Understanding Influence and the Emergence of Style (Or Getting Back to Work)

Posted in Art, Photography with tags , , , , , , on September 5, 2014 by briancarnold


The kids are back to school, which makes easier for me to get fully back to work.  I spent most of the day at the Eastman House in Rochester, NY, looking for images to use for illustrations in my upcoming book with Oxford University Press.


My book promotes the use of chemical photographic processes in a digital age, using techniques from the beginning of photographic time in today’s photographic world.  The text primarily focuses on “alternative processes” in photography, mostly handmade photographic papers and surfaces.  Part of the text provides history of each of the processes, and I am using photographs from the Eastman House collection to illustrate some of the history discussed in each of the chapters.240264

Finding pictures was a bit like shopping with somebody else’s money.  I found 7 different photographs for my text – and put myself in a better position to finish selected photographs from the collection in the future – photographs by Betty Hahn, Stephen Livick, Frank Gohlke, Adam Fuss, and Abelardo Morell.8908_Gohlke_Landscape_LosAngeles_croppedDeSat

The best part, however, was looking through several boxes of photographs by Frank Gohlke.


There were two primary boxes of photographs of Frank’s work, and then some random pictures mixed into other boxes and collections.  One of these boxes held pictures dating back to the 1960’s, and stretched into the early to mid 1970’s.  Seeing these pictures was an incredible treat, and I learned a great deal about his work.  The pictures were far from his best, but that is beside the point.

Betty Hahn, "Morning Mum, 1979", brown print with pastels, 1979

Looking at this box of photographs, I was able to see Frank’s style and voice as a photographer emerge.  Back in the day, Frank worked as an assistant to American photographer Paul Caponigro, and then later, in the 1970’s moved towards the documentary style for which he most well known.


In some of these pictures, you could see Frank imitating Caponigro’s sentimental, mystical style.  And then when first began his studies of the midwestern American landscape, Gohlke continued to work with this rich, abstract style of printing.  Even in these early attempts, however, you could see the ideas forming that eventually became his first notable work, Measure of Emptiness:  Grain Elevators in the American Landscape.fg1

It was all visual learning, and that doesn’t always translate into words.  But trust me, it was a wonderful moment, and a clear opportunity to see an artist learning – really in just a handful of prints.


And then on my way out, I made a quick visit to the great Lewis Hine exhibition.


A New Understanding

Posted in Art, Java, Photography with tags , , , , on September 2, 2014 by briancarnold

I awoke with a start around 3am.  It was a hot and humid night, and two fans were running in the room.  When I awoke, I had a new understanding of prayer and what it might mean in our lives.  It was like an epiphany.


I understood that action of prayer was the real meaning, not in the words nor even intentions necessarily.


It’s not about asking for anything from the universe.

Borobudur break

It is about feeling something essential with inside of yourself, an attempt to feel that more deeply, and with a wish that this essential core of yourself can be apart of the universe around you.


It is to focus on a feeling within, and a hope that that feeling belongs to the universe, that it can be included in the meaning we discover in the world.  A reassurance that we are a part of the universe.


I am not sure what I think this morning, but it was such a powerful sensation in the night.  I kept notes in my head before falling back to sleep, and had to fight my desire to get up and write it all down then and there.


Too often, the things that seem most meaningful in the world also are the most elusive.

Iraq, Presidential Elections, and Image Appropriation

Posted in Art, books, Photography, Politics on September 1, 2014 by briancarnold

So, if you scroll back about a year, you might recall that I am working on a book with Oxford University Press.  I am writing a text book on photographic processes – really what we call alternative processes (cyanotype, wet plate, platinum, etc.).


When I teach of my Alternative Processes in Photography class, I like to define “alternative processes” as the photographic techniques that never really had much commercial application, but nonetheless remain strong because of the aesthetic possibilities.


I just finished writing a draft chapter on low budget image transfer techniques – using different solvents, gesso, tape, etc. – to make and reconfigure photographic images.   As part of the introduction, I also write about the history of photographic image appropriation.


And in putting this chapter together, I went back into the storage shelves of my studio, and pulled down a little one of a kind book I made during 2003-2004, during the height of the Iraq war and the run-up to the Bush-Kerry presidential election.tape_lifts003

Each day, I’d buy a newspaper, and select one image.  Using only scotch tape, I’d lift fragments on these images off the newspaper pages, and then mount them in my book.


I found myself remarkably disenchanted with the war and propaganda machine put in place to keep it running.  I felt that if I found a new way to read the news, with these pieces and fragments I was putting together and recontextualizing, I could actually get a clearer understanding of all the information and misinformation I was reading every day.  And I was remarkably disillusioned with American culture and the manipulative tactics of my government.


It was satisfying to find this little book again, and I still rather like some of the fragments and images recreated on the pages.  I hope some of them make it into my book.





Posted in Art, Java, Photography with tags , , , on August 7, 2014 by briancarnold

So I spent three months in Bali and Java this past spring.  Most of that trip is documented on another of my blogs.


My time in Indonesia, from a professional perspective, was wildly successful.  I am quite pleased with the photographs I made, as well as the different collaborative projects I developed.

#3Brian_Arnold_Flying Kites

When I returned, as an attempt to “commemorate” my trip, I got a tattoo of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge and creativity.


The tattoo is based on Balinese depictions of Sarawati, and I see it as a sort of offering.  My time in Indonesia was remarkably successful and productive, and I see the tattoo as an offering, to keep the momentum and energy of my creative in intellectual life alive – both Indonesia and at home.


Posted in Art, books, James Joyce, Photography, poetry with tags , , , on August 5, 2014 by briancarnold


I’ve been trying to put my life in perspective recently; it is a time of big change, and thus self-reflection.

photo 1

I was in high school when I first started to think of myself as an artist.  I grew up in Denver, and the city was quite strange and violent in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  There was lots of gang violence, and I got involved in a very dark, underground, industrial art movement.  Even back then, I started to embrace this idea of artist as outlaw (as Sylvia Plath once wrote, The gifted are misfits).


When I went to college, I got really interested in the early 20th century avant guarde, everything from Joyce to Dada to the writers on the Left Bank.

photo 4 (1)

I liked Gertrude Stein, and the voice she gives to the sexual or gender outlaw:

Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.
Susie Asado.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.
Susie Asado.
A lean on the shoe this means slips slips her.
When the ancient light grey is clean it is yellow, it is a silver seller.
This is a please this is a please there are saids to jelly.  These are the wets these
say the sets to leave a crown to Incy.
Incy is short for incubus.
A pot.  A pot is a beginning to a rare bit of trees.  Trees tremble, the old vats are in
bobbles, bobbles which shave and shove and render clean, render clean must.
Drink pups.
Drink pups drink pups lease a sash hold, see it shine and a bobolink has pins.  It shows
a nail.
What is a nail.  A nail is a unison.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.

photo 4

I ended up going to Bali, Indonesia the first time because I wanted to find new models for the arts, and was fascinated by the acknowledgement and blending of both light and dark forces.

photo 3

In some ways, I think I still consider myself an outlaw.  I still like what Hugo Ball wrote so many years ago, Introduce symmetries and rhythms instead of principals.  Contradict the existing world orders.

Back Again

Posted in Art, Java, Photography with tags , on August 4, 2014 by briancarnold

I’ve done a poor job as of late keeping abreast of my own photo production, or at least keeping a stream of it coming online.


I spent three months this spring in Indonesia – mostly Java – pursuing a few different projects.  I am finally getting some of my own pictures down on paper.

#3Brian_Arnold_Flying Kites

So far I am pleased with the results.


An old Mercedes covered in volcanic ash, from that eruption in East Java back in February or August.


I still work in a traditional black and white darkroom, and how I print my photographs is a large part of my vision.  Thus, I have to scan prints, and so you see those little hairs and thing I haven’t yet spotted out (these prints are just newly completed.


Burning trash in Yogyakarta, one of my favorite Indonesian cities.


An abandoned guitar along the streets of Bandung.  And hopefully more to come soon.

The Waters of Our Time

Posted in Art, literature, Photography with tags , , on June 25, 2014 by briancarnold


I’ve always thought there was a certain amount of good and bad in the world that never changes.  Whenever something bad happened to me, I told myself that there must be some good balancing it out someplace else.  Whether there’s more good than bad, or the other way around, I could never be sure, and I’m still not.  But that’s not the point.  We all have to pay a price for being here.


Since we can’t feel things fully as they are happening, all we can do is let time pass and try to retrace them.  I guess that is just life – maybe we aren’t suppose to know what it is or why it is while we are in the midst of it.


I started my morning today reading The Waters of our Time, a collaborative book made by Thomas and Giancarlo Roma – a little gem about life, love, memory, and living in Brooklyn (a wonderful flavor of Brooklyn throughout the book).


I’ve never spent too much time with Roma’s work, but the use of both a textual and photographic narratives in this book are delightful and evocative.  A redirect for the day, going to back to my project about my life in Denver, and do the best I can I can to coax out some more ideas in the writing.


I just want something to remind me of this place, so that I know that it was real – that it was mine.


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