The “story” exhibition juried by Kevin Tully, was in the online gallery from September 2 to October 13, 2022. Kevin selected fifty five images from fifty two artist. Miglavs’s images “Homecoming” received the Juror’s Award. Catharine Carter’s image “Shadow” received the Director’s Award.
Eddy Verloes is a Belgian photographer. I chose his image, “Apocalypse Now”, a dramatic, arresting black and white image of trees and clouds and water, for our recent exhibition, “Trees.” He first came to my attention with a black and white image he had in our “Life” exhibition, juried by Alyssa Coppleman, of Orthodox Jewish men playing on the beach. It was titled, “Losing our Minds.” Amanda and I gave it the Director’s award. It reminded me of the work of the French photographers Cartier- Bresson and Robert Doisneau, but it also had a bit of Monty Python in it.
As I was hanging the exhibit, I kept going back to it. It was truly joyful. It was a smile generator during the pandemic. In my opinion, it accomplished much of what a work of art should – it wouldn’t let you walk by and it proudly evoked an emotion. How many folks just walk by “Guernica” or can’t feel good looking at Wayne Thiebaud’s cakes?
Eddy is an award-winning visual storyteller. He asks us not to put him in a box on the home page of his website – not possible.
Kevin: Hi Eddy, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to photography?
Eddy: I am a Belgian photographer and started with photography about 8 years ago after I stopped as organizer of a big musical event “Leuven Plaza Proms” in Belgium. I studied literature, philosophy and arts at the University of Louvain (Belgium) and the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg i.B. (Germany). I published four books: ‘No time to Verloes’ (2015), ‘Cuba libre’ (2016), ‘Zeezuchten’ (2020) and ‘Losing Our Minds/Buiten zinnen’ (2021).
The first time I felt like a photographer was two years ago when I took a series of ultra-Orthodox Jews on the Belgian coast who enjoyed their freedom in an unorthodox way in the storm (of their lives) and escaped the lockdown. This series has been traveling around the world for more than a year.
About my influences:
I really like the work of many photographers, and in some of them I see similarities to my style of photographing, especially when they have a kind of humour in their photographs. Martin Parr is one of my idols in street photography. He has been photographing beach life over many decades and in many countries. One of the reasons why I love his work so much is that his photographs have strong statements about society – and always has a certain viewpoint or critique. Many of his photographs are funny, interesting, or sometimes downright depressing. He interjects his own opinion and thought into his photographs and shows how he sees the world – and challenges us to see the world differently as well. When looking at Martin Parr’s photography, the viewer is often unsure whether to laugh or to cry. He finds the extraordinary in the ordinary. In some of my photos I found an inspiration in him. Other photographers I like very much are: Harry Gruyaert and the surrealism of his work. I love his book “Roots” about the banality of the beautiful, the beauty of ugliness of … Belgium. Stefan Vanfleteren with his book “Belgium” which is a subjective photographic documentary about Belgium in B & W. Josef Koudelka because of his unusual point of view, the magic of street photography of Saul Leiter, the importance of composition in the work of Martine Franck, the photographs of Jehsong Baak which are a reflection of his many travels and testimony of his incisive eye. His velvety ink-like images bring to mind artists such as Bill Brandt and Man Ray, where the night, the dark and the light are surrounded by a symbolist air.
About my practice:
To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy.
First rule to be a photographer, you have to be invisible. I don’t need to have a kind of relationship with my subject and I don’t need to prepare my locations. I do a lot of street photography. The essence of street photography is about documenting everyday life and society on the streets. It’s a genre of photography usually done candidly without permission and without your subject’s knowledge. The most spontaneous photos are for me the most interesting. The important thing with street photography is to have fun and enjoy going out with your camera. My goal is to capture emotion, humanity and sometimes depict a person’s character. Perception and intuition are the most important factors. Perception requires a creative eye for detail. Intuition is immediate and is not duty-bound to any attentive reasoning. These two factors are combined to create the “decisive moment”, an amazing process that takes your images to the next level. To me, the greatest moments in life are the ones right in front of you. I agree with Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of my favorites, who says that photography is the simultaneous recognition in a fraction of a second of the significance of an event.
Kevin: You have had significant photographic accomplishments in just eight years. Reading what you said above – are you a musician? You mention Man Ray, a personal art hero of mine. He was a creative polymath. Did you study art at some point? If so, what non-photographer artist would best define your personal aesthetic?
Eddy: I have a lot of affinity with painters as Edward Hopper, Léon Spilliaert, Caspar David Friedrich, Leszek Skurski and writers as Samuel Becket and Franz Kafka.
Aloneness is a great theme in Hopper’s work and also in my photos. Though termed a realist, Hopper is more properly a symbolist, investing appearance with clenched, melancholy subjectivity. He was masterly as a painter of light and shadow, but he ruthlessly subordinated aesthetic pleasure to the compacted description of things that answered to his feelings without exposing them. He leaves us alone with our own solitude, taking our breath away and not giving it back.
Once you’ve seen a Hopper, it stays seen, lodged in your mind’s eye. I also see a connection between Hopper and Alfred Hitchcock. The emotional tug of many of Hitchcock’s characters and all of Hopper’s requires their unawareness of being looked at. Hopper shows how, exploring a condition in which, by being separate, we belong together.
I think my photos “My eternal love” and “Mother, why are we living?” express the same atmosphere.
The inside and outside world in the paintings of Edward Hopper is a permanent source of inspiration for my photography; they are a reflection about the relationship between our ‘interior’ and ‘exterior’ lives and emotions. With my deserted, misty landscapes and isolated figures in strange rooms behind worn curtains I try to capture the loneliness, alienation and mystery of modern life. And the pandemic has given my photos a terrifying new significance. The solitary figures or even couples in my photos are often only shadows of themselves. I mostly use shadows or silhouettes to ‘hide’ or ‘keep outside’ information about the subject. Being in a room, a place or a landscape is to simultaneously inhabit two worlds: the one before us and the one inside us. The relationship of the viewer with the landscape or the room isn’t purely one of the physical dependencies, but it’s also spiritual and emotional. During these corona times, we were confronted more than ever with ourselves and with the mystery of nature. Reflection is needed more than ever.
Kevin: Thanks for your thoughtful responses Eddy.
The “animalia” exhibition juried by Henry Horenstein, was in the online gallery from July 22 to September 1, 2022. Henry selected fifty five images from thirty five artist. Rajan Dosaj’s images “The Last Leaves of Autumn” received the Juror’s Award. Christie Goldstein’s image “A Portrait in Blue” received the Director’s Award. Boris Keller’s image “Elephants” received the Visitors’ Award.
The “she” exhibition juried by Sandra Chen Weinstein, was in the online gallery from June 10 to July 21, 2022. Sandra selected fifty five images from fifty two artist. Beverly Conley’s images “Woman Plucking Chicken” received the Juror’s Award. Lesley Blessing’s image “Floating, Twin Elements” received the Director’s Award. Lori Pond’s image “Come Fly Away” received the Visitors’ Award.
Elizabeth Sanjuan is a photographer from Hollywood, Florida. We recently had her exhibition, “Hokkaido Land of the Ainu,” up in the gallery. This body of work is a pictorial etude, showcasing the home of the native people of Japan, the Ainu, without them being physically present in the photographs. The elegantly stark winter images of bare trees and bare structures in snow allow us to imagine life in the landscape, without the intrusion of even a single footprint.
Kevin: Hi Elizabeth, first I want to thank you for approaching us about having an exhibition of your beautiful body of work in the gallery and for coming all the way from Florida to the reception!
From our brief conversations and small time together I perceive that you have a social and environmental consciousness and are wanting the viewer to connect with your imagery in both an aesthetic and a visceral way.
Can you tell us how you came to photography and how and if your Cuban background, growing up in Miami, informed your worldview and your photography practice?
Elizabeth: Thanks, Kevin and Amanda for the opportunity to speak about my work and for the opportunity to exhibit in your fabulous gallery.
I think many factors influenced my Hokkaido work. I grew up in a very modest home, but with a brilliant abuela (grandmother), who instilled in me a fervent love of reading. I traveled the world through books as a youth. I also had a few exceptional teachers who taught me about the importance of our natural environment, and why we must exhibit care and respect for Mother Earth. The “Keep America Beautiful” campaign of the 1960s and 1970s had an enormous influence on me. I vividly recall the tears rolling down the face of Iron Eyes Cody in his iconic “Crying Indian” commercials as I write this.
Fast forward to being a teen and my first travels to Europe. I was enthralled with the marvelous architecture and breathtaking museums. Shortly after, I had the opportunity to work for an airline, and this furthered my ability to discover the world. The more I travelled, the more I wanted to document the experience to show my family and friends what a diverse and incredible world existed outside of Florida. The camera, therefore, became my constant travel companion. I would bring back rolls and rolls of film!
Having the women in my life run a strict and orderly home also influenced me. In my Cuban household, flip flops, sneakers and shorts were never allowed. Every outing demanded its appropriate article of clothing, hairstyle, and accessory. Order, cleanliness, and respectability were priorities. This was especially the case when it came to the home. An unconscious force seems to propel me to have a broom or mop in my hands at all hours of the day, an eccentricity that my husband only understood when he saw every woman in Cuba doing the same. I see this same instinctive drive for cleanliness and order directing many of my images. I naturally recoil from chaos and search for the serene.
There is similar respect and reverence for quiet order in the Japanese way of life. For me it is especially palpable in the winter. As I mature, I find myself drawn even more toward peace and introspectiveness. I would say the work is a culmination of self-reflection, my spiritual journey and a desire to see a world in peaceful, quiet and graceful way.
Kevin: Amanda can attest to the fact that I am certainly not a Cuban woman in my approach to housework.
Your gallery talk about the Hokkaido project was wonderful, folks are still talking about how moving and engaging it was. Can you tell us again about the images — your connection to the imagery, the single tree, etc.?
Elizabeth: I appreciate your comments about the gallery talk, as I am certainly not comfortable speaking in public. Fortunately, your hospitality helped me overcome my jitters.
The interesting thing about traveling to Hokkaido in the dead of winter, when the average temperature is 4 below zero, is that the conditions really encourage you to be laser-focused on what you want to convey. By now, you know that I love trees–not one specific kind or size—but all of them! I think trees are undervalued by our society. Most people really don’t realize the significant role they play in keeping us alive and the critical role they play in sustaining Mother Earth. Spring, summer and fall in Hokkaido are a buzz of activity as the locals plant, cultivate and harvest their crops. The land and the trees are working hard to produce and procreate. The winter is time to rest, recover and replenish. I find that images of Hokkaido’s trees deep in snow and silhouetted against grey skies speak eloquently about this process of serene renewal. The images of trees in this exhibition were made throughout the island. I photographed widely and frequently, constantly searching for trees that spoke most convincingly about the magic of this frozen serenity–courageous against the cold, unafraid of solitude and ready to shoulder the responsibility of jumping to life again next spring.
Kevin: Elizabeth could you tell us about the image of the skeletal greenhouse and the single tree and what thought process and or emotional connection you have with the images?
Elizabeth: Sure! With the image of the greenhouse framework I wanted the viewer to wonder: What is this thing and why did I photograph it? If we dig a bit deeper, the barren structure gives us time to ask ourselves: What do they plant? How do they cultivate and care for what they have planted? What is the result of their efforts? I think there is an analogy here that we can use to better understand the mental, emotional and physical aspects of our own lives. Given today’s fast-paced world where we live with a computer in our hands 24/7, we tend to lose connection with the inner self. We are so consumed with the “exterior” world that many of us have not done the work to feed and nourish our “interior” spirit. Having grown up in a difficult family dynamic, I learned from an early age that one needs to process and heal from the inside. It is a continuous journey of healing, self-love, and compassion that must go on for a lifetime. We must constantly “cultivate” what has been planted, remove the weeds, encourage the new growth, seek the sun and the healing rain. The framework within which this occurs can be bare and brutal, but with proper care, one’s life can bloom. The greenhouse frame is dark and forbidding in the snow, just as we all have had situations that have been challenging, and seemingly unalterable. Sometimes, we think it is easier to dismiss the situation and blame the framework, rather than to work though the challenge to come out ahead. You reap what you sow. Give yourself the gift to do the work–you are worth it.
After reading the book “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben, my love of trees deepened. If you have not read this book, I would highly recommend it, you will never look at a tree the same way again. As a young person, I thought I had to go at life alone, since I could not depend on anyone for my existence. I did not want to conform to societal norms or the pressure of a family engrained in what the “traditional” role of a woman should be in society. Usually, a tree needs other trees near them to thrive and survive, especially in harsh winter conditions that exist in Hokkaido. When I see a lone tree, I wonder: Was there a forest here at some point? Did humans purposely deplete the land of its natural existence, and leave one tree? I also ask myself how this tree has been able to survive and will it continue to grow and thrive given its current environment? The frigid temperatures, the accumulation of snow and the lack of protection from the wind are just a few things that may derail the tree’s ability to survive and flourish. I see my life mirrored in this tree. I reflect on the challenges of my youth and my growth as an adult and see a lot of similarities with this tree. I have realized that I am very capable of going at life alone, but it is much richer when it can be shared with others in this world.
Kevin: Elizabeth, thank you for being so open and personal with your responses. The making of art can be cathartic, transcendent, healing and also an emotional battlefield. As someone that paints, I understand completely the emotional release and toll of living with a work of art for an extended period of time. I have been in awe of photographers, the initial phase of creation taking seconds, imbuing the work with so much emotion and insight. Thank you for taking the time to do this. And thanks again for allowing us to hang your wonderful work in the gallery.
Elizabeth: Thank you Kevin, you are absolutely correct in your comments, as I said previously, I have learned after many hardships that it is best (for me at least) to be open to the universe, to accept the what life is trying to teach and where it is guiding you. I think photography is an incredible tool that can give you the opportunity to explore the exterior world and the internal one. When you bring the camera to your eye, it is for a reason—something caught your eye and sent a signal to your brain and in a matter of seconds you made the decision to click. Last week I developed an intaglio print that brought tears to my eyes. Even a decade after I took the photograph, it still evoked a strong and visceral response in me. I hope that our conversation will help people look a bit deeper into the reasons that they photograph, what moves them and what fills their spirit. For me, I photograph for my pleasure and if I am lucky enough to have folks like Amanda and you appreciate my work, then it is icing on the cake! I thank you for this opportunity and the wonderful work you both do at A Smith Gallery.
To see more of Elizabeth’s work, follow this link.
Margaret Albaugh is a Chinese-American documentary and fine art photographer based in the Pacific Northwest. Margaret was the Juror’s selection from our exhibition “Light.”
Albaugh also studies psychology and that interest can be seen infused into her work. Her interest in human nature, identity and social constructs inform her personal projects. She aims to pay homage to the complicated nature of being human and escaping the comfort of duality. Much of her work includes her children and her development and musings as a mother often inspire her work.
Kevin: Hi Margaret, your Images look wonderful in the gallery. Thank you for allowing us to live with them for a bit. Having grown-up the only boy in a family with three sisters, it is like a walk down memory lane, with all the imagery of young girls at play — we had a swimming pool, a trampoline and a piano.
Feral is an interesting word — It can have various connotations. I had a friend years ago that was half Filipino. He was a poet and he intimated that he felt, and others did too, there was something wild, different (feral) about him as a person from a different land, the East. Yet he spoke Spanish and had an English last name.
After reading your various artist statements I get the feeling that using “Feral” as the title of your exhibition it appears that it may apply to you in some way, as well as to childhood and your children moving through it?
Margaret: As for “Feral”, as an artist in photography I have realized how little families take center stage in art. And when I think of my favorite fine art photographers whose work looks at family life, I think of Sally Mann and Alain LaBoile. Their work is gorgeous and they have both inspired me for years. For a long time though, I felt like I couldn’t create beautiful or meaningful work because it didn’t look like theirs – the setting is different, the children look different. These artists live in idyllic landscapes that would be impossible for me – I live in a rather typical suburban real estate development. But as I photographed my children, I realized that the idyllic landscape is in their imagination. And being feral is more about how free they are to explore their imaginations and less about the landscapes in which they play.
I do recognize also that my children don’t look like a lot of the children I have seen in fine art family work. And I think that was more of an inspiration to keep creating work so that there’s more representation.
Kevin: “But as I photographed my children, I realized that the idyllic landscape is in their imagination. And being feral is more about how free they are to explore their imaginations and less about the landscapes in which they play.”
I read the above and thought, yes indeed, that is also the definition of what many of us artists do in our studios, typically physically removed from so much of what we attempt to represent, actually and metaphysically. In your images we don’t know precisely where your children are playing, so we can place them in our memories of play.
I am generally consciously or subconsciously aware of the evocative nature of the art I am creating as I’m creating it. This way of moving creatively places me obliquely in the work, whether I am aware of it or not. Does this resonate with you?
Margaret: I think with my work, especially with fine art family work, I try to frame the composition in a way that removes any distracting specificity. By that I mean, I try to be cognizant of things in the frame that might be indicators of a really specific time frame – logos, movie references, children’s show characters. Depending on the work, I find that these details affect how one interacts with the work and how they connect with it. For the most part, I try to evoke a timelessness.
When I’m doing work that is more photojournalistic in style, I find those details necessary for understanding the specific people and time frame. But for this work about childhood, family, nostalgia, I’m aware that those details bring people into a cognitive space and prevent one from projecting their own experiences when engaging with the work.
Kevin: Margaret, a question I have wanted to ask a photographer that exists in both worlds, commercial and fine art, — Do any of your commercial clients that view your fine art work connect with it and request something similar for their projects? I think this question is about “style,” which many chafe at the mention of, but I feel is an important aspect of the photographic journey.
Margaret: I don’t think anyone has directly asked. I have a section of my website just for documentary family clients and the work there is fairly representative of what I do for families. I think the difference is more of an inclination towards humor with my family work. But I do try and weave in a more “fine art” approach when the opportunity presents itself. So, in the end my commercial family work may include a spectrum of what can be thought of as documentary – a photojournalistic approach to a fine art style.
Kevin: One last question. You have three images in the group you have up in the gallery that reference flying — your daughters with their arms outstretched, as if they are ready to take off. Are those also autobiographical images?
Thanks so much for taking the time to visit with us and all the best with your photographic journey!
Margaret: I think there’s some projection there with the wings. But I also think it’s part of our environment and life. We’re an Air Force family and when my oldest was a toddler, we lived right by base. She would run around with her “wings” outstretched all the time. Maybe she would’ve done that regardless of my spouse’s occupation but it was something I always noticed. Also, I think it’s just a beautiful allegory for childhood – to grow, to try out your wings, to find ways to take off, to not be burdened. I think I project a little of my own desires there – a desire to her unburdened, to feel I can spread my wings and explore all the time. To feel a sense of weightlessness…. I think it helps me remember childhood.
To see more of Margaret’s work follow this link.
Aimee McCrory received the Director’s Award for her wonderful image, “Ghost Chair,” in our recent exhibition, “light.”
Amanda and I were fortunate to have a great conversation with her not too long ago. Aimee has a background in theatre and performance. It appears the performance side of her artistic nature is bonded to her photographic side. One appears to not take precedence over the other. Aimee is the intriguing and thought-provoking subject of much her photography. So, what we know first is Aimee and her story, then we may think of cameras and their progeny. She is very brave. There is an elegant rawness to her work — like dragging velvet across a chalkboard.
Kevin: Aimee your recent images include your husband as a co-conspirator or muse exposed. Can you tell us about where you have been and where you are going artistically?
Aimee: What is so constant in my practice is my desire to reveal my truth…to borrow a theater term it is like ‘pulling back the curtain’ for the audience.
Because I grew up thinking there was something very wrong with me, I put a great deal of energy into learning how to disguise my shame. I spent years meticulously applying a veneer that would camouflage what I perceived to be terribly flawed within myself.
As I grew, I began to seek creative outlets that would be safe places to express my emotions.
I channeled that creative current through every outlet I could find, be it theater, television, and most recently photography.
As I move through this last chapter of my life, I am even more compelled to pierce the veil and demonstrate what is real about life at my age. Life at any age is challenging, but life at this age is even more complex.
Currently I am deep in the throes of telling the story of a long and complex bond of marriage. I want to reveal what it looks like to share a relationship in the fourth quadrant of our lives. There is no window dressing…I hold a mirror up to others experiencing similar issues.
In our culture there is tremendous shame in growing old. Terms such as. ‘losing your wits’, ‘becoming irrelevant, ‘being abandoned’ haunt older individuals. Why not ‘come out of the closet’ and raise awareness to the joys and challenges of growing old together?
Interestingly, by appropriating our marriage as the subject matter for this work the project has added yet another unexpected dimension to our relationship
As of now this body of work does not feel complete because there are new stories to be told. As long as that continues, the project remains ongoing. I plan to fine tune the narrative sequence and create a book in the not-too-distant future.
This body of work is one that I feel is intimate, humorous, and hopeful. As for upcoming work I have a few ideas in the hopper. As of this moment my plate is full.
Kevin: Yes, much great art has been made out of a response to pain or abuse or loss, yet the hurt can also create comics and satirists. Talking to you I think I recognized a prankster lurking inside?
Acting can also be used as a mask and a dagger or a valentine. Cameras, SLR or video, are purveyors of intimacy, real or imagined. I love the Annie Leibovitz quote, “A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.” I would imagine working in theatre is naturally an intimate thing? Telling stories not your own with all the emotions earned and learned from living, so actually, telling stories that are your own. Am I digging too deep here?
I would think your experience in the theatre and having to present in public has also empowered and informed your photography practice. Behind the camera one can also be director, actor and script writer. Do you think of what you do in these terms or am I reading too much into things?
Aimee: Yes Kevin, I am one hell of a prankster, and I agree with the notion that all good artists are ‘tortured’ in some way. Angst is grist for the mill in good storytelling (in my opinion) and I have plenty of ‘angst’ and I use it to amplify an image. I am a storyteller at heart and, yes, you are correct in that my skills as a performance artist are an added benefit when creating an image. I embrace the lens as an extension of myself…a vessel in which to channel my emotions… my vision.
Something else we haven’t really talked about is my proximity to Death. It pervades everything I do in my creative world. Knowing where I am in the course of my life heightens the urgency and expediency of my work. I am so very ALIVE in this moment because Death is in the room with me all of the time.
Kevin: Momento Mori can be both frightening and freeing. I think I see that it has both compelled you to do work you may not have done as a younger person, more raw and intimate, but also unbridled your sense of play and wry, yet sensitive, farce – a visual inside joke of sorts.
Aimee: Kevin, I would agree with you. I think ‘Momento Mori’, (I like the sound of it), is a tremendous catalyst. It keeps my work fresh, provocative and sometimes uncomfortable to look at. I am flying without a net most of the time and that’s when really good stuff begins to happen. At the point at which I can no longer see the shore is the place where the work begins to flow. I work very hard. I am very disciplined in my endeavor as an artist. I do find that writing daily inspires me in my process and new ideas are born within those pages.
Kevin: Finally, thank you very much for supporting the gallery and going along with this interview. One last question, what film best captures your aesthetic, if there is one?
Aimee: I’ve been thinking about your question and the answer is that I do not have just one film that captures my aesthetic.
I do however have a director and filmmaker that captures my aesthetic and that is Alfred Hitchcock. He is everything to me. I read this quote somewhere:
He exemplifies the mood I am attempting to create in the series I am currently working on. I have watched every movie to observe his genius. I am so appreciative of your willingness to do this on my behalf, Kevin. You might enjoy watching the Hitchcock series as well!
All my best to Amanda!
To see more of Aimee’s work follow this link.
Rembrandt and Sam Abell travel with us as we look at George Nobechi’s photographs. In George’s case the darkening of the shapes, for looking at shapes and their relation to one another is ultimately, subconsciously what we do after identifying or attempting to identify the content, doesn’t add mystery, it adds weight and presence.
Many of George’s photographs take the commonplace and paint it with darkness and black and consequently our photographic mind is expecting contrast and explosions of light but what we get instead is calm. His work is ironic in that we instinctively expect a variety of penumbras, yet the shapes sit next to each other, distinct, the placing of one fully made thought on top of another.
Windows are ancient, ubiquitous architectural elements. They existed before there was a word for them in the shelter/architectural lexicon. Early man looked out from the cave or wikiup or igloo through an opening in the various kinds of shelter — a liminal space between safety, warmth, family and everything else. A known world existed on both sides of the opening but not at the same time. One is either on one side or the other. Each distinct. Each carrying its unique sensations.
George’s windows do carry both worlds simultaneously. His images allow us to be both looking out and looking in. We are not confused or influenced by changes in temperature, wind or rain.
So, inhabiting the space between the two worlds – we chose and then, chose again.
Kevin: First, thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to have your work in the gallery. So, there have been numerous visitors to the gallery comment on the duality of your images. George, the obvious question would be – does that have something to do with your dual heritage and life both in the States and Japan, or is that too easy?
George: Thank you, Kevin and Amanda, for giving me the opportunity to exhibit with you as well. The duality that comes from my dual heritage is an omnipresent breadcrumb in my work. It is probably the most readily identifiable element, just as the most readily identifiable adjectives may be quiet, or dark. But as you’ve alluded, it runs deeper than that starting point. In Asian garden architecture, one of the key tools of design is the borrowed landscape where what is beyond the confines of the garden becomes an integrated part of the scenery. Your garden doesn’t end with the physical confines of your wall, but continues on visually with the landscape beyond.
In this body of work, I have applied a similar sense of two worlds that comes from the scenes within the interior spaces and the landscapes beyond the window. This brings forth the sense of duality of which you and your viewers speak.
But there is also more to it than simply being of two cultures, but this body of work also speaks to a time when I was between two worlds: when I left finance and as I discovered myself as a photographer. While the scenes in these photographs are calm, quiet, still, there is also a tension and uneasiness that comes from straddling the line between the two worlds. I chose windows to express this tension in a way that a door does not. A door invites us to open it and step forth into the next space. A window, instead, leaves us with a certain sense of distance and disconnection – a sense of being so close to a scene, but not physically being part of it, and that is a crucial component to the duality that people may feel. We are both comforted and made to feel tense. But it is my hope that this duality is also what keeps people coming back to view the photographs over and over—that you can’t take it all in and memorize them in one viewing, and that you won’t tire of them, even if they make you feel mixed emotions.
Kevin: Distance and alienation are omnipresent themes, motifs in art. Japanese art has a simplicity, a quietness that can mask a complicated aesthetic — the quiet celebration of beauty for beauty’s sake while also a screen for emotions and conflict. This theme is present in the Japanese authors, Kawabata and Mishima. Can we get a bit deeper into how your life in Japan has influenced your work?
George: Ooh, you’ve gone very dark there with your choices of authors, Kevin, albeit they are two of the few with the most international notoriety. I’m not as big on Mishima, but Kawabata still haunts me (from my studies in school). I would also recommend looking into Kenji Miyazawa for a Japanese take on magical realism — he’s an enormous influence on my work, and also Natsume Soseki for something a little bit lighter in fare. And then you have the dark authors like Oe, Dazai, and so on.
I find that while I may have a Western mindset – individualism, independent thought and so on (although these are both very much stereotypes), I have a more Japanese heart. That is revealed in the way I look at things. For example: mono-no-aware is at the heart of everything artistic – the nature of impermanence and the idea that a photograph might try to access “forever.” But even in two-dimensional space, with time seemingly frozen by a click of the shutter, our relationship with the photograph changes over time. The things we feel now from looking out of windows at the world have evolved, for example, since we all became confined to our spaces at the start of the pandemic.
Artists in both the West and East have tried to express this sense of impermanence. But the Japanese culture is intensely inward-looking, more so than Western culture. And that allows us to consider the most mundane and common of things to be potential subjects for our work. I am no different in that regard.
There is another concept: “ichi-go, ichi-e” – which roughly translates to one life, one meeting. The idea is that every encounter with another should be treated with the respect and appreciation that is afforded to something that happens only once in one’s lifetime. And if you think about it, that is true. If I met you for coffee today and we talked about something of interest to both of us, and we met again for coffee tomorrow, aside from a possible feeling of deja vu, each meeting would indeed be for that time only. We may talk about different subjects, or the same ones, but while in different moods or while having considered the perspective of the other person from the day before. Photographers, of course, are already on to this, even if it is only in our subconscious minds. The act of clicking the shutter is an act of trying to memorialize that one precious moment.
Kevin: Ha, ha, well it was over forty years ago I read those authors — I will take your recommendations. George, indulge me this question. It’s a bit off the trail, but maybe not. Looking at your work brought up long ago discussions.
Much of your imagery has kinship with the paintings of Rembrandt in that you both create a questioning, one could say a celebration, of negative space with black in your work.
I studied Architecture and Landscape Architecture as a young man. It was never said that we should consider the other structures or landscapes around our designs, albeit hypothetical exercises. At some point I read a book titled, “The Tao of Architecture,” which posited that negative space is as important as positive space. This was most definitely mind expanding artistically.
I later learned of the Japanese concept of Ma — the recognition of negative space or simply space. Could you tell us if and how the consideration of negative space has informed your work? Did your apprenticeship with the great Sam Abell have influence in that direction also?
George: Well, I want to first say thank you for mentioning me in the same breath as Rembrandt, but of course I don’t see my work in that class. I want to make that much clear. And I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to count him among my influences. Hokusai, yes. Vermeer also. Hopper, and even Rothko; however, yes, I see where you are going with that. I did have a chance to view “The Night Watch” in Amsterdam in 2015 when I first began to make this body of work and perhaps some of that had crept in somewhere along the way.
More on the role of darkness in a moment, but first with respect to “ma” and negative space. “Ma” means several things: room (as in a room), pause (as in between musical notes), and other things. The kanji or Chinese character for it is represented by the character for the “sun” found in between the character for “gate.” It’s interesting to think about those roots. If you ever come to Japan you will see this practice in action in the architecture, garden and landscape design and virtually everywhere you see. You will also see it in the minimalist art styles that are pervasive in this country.
However, if you look at my work, particularly this series, you will see that many of the images are filled with details right to the corners of the frames. That could be my Western half revealing itself, at odds with the Eastern, and there is your duality again, but the way I see it, the clutter of the interior spaces represents the clutter in our minds…the sort of “baggage” of sorts we carry with us as we age and go through life…memories, both good and bad, thoughts, both basic and refined. And then outside there is a sense of purity.
Now back to the darkness- well, that is part of the vignette that exists in our minds. What’s in front of us is clear enough, but the periphery is in shadow, as if memory were a circle and expanded out from the center, rather than linear. The details fade into shadow toward the edges. No, these images aren’t HDR and the shadows are left as close to how our eyes would perceive that space because I want everything to be real. The shadows, the blacks, they take on a presence and give weight to the images, and so I consider it to be a little different from “ma” in this case.
As for the Sam Abell influence, well, he might just have a famous window photograph or two, certainly (wink! – look up “Sam Abell pears” if you don’t know what I mean). Although in that photograph he has placed pears to make a poetic “still life linked to a landscape,” and all my photographs in this series are found spaces. But speaking of spaces, Sam does make use of space very well, especially when there is not much available: he creates the illusion of space and he layers his images, which is something I learned from him. In this series, I’ve made still scenes of everyday life linked to the landscape beyond the window because of that longing we all feel to go outside and be participants in life, but so often the dark thoughts, memories, and the presence of people also weigh equally against the life that is on display in front of us. And that inner space becomes a comforting cloak in which to wrap ourselves, warm and dark, and finally, we look toward where the light comes in—from the window, of course.
Kevin: George thanks for traveling along with me in this discussion. Do you have anything you would like to add in parting?
George: I would just say, in parting, thank you for the warm hospitality and for all that you and Amanda do for the photographic community.
To see more of George’s work https://www.georgenobechi.com/select-works
Touchstones | a visual conversation between Dawn Surratt and Sal Taylor Kydd came down in the Gallery recently. We hated to see it go. It was a true joy having this creative conversation between these collaborators and friends in the gallery over the past month. The images are simple, soft, understated — referencing childhood, past experience and longing.
They have created diptychs and both have written poems to go along with each set of images. They chose a call and response process for their image making, akin to African American gospel music – one making an image and sending it to the other to elicit a visual response. Combined with the poems it is a very compelling and moving choice.
In addition to the beautiful photographs, they chose a unique way to present the images. They are printed on a Japanese paper and mounted on the wall without matting or framing. The poems are printed on thin silk and attached to the wall with pins used to mount insect specimens in museums. Consequently, the poems become ethereal living things — moving as the viewer passes, slightly fluttering in the breeze created by the gallery visitor or the heating system fan.
Each day walking through the exhibit I tried to come up with a single word that best defined the work. The word that finally came to me was Elegiac. It seemed to me that there was something of an elegy in the quiet exchange between the poems and photographs. Not sure that I absolutely knew the true definition of elegy, I went to google and found: elegy; a poem of serious reflection.
Reading their bios and statement about the work explains more of the feeling I got from the words and photographs — Sal speaks of memory and Dawn tells of her experience as a social worker in a Hospice setting. The genesis of the project was the time we have all spent in isolation over the past two years. Walking amongst the work there is little question that the collaboration is about empathy, connection and loss.
I have a question I would like to ask them: So, are the poems and images elegies or are they omens, harbingers or antecedents of elegies or something completely different?
Sal: I have to admit I was not spurred by creativity at the onset of the pandemic. Like many of us I felt like a deer in the headlights, uncertain and overwhelmed, not knowing which way to go. Working on Touchstones was a real lifeline. It gave me a goal each week as well as something to look forward to at a time it felt that was really missing. When I look back on the poems written during that time, they were all, in one way or another, returning to themes I explore in my work as a whole, family, legacy, memory, love. My response to the pandemic and the ongoing threat of the climate crisis did surface now and then, but it was more that this unique time allowed me to explore my recurring themes on a deeper level. An elegy implies a mourning, in that sense my poems aren’t elegies for something lost, I see them rather as songs that keen in the night, calling for the dawn.
Dawn: The poems I wrote were direct reflections of the range of emotional responses I had to the changing world around me. Because the world has been so volatile in the last couple of years, the poems may seem more like elegies, but they were not consciously written as such. At the time of their writing, I had not yet experienced a loss of a family member due to the pandemic. I am quite certain that if I were writing poems for the project now, my poems would feel differently. My hope is that there is always a balance in the messages of the poems that reflects the wide range of feelings that I experienced while moving through change and transformation.
Kevin: Tragedies and upheavals always instigate change. You both have mentioned how current events have had an impact on your art. How or will having lived and worked through the pandemic change your art practice going forward? I have experienced and read conversations with artists questioning the relevance of art in our troubled world – facing climate change, etc. Thoughts?
Dawn: I remember an amazing video that was made during the pandemic of a string quartet that played to an auditorium filled to the brim with plants instead of people because people were not allowed. The yearning to creatively connect with others was so strong and so powerfully depicted in this video that it moved me to tears. It made me reflect about my own relationship with my art and gain a deeper understanding about how much the arts are needed and valued. How they connect us and educate us and move us. That when we are stripped bare and the noise of the world quiets around us, that love, connection and beauty are the only things that matter.
Sal: That is such an interesting question and one I think we all can relate to. In the face of such crises, it is the natural and important task of the artist to question and test our relevance, to ask the hard questions about why we are making the work that we do. In the end though I believe we can only make the work we can make. There is social justice documentary work that really helps push society forward and creates real change and thank goodness we have that, it’s a necessary conversation and engagement. My work does not operate on that level, it is not documentary, but in my interrogation of ideas around the reliability of memory, how we preserve and reframe our memories in forming our identity, that’s a universal theme and one I hope people can connect to on a variety of levels. In the same way in Touchstones, we were each exploring ideas around isolation and the need for connection – I think everyone can relate to that and hopefully find some solace and connection there. That for me is ultimately why I make the work that I do, to connect with other people through the work.
Kevin: You both speak of connection. Having placed the work on the wall and lived with it in the gallery I can say there is a seamlessness to the images and the poetry. It is impossible to know which of you was the creator. What did each of you see in the other and how did the collaboration come about?
Dawn: I had been a great admirer of Sal’s work for quite some time before I finally had the chance to meet her in 2019 when we were in a show together in Savannah, GA. We had several days together to get to know each other better and bounce the idea of a project around. We had a loose idea and the commitment of a collaboration by the end of that visit and then we firmed up the project after we both returned home. I can’t tell you how much I have learned from Sal and how much I appreciate her vision, her wisdom and her humor. Working on this project with her has been an absolute god send for me during some challenging times, but the gift of her friendship has been the best treasure of all.
Sal: I echo Dawn’s sentiments completely! Dawn was my artist-crush on Instagram for some time before we met and working together in person only cemented my admiration for her work and respect for her as an artist. We called the project Touchstones, as each exchange of words and images provided a place to land, to feel anchored and connected as the turbulent waters of the pandemic and world news swirled around us. When the work is done, and the prints come down from the walls, our friendship will endure as a lasting testament to an inspirational creative journey.
Kevin: Thank y’all for allowing us to exhibit the work and for your thoughtful answers to my questions.
To see more of their work :
To preorder a copy of their book featuring Touchstones A Passing Song https://touchstones.bigcartel.com/
The “art + science” exhibition juried by Linda Alterwitz, was in the Salon gallery from March 15 to May 19, 2019. Linda selected thirty three images from twenty three artist. Abbey Hepner and Mike Avery’s image “Atmosphere, from the series Optogenetic Cybernetic Translations” received the Juror’s Award. Heino Heimann’s image “18:22:20” received the Director’s Award. Juror’s Honorable Mentions were given to Marko Umicevic’s “Terra Incognita, Untitled #01” and Christine Zuecher’s “Distant Transmissions #17”. Director’s Honorable Mentions were given to Daniel Kariko’s “Sun Room Corner, August 26th (Owlet Moth)” and Gerardo Stübing’s “Mesoporus perforatus”. Stuart Williams’ image “Whiskey Webs: Maker’s Mark Cask Strength” received the Visitors’ Award.