Director’s Choice winner for Methods (Alternative) Andrew Seguin discusses his work and process.
You define yourself as both poet and photographer. How does one impact the other and which, if they are not equal, is your focus?
Yes, I am a poet and photographer. I actively work in both mediums and have for a long time. My focus on each discipline varies depending on what projects are occupying my attention at any given moment, so sometimes I am consumed by writing and sometimes by photography, but I have always allowed both to coexist and intersect. Undoubtedly, my interest in language carries over into my photographic work — The Whiteness of the Whale, my series of cyanotypes inspired by Moby-Dick, deals directly with the graphic quality of the punctuation in the book, not to mention other facets of the novel. So as a visual artist I often probe language for expressive possibilities, which parallels what I do as a poet. To examine the other side of the question, visual art and photography — how, for example, the smallest aperture of a camera will yield an image with the greatest depth of field — have often provided me with subject matter for poems or, more importantly, frameworks for thinking about and constructing poems. How can language reflect the way a camera captures space? What is the linguistic equivalent of a snapshot? And such questions aside, sometimes poetry and photography are just two different things that I do.
Hand to Mouth
Your process appears to be a mixture of illustration subject and photographic process. Please walk us through the process of creating this work.
Tails Away, like all the images in The Whiteness of the Whale, began as a digital collage I created in Photoshop. I first scanned selected pages from Moby-Dick and excised all of the words, leaving the book’s punctuation to fend for itself. To this background of commas, periods, semicolons and dashes I added other elements that I had culled from old dictionaries and illustrated versions of Moby-Dick. Once I had created a collage that I was satisfied with, I rendered it as a digital negative and printed that negative as a cyanotype, which yielded a unique print. The process was a nice synthesis of the digital and the handmade.
Director's Choice: Tails Away
How does working in alternative processes inspire the content of your work?
Because I don’t use a camera to generate negatives when I’m making cyanotypes, my images need not come from the ostensible, observable world: I can investigate other means of making photographs. Certainly, that freedom led me to explore the possibilities of a collage-based process, which I used in both The Whiteness of the Whale and an earlier project. As for the cyanotype process itself, its gamut of blues and whites was ideally suited for a project dealing with the sea and a malevolent white whale.
Your series The Whiteness of the Whale is very clearly based off of Moby Dick. What about this story inspired you to create this series?
Moby-Dick is one my favorite books, and it floors me on so many levels: its prose is stunning, its symbolism is epic and its structure is somehow both manic and controlled. For me it’s a book of excess and obsession, and I had originally wanted to strip it to its skeleton by creating a version of it that consisted only of its punctuation — a minimalist homage, a musical score. But that idea only took me so far. I realized I wouldn’t do the book justice unless I created images that referenced the characters and the concerns of the book, including self-consumption, hunting something to extinction, the power of nature and of evil, and the human need for a quest.
Finally, we ask this of all of our artists, what does success mean to you as an artist?
It means being constantly driven to uncover new ideas and having — or creating — the resources to realize those ideas.
Methods (Alternative) is on view until February 23.