Sunday, January 3, 2010

No Man's Land

My friend Craig and I are both members of a small group of photographers that meets every other week to discuss work in progress and keep each other motivated. He, among other admirable traits, is a skilled and meticulous printer. Like me, he tends to work in projects – aiming at a body of work rather than at single prints. When one of his projects is finished, it is really finished. He selects the size, materials, process, toning, and mat board to suit his vision of what the specific project should look like.
Craig does both silver and platinum/palladium printing. His platinum/palladium prints are mostly from in-camera negatives but he sometimes makes them from digital negatives enlarged from 35mm film.
He is beginning a series of photographs of early 20th century gravestones. Many of these, especially in the decade during and after WWI, were adorned with small, usually oval portraits of the deceased. The portrait was covered with glass, often slightly convex, to protect the image. The glass has cracked or shattered on some of these gravestones so the photograph has become stained or damaged. His photographs are of the portrait itself and enough of the surrounding stone to give it context and surface texture.
Craig has been playing with ideas on how to print and present these for some time. Last Monday he brought the first one of the series to our regular meeting. He scanned the 35mm negative and surrounded it with an ornate border scanned from a framed portrait from the same era. The platinum/palladium print, made from a digital negative, is about 6x8 inches so that the original oval portrait is roughly full size.
The portrait is of a young man in WWI uniform with campaign hat at a jaunty angle. His expression is the straight-ahead, uninflected one that you often see in photographs from that era but his eyes are those of a man who has stood on the edge of the pit and looked in. There is a David Duncan Douglas portrait from the Korean War “Captain Ike Fenton, USMC” that has the same eyes and Craig’s print haunts me in the same way.
Craig is still playing with ideas on how to present this project. My fantasy is that of a small show, maybe 20 prints, with each print accompanied by a short poem in the manner of the Spoon River Anthology and a recording of Tommy Makem and Ian Clancy singing “No Man’s Land” in the background. (Nothing is hard for the person that isn’t going to do it.) No matter how Craig decides to present this work, if he can come up with a few more prints with the depth of this first one (no doubt in my mind that he can) he is on to something really good.

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