*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
India presents to the visitor an overwhelmingly visual impression. It is beautiful, colorful, sensuous. It is captivating and intriguing, repugnant and puzzling. It combines the intimacy and familiarity of English four o’clock tea with the dazzling foreignness of carpisoned elephants or vast crowds bathing in the Ganga during an eclipse. India’s display of multi-armed images, it’s processions and pilgrimages, it’s beggars and kings, it’s street life and markets, it’s diversity of peoples – all appear to the eye in a kaleidoscope of images. Much that is removed from public view in the modern West and taken into the privacy of rest homes, asylums, and institutions is open and visible in the life of an Indian city or village. The elderly, the infirm, the dead awaiting cremation – these sights, while they may have been expunged from the childhood palace of the Buddha, are not isolated from the public eye in India. Rather, they are present daily in the visible world in which Hindus, and those who visit India, move in the course of ordinary activities. In India, one sees everything. One sees people at work and at prayer; one sees plump, well-endowed merchants, simple renouncers, fraudulent “holy” men, frail widows, and emaciated lepers; one sees the festival procession, the marriage procession, and the funeral procession. Whatever Hindus affirm of the meaning of life, death, and suffering, they affirm with their eyes wide open.
Diana L. Eck in Darsan: Seeing the Diving Image in India
Comments are welcome!
Q: Your “Gods and Monsters” series consists of tableaux of Mexican and Guatemalan figures that are photographed in a way that blurs certain elements to abstraction while others are in clear focus. Can you please speak more about this work?
A: When I depict the Mexican and, more recently, Guatemalan figures in my pastel-on-sandpaper paintings, they are hard-edged, vibrant, and in-your-face. That’s a result of the way I work in pastel. I slowly and meticulously build up layers of pigment, blend them with my fingers, continually refine and try to find the best, most eye-popping colors. It’s a very slow process that takes months of hard work. An aside… One frustration I have as an artist – I am hardly unique in this – is that my audience only sees the finished piece and they look at it for perhaps ten seconds. They rarely think about how their ten-second experience took me months to create!
In 2002 when I began photographing these figures, I wanted to take the same subject matter and give it an entirely different treatment. So these images are deliberately soft focus, dreamy, and mysterious. I use a medium format camera and shoot film. I choose a narrow depth of field. I hold gels in front of the scene to blur it and to provide unexpected areas of color. Even as a photographer I am a colorist.
I want this work to surprise me and it does, since I don’t usually know what images I will get. Often I don’t even look through the viewfinder as I position the camera and the gels and click the shutter. I only know what I’ve shot after I’ve seen a contact sheet, usually the next day.
The “Gods and Monsters” series began entirely as a reaction to my pastel paintings. The latter are extremely meticulous and labor intensive. At a certain point in the process I know more or less what the finished painting will look like, but there are still weeks of slow, laborious detail work ahead. So my photographic work is spontaneous, serendipitous, and provides me with much-needed instant gratification. I find it endlessly intriguing to have two diametrically opposed ways of working with the same subject.
Comments are welcome!