Portfolio projects 1975-2000
The portfolio form has been used throughout the history of photography. It places the viewer in an intimate and physical relationship with photographs - somewhere between the solitary act of reading a book and the bodily experience of an exhibition. In the early 1990s, I began to investigate the portfolio form and challenged myself to create incredibly direct and seemingly unmediated photographic experiences. While I believe that all technical aspects of photography are simply at the service of the ideas that they embody, the portfolio projects involved an immense technical journey for me. I chose the platinum process as the vehicle for my ideas – the most soft, rich and deep of all photographic techniques – that center on vast and deeply human themes of life and death. On a chemical level, platinum printing is fairly easy. Two chemical compounds – Ferric Oxalate and Platinum/Palladium – are brushed onto a cotton paper and exposed with UV light. But to create a platinum print that has the highest fidelity, and maintains the contemporary presence of its subject, relies on intense labor. We built a darkroom and I started two years of testing and learning about this magical and fully manual process before I was ready to seek out the subjects and stories to be memorialized in this most permanent and tangible form of photographic printing.
My first platinum print portfolio took me back into my archive and to a 1975 series called PEDESTRIANS. I had mounted a four-by-five camera onto the front of my motorcycle and sped up towards unsuspecting pedestrians, taking pictures that captured their unguarded reactions my fast approach and camera. I am fascinated by the beauty of physical and chemical phenomena, and their manifestation as transformative states. Most of the situations that I re-created in my studio for PHYSICS (1995) were gleaned from out of print science textbooks. Each study of these alchemical moments where light bends, metal magnetizes, surfaces tense, and the density of liquids shift, seem to be matched by the properties of photography and the platinum printing process with which I documented them. These scientific enactments, like their photographic rendering, testify to the striving of human beings to control nature.
In 1991 I saw the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Sicily for the first time. It was a profound moment for me as I started to understand the importance of documenting the phenomena that shape the world we fleetingly inhabit. The 8”x10” camera and the platinum printing were my technical means to address and articulate what I captivated me in the way that these Sicilian people - since the 17th century and through to the early 20th century - wanted to be preserved after their death and leave their visual mark.
FLT 800 (1998) was in many ways a continuation of CATACOMBS in its contemplation of the intertwined deniability and material evidence of death. In 1998, the remnants of the tragic crash of TWA flight 800 two years previously were taken to a hangar in Long Island, NY and meticulously reconstructed. These pictures were my attempt to show this immense and analytical undertaking, while trying not to project emotion onto this fatal disaster and, rather, to document the mechanisms through which a tragedy is assimilated and understood.
The Nasca Lines of Peru, are believed to have been made between 300 BC and 800 AD, and consist of figures and lines drawn on the desert’s surface near the town of Nasca. Because the size of most of the figures measure close to 100m in length, they can only be seen fully from an aerial perspective. There are numerous speculations over the true meaning of these monolithic man-made markings, which range from them being agricultural calendars, to extraterrestrial landing strips. Looking down at the Nasca Lines naturally led me to tilt my camera upwards into the vast night skies. This final platinum portfolio speaks to the enduringly human search for something bigger than us, and our indomitable curiosity about what lies beyond and overhead. SKIES (2000) was made in the New Mexico desert when I joined amateur astronomers in their calm and communal nighttime explorations. With a 4”x5” camera fitted to a refracting telescope, I would watch and wait through the up to three-hour exposure settings, before inspecting the processed film to see if the telescopic tracking had been set precisely enough to capture the delicate and miraculous constellations.