,

“The Collectors” Series

After my first few photography classes and trying my hand at a variety of photographic genres, I took a class in large format photography and the view camera.   Even though the age of film photography is for all practical purposes dead, most people over the age of 30 are probably somewhat familiar with 35mm cameras.  But view cameras use negatives that are 4×5 inches or larger…so, the negative is roughly 15 times larger than a 35mm negative.  They’re the kind of cameras you see in old black and white movies with the photographer’s head under a black cloth.  For some reason, I took a liking to this medium, perhaps because none of my classmates were particularly into it, or maybe it was because of the unique ability of the medium to capture detail with a clarity way beyond 35mm.

Throughout most of my time as an undergrad, I worked in a store called “Rosie Cheeks Vintage Clothing” which was  a legendary local hang out for all sorts of fascinating people:  artists, gays musicians, dandies and other assorted self-styled hipsters and misfits of the era.  I was looking for direction with my photography work and it occurred to me to do portraits of some of our more colorful customers.  I believed the 4×5 format, with its ability to capture detail, would be the perfect medium for this kind of work.

Shooting what I loosely called “The Collectors” series, was really the beginning of my taking myself seriously as a photographer.  I wasn’t just “taking” pictures, I was making them.  And my teachers also started to take me seriously as a photographer.  I worked on this series through the time I graduated with my BFA in photography in 1987.  On the strength of the work, I applied for the Mary C. McClellan Scholarship in Art and was awarded the top award for the year, beating out all other applicants from any artistic medium at my school.  With the money, I undertook the my next project in my post-graduate life, the “Route 40-From St. Louis to Terre Haute” series.  But I’ll show and tell more about that in my next post.

,

Early Experimental Portraits and the Beginnings of my Commercial Work

Academics came easy to me in high school, and without much study I always made the honor roll.  As I mentioned in the previous post, I secretly longed to be a film director.  I started taking cinema studies courses at my school, the University of Illinois/Urbana, but quickly learned what a dismal program they had, and it mostly involved writing, film theory, and criticism, which really weren’t my cup of tea.   I did take an actual class or two in cinematography, but, I wasn’t as talented as I thought I was, and was bereft of ideas and funds.  I earned my first “D” grade in a class, and experienced what I considered to be my first academic failure.  I floundered.

I can’t remember if it was during my freshman or sophomore year that I enrolled in my first photography class, and I’m not even sure how seriously I took it.  It wasn’t until my third class in photography that I felt myself pulling ahead, becoming more and more interested in the work and taking it far more seriously than the other students.  I set up makeshift studios and had access to lighting equipment provided by the university.  My teachers and professors were heavily into post-modernism and feminism.  I was drawn to works by Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Joel-Peter Witkin, Diane Arbus and Arthur Tress.  These were people with something to say, and the vision to match.  My only problem was I didn’t feel passionately about much.

I know I liked theatricality and set-up shots.  I liked shooting people because it appealed to the film director in me.  What you see above are some of my experiments in portraiture along with some of my first commercial work, which was shooting a fraternity calendar.