Director's Choice winner for Take Flight, Geoffrey Agrons speaks about his fantastical imagery.
How did you first find yourself picking up photography? Was it love at first snapshot or was it long time in development?
I came to photography obliquely and relatively late. As a radiologist, I spent my workdays in darkened reading rooms interpreting “photographs” of the human interior. I gradually recognized that my aesthetic appreciation of the images was deeply entwined with the rigor of anatomic analysis, logic, and problem solving. In the digital era the disciplines of still photography and radiology have converged, and it seemed a natural step to pick up a camera and explore the greater world. In the process, I found respite in feeling rather than thinking.
Much of your work explores the tension and harmony between the manmade and natural worlds. How does Synecdoche relate to this?
In his introduction to Michael Kenna: A Twenty Year Retrospective, Peter Bunnell explored the notion of the “unheroic landscape,” a term that aptly described the photographer’s “concern for the land more as feeling than about the land as place.” I recognized in this characterization a kindred sensibility that continues to inform my work. I find myself drawn to both the apposition and opposition of natural and human-made elements in landscape photography, and seek to convey the emotional to and fro between timelessness and evanescence. Made at Mont Saint-Michel, the photograph Synechdoche is my attempt to place a familiar architectural landmark in the larger context of an unsentimental, even threatening, natural realm. The appearance of a murmuration of starlings was a welcome accident. I came to title the photograph with a figure of speech derived from the Greek for “simultaneous understanding”, wherein a part of something refers to the whole.
Mont Saint-Michel, in France, is famous for its natural receding land bridge. Previously, you have drawn parallels between the eroding power of water, and its ability to mold and alter a shoreline. Is this piece a continuation of this thought? How so?
In visiting Mont Saint-Michel for the first time, I was struck by the incongruous endurance over centuries of this self-contained edifice, which appears quite delicate at a remove, episodically immersed in water and surrounded by a shifting environment. In many ways the site epitomized the landscapes that most intrigue, excite, and puzzle me as a photographer.
Your photographs are often printed on handmade paper. How does the paper add to the overall work? Do you create it yourself?
After a good deal of experimentation with a variety of papers, I discovered Bizan, a traditional Japanese Washi individually handmade from Kozo (mulberry) and Hemp fibers at the Awagami mill in Tokushima for Legion. I appreciate the variegated texture and “toothiness” of the surface, a certain ethereal quality the paper lends to monochrome work, and that no two prints are identical. In this digital age of reproduction, the idiosyncrasies of the paper and the challenge of creating a successful inkjet print introduces an element of craft that allows me to feel comfortable offering limited edition work.
Escape from Alcatraz
Your other piece, Escape from Alcatraz, was chosen for the show. Both have similar themes, but have a different mood. What story were you attempting to convey with each piece?
Both photographs include self-contained island worlds reminiscent of city-states, although only one world was expressly designed for incarceration. Initially, the making of each photograph was a rather deliberative exercise, yet each incorporates unanticipated or unintended elements of airborne freedom: in Escape from Alcatraz, the appearance of a dirigible over the island penitentiary and in Synechdoche, a flock of starlings moving as a single entity. In photography, I find myself humbled and delighted by accidents and temporal intrusions. They remind me that the physical world and the passage of time do not care what I think or plan.
Take Flight is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through March 29.