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Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Elijah Gowin Interview

I posted on Elijah Gowin's Falling and Floating pictures last month. I liked them so much, and found them so convincing, that I asked Elijah some questions which he very kindly answered. This is what he said. The images above are from the Floating series. The horse image is by Betty Hahn - wonderful.

I guess I wanted some metaphor for how many people are feeling recently. Personally, I sense more anxiety and flux that has led to a loss of balance in our humanity. This loss of balance and the attempt to right ourselves is something I wanted to explore both psychologically and geographically in a new type of landscape image.

Since I wanted to work with images of sky and water, I included these two different concepts of momentum and loss of grounding. Often the floating figures are more contemplative and quiet than the falling images, but often psychologically both types of images feel the same. Some of the treading water images are meant to be as potentially dangerous as the figures falling into trees.

I think our connection to the landscape tells much about the human state of mind. On one hand technology is often the tool that gives us optimism and hope for control. I started to make these images with the events of Katrina and the tsunami in South-east asia fresh in my mind. Such geographic events certainly highlight our ultimate lack of control and throw doubts upon our psychology. In times of trauma, people often renew their connection and place within nature. That is why I decided to set the falling and floating people in natural surroundings.

On a picture level, I show gestures full of elegance and beauty and combine them in potentially dire situations. I don't picture the impact of falling but hopefully let everyone have that endpoint in mind.
I see the handmade element of my process as a metaphor for the individual. After working many years in the chemical darkroom, I needed to develop a new set of creative steps for my digital tools. Rather than taking a direct approach, I wanted to develop a unique digital process that combined some presence of the maker as well as machine. I felt this would produce an image that no one else was making.

I use amateur snapshots (found on the internet) and combine them with images I have taken myself. I then collage them in multiple layers in Photoshop before printing small paper negatives which are cut by hand and then scanned, causing the paper fibers to become a part of the final distressed image. I think the imperfect edges of the photo along with the varnish that the prints are finally coated with serve as important (and imperfect ) human gestures. Paper, made of organic pulp, is an old world item that for me symbolizes things we try to remember and hold on to. As the scanner fights to penetrate the thick paper, vertical strips of color are deposited on the image. I tend to think of these bars as like scars left over from the clash between the opposing forces of machines and paper.

I see myself as influenced by the alternative photographic history where photography bleeds into other disciplines. From photographers in the 1960's like Betty Hahn to the resurgence of non-silver materials in the 1990s, I have been interested to expand what photography can do and what it looks like. Its been a challenge to extend this attitude into the digital realm where the tools are often democratic and leveling to image making.

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