant in old snapshots that I keep coming across. Is it about the plant or is it about the human? If it is about the human, is it because the plant makes a nice background? And because you get a better photograph outdoors with natural lighting? Or is it a two-for-one idea? Plant life and nature are readily available, it’s easy for people with little money to take a nice photograph in front of a natural background such as the bush in your front yard rather than pay someone a bunch of money for a studio portrait. This, of course, would only become evident after the film camera becomes readily available to the general public and the snapshot becomes a larger part of our lives.
This is obviously still a work in progress. I don’t often share the research that I do, but sometimes that can be the most interesting part of the project. All the little things that contribute to the creation of the whole. All of this aside, I would like to add to this post about research and archival materials that I will be starting on my Master’s this summer. I will be pursuing a Master’s of Science in Library Science with a concentration in Local and Archival Studies at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. I am very, very excited about this, and I can’t wait to see where this opportunity will take me. I also can’t wait to unearth more wild yet banal snapshots of people with plants.
Here’s the first finished piece of the Embroider Me series. Postcards are still rolling in, and I am enjoying the fact that I neglected to request that anyone put their name on the card along with their quote. I say enjoying because I am for the most part playing the games of “I think this is this person’s quote” and “I think this is this person’s handwriting but it could also be this person’s.. hmm..” It’s really quite lovely.
When I get into work on Monday mornings, a co-worker of mine usually asks me what I did for the weekend. This weekend, well. I did my taxes on Saturday. Woof. And then on Sunday... Then on Sunday, I spent the entire day editing one image. That’s right, one image.
I don’t know how much time other photographers put in to editing their images. Usually, I try to do as little editing and retouching as possible, so it’s pretty easy for me to go through editing down a roll of film or two in a few hours. That is, of course, when I finally get around to it. Part of my aesthetic and one of the major reasons why I continue to use film is because of the inherent imperfections of the medium. To me, it’s just something that feels more real. These days, as we continue to remove ourselves from reality through social media, Netflix, and fake news, maybe our dissociation with reality continues to allow the “real” to seem surreal. One can never be too sure.
In the summer of 2017 I purchased a Pentax K1000 at a flea market in Columbus Ohio from a man who shrugged, sighed, and said “$10,” when I excitedly picked it up from his table and asked how much it was. The camera - which was in perfect working order without a scratch to it - came complete with a wide angle lens, camera strap, and a roll of sweet E-6 slide film already inside. From what I got back when I sent the film to be developed, it seems that the film had been in the camera for some time. I wonder how many flea markets that camera had sat in the sun on a card table next to a collection of half-rusted knives, being mostly ignored. The few images that had already been shot on it seemed to have been exposed through all the color layers of the film. They were quite damaged, but it was still recognizable that they were there when looking at the slides themselves. They were also a little challenging but still not that difficult to recover. I scanned them and edited them and put the rest of the slides back in the box, shrugged, sighed, and said to myself “I’ll come up with something to do with these some day.”
A few months later, I opened the box up again. I don’t remember why, but I looked through the slides, this time holding them up to the lamp in our living room. “Holy shit, I was wrong! There’s actually images on these!” and so I scanned them. And I did a little editing, but I never really got them anywhere near where I wanted. And then we moved, and it was yet another project that I placed on the shelf, until today.
Today, I opened up one of those images and clicked around and played with different strategies until I thought I had landed on something - a process, or a formula of sorts - that worked. As I mentioned, the images that had been recognizable had been exposed through all of the color layers of the film. With the film being so badly damaged by most likely time and heat by the time I was working with this image, it seems that only one of the color layers on the film had been exposed. What had been exposed was still relatively faint and difficult to recover. Even the scanned images themselves appear to be blank until you go in and begin to mess with the Curves and the Levels. The magic answer to head scratching frustration with getting the best possible image I could out of the lack of data, though, is the Channel Mixer.
So I tinkered around with adjusting these things until I got the image where I wanted it to be. Then, I shrugged, sighed, and said, “Ok, well, I wonder what would happen if I did the same exact thing with the photo in CMYK.” So I switched that baby right on over to CMYK and played around with it in more or less the same way until I got a similar result. The image on the left (or top on mobile) is RGB and the image on the right (or bottom on mobile) is CMYK. The differences probably seem minimal, which I guess is a good thing. To me, the RGB image has richer blacks, and I think more information has been brought out in CMYK image. Maybe it's just my screen and the fact that I've been staring at them for too long. I may come back to these and tinker some more, but I think I’m done enough for the day. Here’s where I hit save, close the computer, walk away and go to the bar for dinner.
This CMYK separation is the first print that I’ve pulled in quite some time. It made quite a few of my fellow deadhead friends happy this holiday season. I mean, who doesn’t want a giant screen printed photo of Jerry Garcia smiling at them? Anyways, one of the many creative projects I have in my back pocket for 2019 involves quite a bit of CYMK printing. This is a warm warm-up, and I’m pleased with it. Keep on truckin’!
Last summer I moved into my grandparent’s trailer three years after my grandmother’s death. There were still quite a few things remaining from the life she had led there, including a hidden tupperware container of damaged family photographs. I’m working on digitally restoring the lot of them. Shown here is the first draft of editing on this image of my father holding a dog named Superman. It’s my first time seriously working on restoring old damaged photographs. I will say that it’s a bit more involved but isn’t far off from the editing that I do with my own work. It’s a challenge, but one that I look forward to for the sake of learning and skill development.
Restoring these photographs does have a strange foreigness to it. There is an unfamiliarity to these photographs for me. I had never seen them before ousting them from their hiding place. They are a slice of an unknown history of my tight-knit family, or maybe just a misplaced and forgotten one. With a little elbow grease, these damaged memories can be repaired and brought back to life, saved from the endless decay of time. No longer lost or forgotten.