Monday, May 21, 2012

Dan Estabrook

The Kiernan Gallery is pleased to announce that the results of the First Annual Portfolio Showcase have been posted. The showcase is juried by acclaimed photographer Dan Estabrook. We’ve asked Dan a few questions about his work.

                                         Little Sea, 2010

Describe your path to alternative process photography. What led you to it, where did you start, and how did you end up working with calotypes and salted paper?

I didn't do much photography until college when, on a whim, I decided to try and get into a Basic Photo class. The professor was Christopher James and we hit it off right away. In a year I was doing Gum Prints, Cyanotypes, Van Dykes, Platinum Prints, Liquid Emulsions, and so on, although Gum was really my favorite. Later on, as my work developed and I started to imagine this made-up photographic history that I was creating, I knew I wanted to go back to the very beginnings of the art. More than any other process, it was the first experiments on paper that inspired me, especially Talbot's fumbled beginnings. It took me a long time to figure out the calotype process, but something about those ghostly images on paper still fascinates me.

                                                    Girl With Tattoos, 2010

Your work incorporates illustrative elements. Could you explain a bit about your choice to hand manipulate images? What is your interest in using other media?

Well, I think what first delighted me about alternative processes — especially the ones on paper — was that they are handmade. I was always drawing before I started working with photography, so the idea that you could make photographs by hand was thrilling. That fine paper surface is inherently conducive to drawing or painting, so it's hard just to leave it alone. Of course, there's a great history of this — retouching portraits, coloring in the cheeks and eyes and lips, painting out the skies on a negative. The evidence of the artist's hand creates a more visceral reaction to a photograph, I think. I mean that it stops becoming the mirror or window and just becomes another object. Even a thin paper print has weight and substance, but that's easy to forget when a picture is on it. What's more, I am mostly inspired by contemporary sculpture and drawing, so I am always looking for a way to bring out the thingness and the surface of a photograph.

                                         At Sea, 2007
Your commercial work has been featured in various publications, many of which are quite prestigious. This work is quite contemporary both in process and aesthetic. How do you balance your personal work with commercial assignments?

Well, I don't actually do a whole lot of commercial work and most of it is through friends and friends of friends. There is something wonderful about just trying to make a pretty picture and not worry too much about what it means, although I have been surprised by how much of my own style I can find in a color digital snapshot sometimes. I've done a lot of other jobs to pay the bills, though, from set design for TV commercials to CD covers and logos, and even some website design. I love being a bit in over my head and learning something new, and I do try to approach each thing on its own merits. Fundamentally, however, making art and doing commercial work are very different processes relying on very different parts of the brain. Recently I heard someone describe it this way: Designers use their skills to solve existing problems; Artists try to invent their own problems to solve.
                                                      Lula Magazine issue #3

Your work has a unique relationship between the past and present by exploring contemporary ideas and themes in a historical process. How do you think your work will be interpreted 150 years from now?

I like to think my work will only make more sense as time passes. What I'm after is not a recreation of the past, but an expression of how we look at the past from 150 years away — the way we think we know more now, laughing at the naiveté of, say, a Spirit Photograph. But what we look at (and how) reveals more of our present obsessions and ideas, I think, and on and on into the future. I think that distance of time is inherently beautiful — the small losses of information a distillation not a disappearance. It's like looking through the wrong end of a telescope where everything looks tiny and strange. The more time passes, the stranger and more beautiful it gets.

                                           Conjurer's Hands

Come see the First Annual Portfolio Showcase! The first exhibition, featuring Aspen Hochhalter, Cynthia Henebry, Dahe Kim, and Tommy Matthews runs from June 6 – July 14. The second exhibition features Nikki Segarra, Liz, Steketee, Ashley Kauschinger, and Rebecca Drolen and runs from July 18 – August 25.

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