Friday, January 1, 2010

Wait for retirement to kick in

Ted Orland suggests several strategies for sustaining yourself while doing art. [“The view from the studio door”, Ted Orland, Image Continuum Press, 2006. Available from his website This is not a paid advert. On the other hand, it is a book that I highly recommend and that I read about once a year just to keep my perspectacles on straight.] One strategy is to find something other than art to do to make money. Below this there are two sub-strategies: pursue your art simultaneously or do the best you can and wait for retirement to kick in. I recently met the king of the latter path, Charles (Chuck) Guildner.
Chuck is a mid-70ish fellow who retired 20 odd years ago and jumped full time, headlong, no excuses accepted, no delay tolerated into his photography. He went back to school to study photography as a craft and as an art. He photographs, he makes his own black and white prints, he teaches, he inspires (well, he inspires me for sure). I have not seen any of his pre-retirement work but I’ll bet it isn’t bad either. I have seen his post-retirement work and it is spectacular.
He is also the king of the notion of using your art to explore people, places, and situations about which you are passionate – as opposed to latching on to a technique or medium and then finding something to use it for. His website will convince you of that.
Current theory dismisses the notion of art as a precious object, of craftsmanship as an essential part of art making, of beauty (whatever that means) as a necessary or even desirable characteristic of art. Not in his universe. His prints are a reminder of how beautiful a silver print can be.
His landscapes are, well, beautiful. My immediate response was “Boy, you sure get a beautiful print when you start with a large-format negative.” Some of them are from large-format negatives – even a few 8x10’s. However, some of them are from medium-format negatives, too. At 16x20 or 20x24 it takes careful examination to see the difference.
I am especially moved by his portraits – straight-ahead, no frills, no Avedon or Penn artifice, no Newman carefully controlled environment (I admire all of these photographers, by the way.) I compare his portraits to those of August Sander. They have a similar feeling of just being there. In the “Buck Buckles and His Team” portrait, Mr. Buckles is leading two of his enormous workhorses out of the barn. The two horses seem to me to just about as camera-conscious as their boss.
Sadly, Chuck is no longer making silver prints. He is scanning his negatives and then sending them to the state archive in Nebraska. His digital prints are beautiful too but …

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