ARCHITECTURE, CONSTRUCTIONS, & ORGANICS
By Teresa Bruce (author), Susan Kammeraad-Campbell (editor), Gary Geboy (illustrator, photographer)
Hardcover, 122 pages
Publisher: Joggling Board Press; 1st edition (December 10, 2008)
Gary Geboy’s 35 years in photography and cinematography have taken him around the world – from Peace Corps documentaries in Kyrgyzstan to a National Gallery of Art exhibit on ancient Mexico. His most recent commendations include the 2014 Holga Inspire Award, First Place in Soho Gallery’s Alternative Processes Competition in 2013 and inclusion in 2013’s Review Santa Fe. He specializes in environmental portrait and organic still life in platinum/palladium.
'The impermanence of the natural world has fascinated me ever since I was a little kid in rural Wisconsin. I collected fragments of animal bones uncovered by spring thaws, shriveled cabbage leaves left over from late summer harvests and delicate birds nests when snows began to fall and I knew that they’d disintegrate in the fierce winter winds. When I was young, the thought of all those living things dying and crumbling back into the earth seemed less like the comforting cycle of life than cruel abandonment, something that one day would happen to me. It still haunts me. I want to stop the inevitable and keep these fragile treasures from being forgotten. I have only two choices really. I can try to arrest the cycle by scavenging and then carefully storing the things I collect. But that’s impractical; nature never stops on its own accord. Leaves continue to crumble, bones get brittle and nests eventually fall apart. So I have settled on photography – a way to capture the beauty of natural objects, at a fixed point in time, and keep them around for at least as long as I am. The overlap of foreground and background -- old and new -- is a tonal interpretation of what happens in the physical world when dry leaves curl and fall to the ground or when new shoots of bamboo leave behind the cones that shaped them. Boundaries blur and endings become beginnings.' - Gary Geboy
On his process: platinum palladium prints
'It's platinum/palladium on Japanese Kozo tissue. With the pp process the size of your negative is the size of the print, so I had to make 9 negatives to get the size of the end print. And then fit them all together to get the final print. It's a time consuming process since it's all done by hand but it sure makes a unique print.' - Gary Geboy
Gary Geboy Gets Lost Interview with Mark Shaffer
Beaufort filmmaker and photographer Gary Geboy is the featured artist in a ground-breaking one-man show currently on display at the Charleston Center for Photography through the end of the month.
The exhibit is a striking combination of platinum/palladium prints – an expensive, labor intensive process – including work inspired by Geboy’s book Transfer of Grace: Images of the Lowcountry. The show also features the debut of an edgy new collection Geboy calls “The Lost,” representing “people and places lost to time.” In a word the work is best described as “haunting.” The Lowcountry’s Mark Shaffer recently sat down with the artist at his home to talk about his work and how “The Lost” was found.
Finding The Lost
Mark Shaffer: “Some of this show represents a culmination of 30 years of images collected from around the world.”
Gary Geboy: “About half of the photographs are photos I’ve been taking over the course of 30 years. I got really lucky [as cinematographer]. I got to travel all over the world all the time. So when I was working I carried a little point-and-shoot camera wherever I went. When I wasn’t working, I’d just walk the streets and photograph whatever interested me. It all sort of fell into this category of things that we call ‘lost’ – things lost to time, people who’ve been lost to the rest of civilization, who live on the streets - ”
M.S. “ But also places, as well.”
G.G. “ Places as well, cities. A pyramid in Peru that looks like a big dirt pile eroded by the rain but it’s actually a pyramid that is long lost. None of [the work] was cohesive enough to put together as a group. They were all pretty individual photos. Then last year I was looking through some and reprinting some and decided to turn it into a more cohesive idea and that’s where we came up with “The Lost.
[For instance] a photo I took 30 years ago of a guy sleeping on the street fit really well into that whole context. And for me it speaks of a bigger picture. We’re forgetting about a lot of people, a lot of places that don’t really fit in.”
M.S. “On a recent trip it became so apparent that everything’s beginning to look the same. Every intersection and interstate stop looks like the last one or the next one.”
G.G. “We’re losing part of what made us all different. In that sense we’re losing part of our humanity, that sense of individuality.”
M.S. “How do you deal with your human subjects?”
G.G. “People that I photograph I always ask if I can photograph. And I always chat with them for a little while to find out what’s going on. That way if they want to change their mind they can and it gives them an opportunity [to choose] how they want to be photographed. I don’t like to sneak up on people. I don’t like to catch people off guard because everybody has their moments when you can be put in a very compromising position, and I certainly want to maintain that person’s dignity.
M.S. “Is that a common thread through this show as well, dignity?
G.G. “Yes and no. It’s a hard thing to say. There’s one shot of a guy who’s lying down in a back alley with a sack of what I suppose were all his possessions. So I’m walking through the alley and I ask him if I could take his picture and he said, ‘sure.’ I’m getting ready – I don’t just snap real quick, I give people time to do what they’re going to do – and he rolled over so all I could see was his back and his head lying on this thing. And when I [processed] the photograph, years later, I called it “The Shroud” because his shirt was so dirty that it almost had a life of it own. And just by seeing the back of him, and the form of his body and the grunginess of it, I think it’s a much more powerful photograph that way.
There was another time when I was in Memphis and I was just a hanging out and this guy walked by and I said ‘hi’ to him and he said ‘hi.’ He was an older guy on crutches. He went down [the street], turned around and came back and said ‘do you want to take my picture?’ And I said ‘sure, why not?’ He went past me and just walked right by me again – didn’t stop.”
M.S. “No posing.”
G.G. “No posing – and I took his picture and that one’s in show. I think that what he wanted me to see was that here was this guy who couldn’t move his legs, he could just sort of pick himself up and move himself along, but he wanted somebody to see that he was a human being, that he was there. That one had an effect on me, but they all sort of have an effect on me.
M.S. “The word ‘haunting’ is used to describe the show. That is the word I would use most to describe this work. There is a real chilling aspect to a lot of these photos.”
G.G. “That’s intentional in part because of the way I print them, but it’s intentional also because there has to be some sort of shock value because we’re so barraged with images every day. You see thousands and thousand of images. People get used to seeing all sorts of stuff, so you have to create a mood, you have to create something that people are going to remember after they see [it]. If that [happens] by making [the photos] sort of haunting and dark then perhaps they’ll remember what it’s all about, too. Maybe something will register in their heads. It’s not that I’m trying to save the world or anything like that, it’s just the little things that you want to keep making people aware of – that not everybody is as fortunate as everybody else.
Gary Geboy Interview with David Kirby
How long have you been into photography and why did you first start?
I have been into photography since the mid 70's so I've been around for awhile. I have been lucky to see the metamorphosis from analog to digital, which has been really interesting. I started in my 20's so I wasn't one of those kids working on school newspapers etc. I just took a class and got hooked.
How would you describe your photographic style to those who aren't familiar with your work?
My style is very formal I guess, everything is planned out and the things I photograph have to meet certain criteria. The planning also helps save on materials. When I started I could get a roll of film for around 50 cents, now I don't even want to think about it!
When looking through your images it is clear that you enjoy alternative processes. What are your favourite processes to work with and why?
My favorite process has to be platinum/palladium. I love the tonal qualities, the softness of the image while still maintaining detail. It's a beautiful thing. Plus I don't have to work in the dark.
Why do you still choose to use alternative processes in a digital age?
I think the main reason I use alternative processes are in the final print. A PP print has a 3D quality to it by the very nature of the process, the emulsion gets absorbed into the paper rather than sitting on top. And it's a hands on process. Most of the papers I use are Japanese hand made and combining that with the hand coating of the paper gives each print it's unique quality. No two of my prints are exactly the same. I think that has been one of the things lost in the digital age. The final print has lost that feeling of something crafted.
Your platinum/palladium prints are exquisite. For those not familiar with this process could you give us a quick summary of what is involved in making a platinum/palladium print?
PP printing is actually pretty easy these days. PP printing got a reputation somewhere along the way of being a difficult process and I think that came about because of the negative. Being a contact print method your negative is the size of the print. And to make a print other than 4x5, 5x7, 8x10 etc. you had to make internegatives which was a major pain in the ass. Now with digital printers you can make any size you want to and can tweak contrast or whatever, it's easier to make corrections to the negative than alter chemicals. My prints are around 15x15 shot on full plate wet plate collodion or 4x5 film, so try doing that using internegs, yikes! I know there are some purists out there and more power to them. Any new technology that can save me a few bucks and a major headache, I'll make it fit for me.
I'm a big admirer of the textures you have in your still life's. They really add to the depth of your images, as does the vignetting which we can see on many of your images; in particular the "organics" series. Is this something you plan out prior to a shoot, a by-product of your processing or something you add later if you feel the image requires it?
All my textures come from backgrounds I create. Sometimes I'll shoot a background separately on wet plate or 4x5 and combine the two negs in Photoshop, or I'll shoot the image on the background I created on wet plate collodion and then scan that, resize for the negative I want and print. Does that all that make sense? It started out as a little complex bit of business, but I have been doing it so long I couldn't image doing it any other way. Having 2 or 3 layers in each photo contributes to the depth you see.
What do you find to be the biggest challenge you face in creating your images?
The biggest challenge has to be the weather. I shoot everything on my porch in natural light. Luckily I live in the south so winters aren't too bad for shooting outside but the lack of light does increase exposure times. Some wet plates can be as long as a minute exposure.
We all have a favourite piece of equipment which we always seem to reach for. What is your "go-to" bit of gear?
I really don't have a favorite piece of equipment. Each camera I use has a specific purpose and frankly if I could get what's in my head on a piece of paper without a camera, I'd be a happy guy.
Are there any photographers which you feel have influenced your style, or any photographers who you admire for their work?
I started out doing street photography and then got into doing documentaries early on for the likes of Discovery and the Smithsonian Institution, so the guys I looked at where W. Eugene Smith, his printing was incredible; and the Maysles brothers. Their style has been lost here in the states, but still very popular in Europe.
Do you have any advice for any photographer's out there who are wanting to get into alternative processes?
My advice for anybody wanting to do alternative processes is be prepared to get hooked and then spend the rest of your life breathing in those intoxicating images.
So, there is a very brief introduction to Gary Geboy and his work. I strongly urge you all to take some time to absorb the superb imagery on his website and Flickr page (links below). Hopefully it will inspire you to go forth and create.