Monday, November 17, 2014

Michael Sherwin

Using the mediums of photography, video and installation, Michael Sherwin’s art reflects on the experience of observing nature through the lenses of science, popular culture and history. He has won numerous grants and awards for his work, and has been exhibited widely, including recent shows at CEPA Gallery in Buffalo, New York, SPACES Gallery in Cleveland, Ohio, the Clay Center for Arts and Sciences in Charleston, WV, and the Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center in Atlanta, GA. Reviews and reproductions of his work have been featured in Art Papers magazine, Oxford American magazine, Don’t Take Pictures magazine and Aint-Bad Magazine, among others. He has been invited to present his work at universities and conferences across the nation, including the 2011 Society for Photographic Education National Conference in Atlanta, GA. Sherwin earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Oregon in 2004, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University in 1999. Currently, Michael Sherwin is an Associate Professor of Photography and Intermedia in the School of Art and Design at West Virginia University. He is also the founder and lead instructor for WVU’s Jackson Hole Photography Workshop and an active and participating member of the Society for Photographic Education.

Vanishing Points Statement 

I grew up in the quiet suburbs outside Cincinnati, Ohio in a mostly conservative, white, catholic community where nearly all of my friends and neighbors attended church on Sundays. Although my parents had grown up in catholic households, it was in their independence that they begun to question their relationship to the church. On Sundays, my father would often take my younger brother and I on long wandering walks in the dense forests of the Ohio River valley. These early formative experiences have led to a life long exploration of the mystery and beauty of our natural world. They have also left me with looming philosophical questions about the tenants of Western religion and its views on the sanctity of the land.

In the name of Manifest Destiny, westerners expanded across America claiming the land was theirs by divine right. Modernization and civilization swept across the continent “improving” the country and eradicating entire native cultures in its path. In my most recent project, Vanishing Points, I explore the ancestry of the American landscape, and reflect upon traditional Western Anglo American views of nature, wilderness, ownership and spirituality. The project was inspired by the battle over the use of land that is now the Suncrest Town Center in Morgantown, WV. The Town Center was developed on a 2,000 year-old sacred indigenous burial ground and village site less than a mile from my house. I am fascinated by this simultaneous presence and absence in the landscape, the seen and unseen.

Combining extensive research of historical archives, maps and contemporary satellite imagery, as well as direct collaboration with archaeologists, historians and scholars I have been able to locate and photograph numerous significant sites of Native American history in the regional area. The sites I choose to visit and photograph are literal and metaphorical vanishing points. They are places in the landscape where two lines, or cultures, converge. They are also actual locations where the sparse evidence of a culture's once vibrant existence has all but disappeared. While visiting these sites, I reflect on the monuments our modern culture will leave behind and what the archaeological evidence of our modern civilization reveals about our time on Earth.

One of the allures in visiting these sites is the possibility to reach back in time; to imagine and experience what the land must have been like hundreds and thousands of years ago. I am often reminded of the experiences I had as a child, where the presence of something ancient, mysterious, and much larger than myself still exists. However, nearly every direction you point the camera in today’s world, evidence of our modern civilization intrudes. It is this duality of experience that I seek to portray in the Vanishing Points project. The photographs in this series recognize the historical significance of an otherwise banal landscape, connecting a mysterious and ancient past with the familiar present.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Brenton Hamilton

Brenton Hamilton is a artist working in Maine and leading courses at Maine Media Workshops where he has taught for over two decades. Brenton is a photography historian and a practicing artist in several media. He was educated at Savannah College of Art and Design, MFA 1992.

Hamilton has led classes at Maine Media Workshops for 22 years and his specialty areas include the history of photography, B&W darkroom craft and the historic processes. Brenton lectures widely both in Maine and nationally about contemporary issues in photography, its history and other subject area interests within the medium and contemporary trends. He is also on the adjunct faculty at The Center of Alternative Processes in New York City. Brenton is a contributing writer and president of Obscura, founded in 2009, a non profit organization devoted to the progress of youth education in photography and books.

His work is represented at TILT Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona and in Maine at Susan Maasch Fine Art. Hamilton’s photographs are held in permanent collections at the Farnsworth Museum of Art, Portland Museum of Art, University of New England Permanent Collection and many significant private collections nationally. His first monograph was published by Obscura Press in 2010: The Blue Poet Dreams.


Drawn to concepts of time and invention - Brenton builds small meta worlds to contemplate and experience. Via still life and collage; intimate spaces where time is suspended and rearranged is the manner in which Hamilton re jiggers the world and makes a private space for his viewers. Employing often the strange deep blue depth of the cyanotype or recently the odd spectrum of collodion on black glass. Hamilton's new and old worlds collide inviting the viewer to new possibilities.

Ashley Kauschinger: Let’s begin by having you tell us a bit about yourself, and your passions.

Brenton Hamilton: I am a Maine artist and now live and work here - I also grew up here spending alot of my early boyhood on an island with my parents. Which was influential - and a particular way to grow up. Without phones, electricity only for certain times of the day, we had rythems of movement - we didn't have a car for a long time for example. The horizon - which any island person would agree is a destination, everything was always: "over there". So, the horizon line was something that I looked at in early work that I did with the large camera in Georgia.

My own interests are a deep study of history which is a large influence upon my work so I may be drawn to books and archives - o.k. full disclosure I am !! American and European cultural history and of course art & photography have great stories that sustain me.......I have a large collection of primarily 18th C. Spanish antiques and I photograph the objects among other things. I find the objects magical and full of animation and and mysterious gesture. Many of those images are here in our interview. The antiques and my creative work merge. Fencing is also a passion - that's sword work. I fence foil & sabre. Ive studied the history of the practice of dueling with some depth.

How does a body of work come together for you, from start to finish?

The research that I do about culture and the objects that I'm drawn to have a wonderful rapport together. I get ideas from the research - I want to respond and invent that atmosphere. So, via collage and cyanotype or lately still life practice and these small set ups that I build, I make these things for the camera. Its a fantasy of course, an invention. I build something - and photograph it.

What environment do you create for yourself in your studio?

The rooms that I work in are a ramshackle tumble of books and papers, notes with ideas and things that I want to remember and also light. The room has great light. The objects are on pedestals, stacks of carpets and lean against one another. Creating moments of chance and interesting configurations. I also know that I don't work constantly. Things build up and then I have to make them and do my camera practice and printmaking.

How do you think about marrying form and content in your work?

I have always been drawn to the expressive potential of the 19th C historic processes - because of patina (paper surface) and the physical work involved in the making of the images. The black glass ambrotytpes and the collodion process has the physicality to it that I enjoy and feel "involved" in when doing it. The black ground of glass support is for the image to rise out of and is also exhilarating. That's actually similar to my years with cyanotype - a deep blue ground was a 'space' for my story to be told - and the image or figure would rise out of the deep still gets me every time.

Who are your Photo Heroes?

Oh, that's a tough one for a historian, Ashley......Wm. Talbot and the French calotypists, Anna Atkins - But I also respond to and admire so much contemporary work right now such as Alison Rossiter, Matthew Brandt and especially Mariah Robertson. The materiality of photographs - and things that are light sensitive.

How does participating in sharing your knowledge through teaching contribute to your work? 

I love the classroom - its dynamic and its often challenging. Its a huge influence - and I get to talk about others work but its reciprocal because were doing the same thing/the same mission. That is: moving work and ideas forward.

Do you feel it inspires you? 

It really does......

Tell us about your participation with Obscura, a non-profit organization that
supports the arts and arts education through publishing, scholarships, and grants.

This is a great small org. - with a terrific mission. To assist youth with creative experiences in the medium, to publish good work in book form or in essay form on our web site. So, we work on raising funds via book sales and direct reach, give scholarships or materials support.

What initiatives are you working on? What is the best way for the photo community to help?

Our aim this year is another student scholarship for a short workshop experience in photography. It is a non profit - so we need to build the treasury to help these kids out. So, get in touch, donate if you can - everything matters even a little. The book purchases go directly to the work we do. But we also love good work and like to publish serious essays on the medium on our site. We published "Black Apple" by Thatcher Cook a while back and its doing well. We are all very proud of the book and our work.

How do you find balance between your artist practice, teaching and being the
president of Obscura?

Good question - its all the same though - participating in photography in a myriad of ways gets me to work everyday ! Helping young students, sustaining my own art practice and gallery work and the energy of the classroom all make a difference in my life.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Micah Cash

Micah Cash explores how landscapes and their social histories influence cultural geography. Themes of ownership, demarcation, and utilization are explored through painting and photography. Such investigations contemplate the shifting social, economic, architectural, and political forces that define particular landscapes, as well as the cultures that are dependent upon them. Micah earned his MFA in painting and photography from the University of Connecticut in 2014 and received BFA in painting and art history from the University of South Carolina. He has exhibited his work nationally, most recently in Atlanta, Georgia, Lubbock, Texas, and Ithaca, New York. He lives and works in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is a part-time lecturer at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

Dangerous Waters Project Statement 

This project investigates the contemporary social impact of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). They explore the complex definitions of landscapes designed for both hydroelectric cultivation and recreation. In addition, these locations have become visual reminders of loss, population removal, and eminent domain. The sacrifices are privately internalized and the social benefits publicly celebrated.

TVA is the largest public provider of electricity in the United States. Established in 1933, it provides wholesale electricity throughout a seven state area while managing the navigable waters of the Tennessee River and its tributaries. The massive project and the modernization it promised the region came with a cost, and that cost was land. Overall, the government purchased 1.3 million acres of land, forcibly removed over 13,000 families, and relocated 20,000 graves.

This was not a one-time transaction. Social and cultural consequences continue to reverberate throughout the region. Ultimately, TVA has cultivated a particular ecosystem – one of quiet control and social welfare. It is a manicured landscape of power and ownership, utilitarian in practice and utopian in concept.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Thomas Gardiner

Thomas Gardiner graduated from Yale with an MFA in Photography in 2012. He earned his BFA from The Cooper Union, during which time he began working with a 4x5 camera to document the small communities he grew up in around Western Canada. During his studies at Yale he switched to 8x10, and began documenting working-class cities in the Northeast around New Haven. In his first year he was awarded Yale’s Schickle-Collingwood Prize and in his final year both the Leeds-Marwell Photography Scholarship and the Tierney Fellowship. He currently lives in Vancouver.

Untitled, USA

I grew up in the isolated, hinterland regions of Western Canada. Economic life in these working class communities revolved primarily around resource extraction industries such as oil, potash, uranium, and farming. Far from large cities and the cultural centers of the world, I desperately wanted to leave the small towns of Saskatchewan. When I did eventually leave, I found photography. Returning home after several years living in Vancouver and then New York, I saw the people and places I left behind in a totally different light. Through the camera, Saskatchewan seemed like a place from another era, yet at the same time it felt more familiar than ever before. Now living in the US, I find myself searching the towns and cities of this new country for the places I knew in Canada. 

When I photograph, the most important thing I look for is a kind of visual complexity in a space. I tend to find and return to urban communities where industry or manufacturing once thrived, ending up in back alleys, empty parking lots, behind strip malls, and in neighborhoods lost in the seams of the interstate freeway system—economically neglected places that reflect the nation’s disinvestment in its working people. Many of these environments— like the towns where I grew up— seem frozen or forgotten in time. Yet beyond any simple nostalgic attraction to these places, a contemporary theme is located somewhere within the challenging relationship of a visibly aging infrastructure in America versus the overwhelming crises of the modern world we live in today. Despite the apparent frozenness of these neglected spaces, time is still moving forward. 

Though there is certainly a documentary impulse throughout my work, even more important to me are the possibilities for the deliberate creation of a scene. The 8x10 view camera I use is traditionally regarded as a tool for exquisite detail, harnessed for its mimetic ability, for its higher descriptive fidelity. Yet my interest is in rendering those things generally less-easily seen: human desire and the interior dramas within individual lives. By using an 8x10 camera, I want the meditative attention to detail, but also I want the energy of the decisive moment, as is most commonly associated with smaller, faster, lighter cameras. My goal is always to attempt to overcome these limitations of the larger, slower 8x10 camera, and I feel it’s when I come close to this goal that the images are most satisfying to me. The result is a photograph with a unique kind of drama that is both fixed and transient. 

Once a person has agreed to let me photograph him or her, I feel we have become co-agents in a kind of script. The individuals I meet have a concrete relationship to the environment where my camera is placed. My contribution to the script, however, comes from murky memories—psychological, visual, social, and more— of my own past. The people I photograph are in this way cast into those memory scenes, yet simultaneously their actions and decisions infuse the scene with new meaning. The photograph becomes a kind of dialogue, the end result often being a departure from what either photographer or subject imagined. For me, photography is a complete sensory experience. Despite these attempts to describe my photographic process, I firmly believe that attempts to spell out in words a photograph’s meaning are destined to reduce its power. While this isn't to say that writing can’t aid in interpretation, there will always be something lost in translation. That is why I want viewers to consider these images without captions or theoretical viewpoints. And so the only title can be: Untitled, USA.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Jennifer Georgescu

Jennifer Georgescu's work describes instinctual aspects of humanity correlating to and differing from societal structuring. With a background in painting and photographic arts, she utilizes medium format film photography, installation, and digital technology. Her projects analyze dualisms in language, relationships, mythologies and control. "I often search for the balance that exists in between these dichotomies. This is how I view humanity; always teetering on the line between fiction and reality, domination and submissiveness, self and other."

After obtaining a BFA from Watkins College of Art and Design in 2008, Georgescu was awarded a year long residency at Vanderbilt University’s "Gallery F." She has received numerous awards from Artist Portfolio Magazine, the Camera Obscura Journal of Literature and Photography and the Julia Margaret Cameron Award. Her works have recently been exhibited in the Masur Museum of Art, the Detroit Museum of New Art, and PhotoCenter NW.

Project Statement: Star Gazers

I wish I could believe that something was out there waiting for me in the cosmos. I find the thought of forever incapacitating. Then I think of the alternative; of being nothing ever again. We all have a self proclaimed importance that renders our being obsolete, impossible. This is part of what makes us human. We hold the idea of our importance despite our insignificance and mortality.

I long for a time, somewhere in the past, when it was thought that all information was just out of reach and all we had to do was find it. I feel that in present time, the more information we know, the more we realize that we’ll never know it all. We now have a vastly expanding wealth of information at our fingertips, yet we are no closer to “knowing” the most important answers.

The most wonderful idea I can think of, the thing that truly comforts me, is the possibility of time being warped beyond our current perception. I find comfort in the idea of parallel universes; where little holes allow for one world to briefly experience the next. When you make a decision in one world, an alternate decision would be made in the next, and so on. This idea has always allowed me to think that when I am gone in one world, I may continue in the next.

Star Gazers addresses the things that are hard to think about (i.e. death, mortality, insignificance) through imagination and narrative easy to be confronted with. Fiction and awe weave together antique imagery, scientific imaging, and medium format film photography to tell a farfetched tale that is factually possible. This is a story where worlds can communicate, where past and present can connect, and the cosmos contain meaning.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Kristin Bedford

Kristin Bedford is a photographer who focuses on long-term visual studies of where we live – the streets we walk down, the places we worship in, the homes we create, and the spaces between them all. Her subjects have included religious movements, street culture in numerous urban centers, and the modern day legacy of historic African American communities.

Bedford holds a B.A. in Religion from George Washington University, with an emphasis on American Religious Traditions, and an M.F.A. in Experimental and Documentary Arts from Duke University. Her photographs are part of the permanent collection at the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University. She has had solo exhibitions at the Daylight Project Space, and the Allen Building Gallery at Duke University.

Born and raised in Washington, DC, Bedford currently resides in Los Angeles, CA, and is working on photography projects on the West Coast and in the South. She also teaches 35mm and large format film photography at art centers around the country.

Ashley Kauschinger: What started your interest in the “The International Peace Mission Movement” and how did you gain access to their community?

Kristin Bedford: As an undergraduate studying American Religious Traditions I came across the book Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Religious Cults of the Urban North. Written by the cultural anthropologist Arthur Huff Fauset in 1940, the book surveyed five non-traditional African American religious traditions in Philadelphia. I was struck by Fauset’s respectful approach to researching fringe religious movements that were usually stereotyped and dismissed.

Over the years Fauset’s book has always been in the back of my mind. In the summer of 2013, I set out to photograph the modern day legacy of these five groups in Philadelphia. After a few weeks of hitting the pavement I found each of the groups and began photographing them all. In the largest chapter of the book, Fauset features Father Divine and the International Peace Mission Movement. Father Divine, known to his followers as God, had tens of thousands of devotees in the 1930s. It was when I met the modern day followers that my project took on a new and unexpected direction.

Fauset met the followers of Father Divine at their church headquarters on Broad Street in Philadelphia. My journey began when I knocked on this same church door. The sign out front said there would be a service that afternoon but the church was locked. An elderly man came to the door and told me to go to Father Divine’s estate to find the followers and to attend a “holy communion banquet.” I made the trip to the estate, known as Woodmont, and was warmly greeted by the followers. They invited me to come to their Sunday banquet, which is the followers’ sacred meal where they reflect on and listen to the words of Father Divine.

To the outside world Father Divine died in 1965, but for his followers he “lay his body down” and is still with them as he always has been. Now in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, eighteen of the remaining celibate followers live with Mother Divine at Woodmont. The movement is diminishing in numbers, and the followers are looking for ways to maintain Father Divine’s legacy. During the Sunday banquet, the followers suggested that I introduce myself, so I told them about my Fauset photography project. After the banquet ended, the followers asked me if I could help them create an on-site photo archive. They have over eighty years of the movement’s photographs at Father Divine’s estate.

The scope of this undertaking was daunting, but I could not pass up the opportunity to see and organize the photographic history of such a prolific religious movement. Ten days later I moved into Woodmont to help create the Father Divine photo archive.

Each day that I spent at Woodmont I was struck by the visual richness of the community’s life and rituals. A week into working on their photo archive, I asked if it would be okay if I took photos of the followers during my stay. With their permission, I began photographing the Woodmont community. The one stipulation was that I could never photograph Mother Divine, as she is sacred for them. I agreed to honor their request, and spent five weeks working with their archival photos, and concurrently creating my own body of work.

AK: What was your process of photographing? Do you intervene? Do you have a plan?

My process is to turn myself over to the unknown and let my photos tell me what the story is. I immerse myself in a situation and try to be as present and focused as I possibly can. It is from this place that I make photographs. The only things I can control are my intentions and my craft. The story the photos tell is something that is slowly revealed over time, and I must wait to see what it is.

While living at Woodmont I sat quietly until moments appeared when I could take a photo. I wanted the rhythm of the followers’ daily rituals to guide me. I came to know when it was appropriate to be present with a camera, and the followers would let me know when I could photograph them. Most photography of the movement has been focused on Father and Mother Divine. My interest lay in portraying the people who sustain the movement. It is the enduring faith of the followers that I felt drawn to photographing.

The portraits in this series are often shot from a very close distance. I work with a fixed lens, which conveys both my proximity to the subject, and the level of trust that is present. I want to be physically close to see the smaller signs and nuances of a situation. Photographing faith is a challenge and if there is any chance I might capture glimmers of it, I need to be patient and near.

AK: How do you think about editing your work?

I edit photographs based on intuition. I choose photos that speak to me, and I abandon any sort of logical thinking about what images make more sense than others. After my initial group of photos has been chosen, I then return to see what themes are emerging from them. At that point I begin to see how the story will weave together.

The theme that stood out in this series was of the quiet moments and daily rituals of the followers. Their small actions reveal their steadfast connection to Father Divine. I chose photos that I hope will offer glimpses of their mysterious and constant faith. With the lack of new followers, their movement is likely in its final chapter. I was given the privilege of seeing their traditions before they fade away. With these photos I want to convey the beauty and the tension of the path they are on.

AK: Did you have any preconceived notions about this group of individuals before you became shooting? Has your prospective changed at all since you have taken an in depth look?

KB: During the many banquets I attended during my time at Woodmont, the followers would play recordings of Father Divine’s talks while they ate. I was always intrigued when Father Divine used photography as a way to explain faith. Father Divine preached that followers should “focus their lens” on his vision of peaceful living and racial equality. If a follower was able to embody these beliefs, they would create “The Perfect Picture.”

I chose to name this series after Father Divine’s concept of “The Perfect Picture.” The prescription to embody world peace is an overwhelming idea to me. I saw that the followers were not approaching Father Divine’s vision of perfection with bold moves. They were realizing his truth in constant, small gestures.

Before I met the followers of Father Divine, my only knowledge of the movement was based on Fauset’s research. I had few preconceived notions of who they were. Fauset treated them with respect and objectivity, and I entered my relationship with the movement in the same spirit. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to see and hear their stories firsthand. If I had brought stereotypes to our relationship, I fear I would have missed the small gestures. I imagine I would have missed getting to see their manifestation of “The Perfect Picture.”