Long winded but I sure had fun writing it! This statement gives a run down of how I came up with this current portfolio from what I photographed to how I printed it.
Mapping & the Bristle Cone Pine Environ
Art history has had the greatest influence upon my aesthetic career. The artists who have moved me the most are Vermeer with his painting of “Girl with Pearl Earring” and Edgar Manet with his painting “Olympia”. Vermeer’s attention to how light and shadow plays on the emotions of the viewer is still a standard I wish to achieve. Because my images challenge some part of our current “acceptable” aesthetic, I have a kindred’s spirit with Manet. For example, his painting of Olympia was rejected in the Parisian Salon Exhibition with the requisite black tar “R” on the back of the painting standing for Réfusé. Manet was challenging the aesthetic of the time by deliberately forcing the viewer to acknowledge that in front of them was a canvas with paint on it. This irked the sentiment of the society at the time and Impressionism was born. A quote comes to mind, “If you’re being shot at, you must be doing something right!”
I believe that we are faced with a similar advent due to the ease of the manipulation of the digital image as well as the accessibilility this new medium allows to the population. Not only are more people earnestly practicing photography, certain significant photographic movements are moving away from a literal rendition of the captured scene to a more openly subjective one.
Ansel Adams believed the image should be true to its subject. Later John Szarkowski heralded this sentiment in the 1970’s into a movement that continues till now. Not all contemporaries of Mr. Adams followed such a path including William Mortensen. Such a schism existed between Adams and Mortensen that Beaumont Newhall, a friend of Adams, who published the first “History of Photography”, completely left Mortensen out literally having made history himself in doing so. Like Hippolyte Bayard one of the fathers of photography, Mortensen is barely a footnote currently in the history of photography. It will be ironic that Mortensen will probably become quite prominent in the future for his, till now, unrecognized contributions.
Perhaps initially I was subconsciously aware of this impending change or because consciously of my education, from the outset of this portfolio, I have been drawn to showing the print as an artifact itself. That is why I have deliberately not photoshopped out the black lines that show up in the “mapped” vertical or horizontal platinum palladium images. They are a part of the aesthetic, right along with the natural matt texture of a hand-coated print.
The bristle cone pines found among the dry limestone rocks above 10,000 feet in the North Western United States are for me the sentinels of living time. The austere environments these trees inhabit are of the most beautiful locations on earth. I love it up there. In 2001, I ventured for the second time into the cirque shadowed by Mount Wheeler in the Great Basin National Park with the intent to get away from it all. What I found has drawn me back almost every summer since.
My first images in June of 2001 were, to say the least, lackluster. At the time I figured that the smallness of the 5×7 inch contact print was the cause of my dismal results. 2002 had drawn me adrift from California that gave me time to ponder just how to photograph these majestic wonders. The natural progression would have been to get a larger camera. But cost and weight correctly deterred me. The problem with a big camera, which a 5×7 inch camera is no slouch, is its bellows which are a natural sail and make for very creative blurry images due to the gales normally found at this altitude. I drooled over the 7×20 inch format wanting to afford such a camera but knew my back couldn’t tackle such a beast at sea level let alone in the wee air of the tree line and knew it wouldn’t produce the results even if the wind cooperated.
I do not recall when or where I got the insight for what I now call “mapping the subject”. But I do remember spending weeks designing how I would produce it including falling upon the Golden Number or Phi, 0·618034, that I used to come up with the 32×18 matt size.
This portfolio has not been without folly either. Uncooperative gear and uncooperative cars, California fires, and the flux in industry have caused this adventure to be tumultuous to say the least. Because in 2007 the fires in the valley had caused the smoke to be so thick in the White Mountains that I could not see the red globe of the sun for almost two hours after sunrise, I drove up to rephotograph certain trees in 2008. Fourteen miles short of the Patriarch Grove, my engine quit due to the washboard in the dirt road – I hadn’t realized just how bad the shocks were in my car. A year later I returned and was finally able to accomplish what I set out to do two years before.
The photographs in this portfolio are all platinum palladium hand coated prints. I experimented with all platinum to all palladium on five different papers from three different processes. Starting with the processes, I grew very fond of the Mike Ware “Ammonium” process because of its superior DMax, the richness of the blacks.
The paper I chose is Weston’s Diploma Parchment – Plat Pal for this process because of its ability to hold detail in the highlights. The paper’s tint has an almost peach warmth to it. Also after much experimentation of processes and papers, I chose the combination of two-thirds Platinum to one-third Palladium. When exposed properly, the tone shows a slight and very pleasing warmth which compliments the paper’s tint. Pure platinum was too cold and really didn’t work with the tint of the paper, and pure palladium didn’t quite have the black which platinum does so well.
Up to that point, things had gone as planned. The next step in the process was to learn how to make digital negatives to repair primarily light leaks from some of the older sheet film holders that I later replaced. You might not be surprised that I chose Dr. Mike ware’s process after researching various ways because of its lack of dependence on computer platforms and software versions and was much more hands-on.
The modus operandi up until now was, grab any rag matt, and frame the print with a slight thought to “use the warm matt if toned, used the cool white matt if not”. It was amazing to finally get a final work print made for this portfolio, throw it in a matt, only to not be able to see the print because the matt was “GREEN”. “What’s up with that?” So, I purchased eighteen different “white” all rag matt boards from three different manufacturers to finally ascertain which matt is appropriate for each process or tone. Now for whatever I do, I will have the matts handy for any future portfolios. This portfolio had three that would have worked: Crescent Cream, Crescent Soft White and Rising Olde White. I matted all three, held my favorite secret and with a unanimous agreement, Rising Olde White (ROW 432) suits this portfolio the best.
With up to sixteen images in the show, nevertheless, this portfolio is far from finished. There are other groves I have yet to visit, and I need more images of aspens. I love the contrast that these two trees symbolize: one, the community of aspens one encounters on a hillside with their ever young white brilliance are actually one large organism with an interconnected rhizome root structure, and on the other hand, the bristle cone pine is a lone organism defiant against the elements standing alone against all odds for millennia. Both trees have found a way to live for incredible amounts of time. As this portfolio matures, I look forward to better portraying this symbolism.