Artist Statement

I’m not quite sure what led me to photography, though I’m thinking it had something to do with my interest in drawing as a boy, coupled with my inability to become very good at it. Photography (literally, “drawing with light”) allowed me to draw without having much manual dexterity. Other than that, I didn’t have much interest in visual art until I came across a photography exhibition while in graduate school. Something about that show intrigued me and I eventually saved enough money to buy my first Nikon 35-mm camera. I have been hooked on the medium ever since. I am completely self-taught which has caused me to make every mistake known in the world of photography, but in retrospect I’m glad to have blazed my own trail.

I started out shooting in black-and-white, but after a few months I gravitated toward color film and color has been an important part of my work ever since. In those early years I shot as often as possible and spent a lot of time studying the history of photography which led me to art history and a fascination with 20th century painting and sculpture. At various points in my career I have taken cues from Minimalism, Abstract Expressionism, Photorealism, Postmodernism and Conceptual Art.

Bartlett PairsLike many photographers, I started out photographing nature: dramatic landscapes, ground covers, some wildlife work. After a few years I began focusing on architectural subjects which resulted in what I consider to be my first body of serious work, when I felt I was beginning to find my own voice. Some of those images are shown in the gallery Structures: Tier I. My intent was to make clean, crisp, minimalist images using bold colors and geometric forms.

For nearly a decade after that, my work was devoted to a single project, photographing at recreational sites throughout America: amusement parks, state fairs, miniature golf courses and the like. At some point I became aware that this work was dividing into two related but distinct paths. One road expanded on the earlier architectural work and was informed by a quest for shear formal beauty. Carefully cropped images of roller coasters, Ferris Wheels and steel frameworks incorporate rhythm, pattern and layers of information resulting in very complex compositions (Structures: Tier II).

At other times I would stand back, take in the expanse of the landscape using a normal or wide-angle lens and use a common perspective. These scenes were mostly shot when the sites were in transition, being set up at the beginning or dismantled at the end of the tourist season. There is still an underlying geometric structure, a strong use of color and visual motifs, but the focus is on the surreal feel of the scenes which is enhanced by the lack of people in places where we expect to see crowds (Play Time Gallery).

As I was completing that body of work and looking for new direction, I became intrigued by a field of study called complexity science in which researchers investigate what occurs when large quantities of individual elements are assembled into increasingly complicated systems. They have observed that at some high level of organization, bordering on chaos, a new structure emerges from the components that produced it: something that is not just complicated but rather an entirely new entity that is both greater than the sum of its parts and essentially different from those elements that produced it. The building blocks can be molecules combining to make cells which in turn result in the emergence of life; neurons forming brains giving birth to thought, people creating families bringing forth civilizations. It appears that such wonders as life, mind and culture are made possible by a particular balance between the tendencies of disorder and the forces of order. Between these two extremes is a magical region, “the edge of chaos,” where this powerful phenomenon termed “complexity” unexpectedly appears, where, like some forms of jazz, everything isn’t in perfect harmony yet a novel, vibrant music is heard.

Red TruckI recognized in this discipline a strong connection with the direction my work was headed. I sensed that there are certain situations in the visible world, where, if studied carefully, an underlying order emerges from a chaotic, random scene. I found myself photographing the debris from man-made structures destroyed by natural disasters, fires, and demolitions as well as materials gathered at salvage yards and recycling centers. The demolition and disaster scenes speak of loss and devastation and the scrap heaps comment on our consumer society, but, in addition, this subject matter allowed me to move to the next level in my exploration of complexity and to challenge the accepted notions of “good composition” in straight color photography. Unlike my earlier work, the images are extracted from an arena of randomness rather than one that has some preexisting order to it. My approach became more intuitive, my palette a bit more restrained, as I explored the photographic possibilities of haphazard scenes and chance occurrences. Once again I became aware of a connected dichotomy in my work: some images are photographs of objects that have come together in a pile of scrap, or recycled metal (Edge of Chaos: Fusion) while the demolitions, dismantled factories and tornado debris are images of structures that were once whole but now are torn asunder (Edge of Chaos: Fission). While the cohesiveness of the compositions might not be readily apparent, my hope is that careful consideration of the images reveal a new sense of order.

Oddly, my journey led me to photographing nature once again. I found myself shooting along the very same trails I had started out on a quarter of a century earlier, though the images were fundamentally different. “Thicket” builds on the compositional strategies I had developed in Edge of Chaos, but uses fairly banal subject matter: weeds, brush, bushes, and greater emphasis on texture. Many of these pieces require printing to 40×50” or larger to appreciate the subtleties and drawing qualities of the photographs.

The ongoing project that can be seen in the Wave gallery contains photographs and videos shot commercial fishing piers, primarily in Newport, RI and New Bedford, MA, home to the largest port for what is considered to be the most dangerous job in the United States. I photograph the trawlers and docks when they are abandoned, capturing the scenes the way they were left when the fishermen and deckhands suspended their work. Despite the absence of the crew, their presence is pervasive. It is evident in the random placement of a hose, rope or net, the positioning of pulleys and cables, a door left ajar. The lack of people allows for greater emphasis on the transitional state of the site, the wear and tear from countless voyages, and the mark of the crew’s hands.

Lady of the ArkIn The Curious Lexicon, my process begins with discovering a peculiar, intriguing scene whose meaning is a bit ambiguous. I then try to make a compelling photograph that stands on its own, unassociated with a series of pictures or a verbal description – an image that engages the viewer without additional context or information. Taking cues from the photograph, I then enter keywords on the Wikipedia website and pour over the entries returned by the searches. Sentences from one or more articles are selected and in some cases combined and/or edited to compose the text that is paired with the picture. The final piece becomes an entry in an evolving image-based reference that merges my photographs with words from unwitting online collaborators.

While I have grouped my photographs into convenient bodies of work, I think of them as one continuous thread, an evolution of picture making that has been part of my being throughout my adult life. Although my current work has an added conceptual element, it is still strongly tied to the projects that preceded it. That link is not subject matter, content, or a particular sense of place. Rather, the connection is based in my belief that there is an underlying rhythmic pulse in the universe which, at particular points in space and time, is manifested visually in that enchanted space where order and chaos merge. My mission is to discover, precisely position the camera, and record those mystical, magical moments.