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In this installment of The Creative Spark, Brian talks about why he uses historical processes and shows how he combines them with Photoshop and other modern imaging tools. We follow Brian as he creates a digital negative, exposes a print, and then adds additional layers to create a final image.
Skill Level Appropriate for all
I think I gravitated towards the Zone System because it gave me answers. It gave me rules to live by in my art, precise directions on how to develop film and expose film and make prints. But for me, I needed to find a medium where I could involve my hands more. I wanted to involve myself more in the process and make it less rules-based, less traditional, less strict like these black-and-white prints, and more open for experimentation.
And so after making these tight black-and-white prints for several years, I went off to graduate school at the University of New Mexico and studied with people like Betty Hahn, who was very famous for her alternative processes. She's the one who taught me things like cyanotypes and gum printing. And she complimented me for my black- and-white prints, these very traditional safe black-and-white prints, but she reminded me of an old saying by some teacher who told his students, "You're very comfortable working at this level, but what I'd like you to do is fail at a higher level.
I want you to take a chance, step out of your comfort zone, and even if you crash and burn, you'll eventually get comfortable at a different level." And so it was Betty Hahn really who inspired me to take chances, start making photographs on watercolor paper, moving away from this really traditional silver printing. And nowadays, I feel as though I have to speak with my own voice and treat photography for what it really is. A photograph is not a sacred object, the way Ansel believed it was.
Really a photograph is just a piece of paper, and you can do with a photograph anything that you can do with a piece of paper: fold it, stitch it, tear it, burn it, paint on it, put it into handmade books. So, it's much more liberating to just call a photograph for what it is: it's just an image on a piece of paper.