Brad Boca at Candela Fine Art has been doing beautiful drum scans of the still life work I shot during the summer months when it’s too hot to print (with the temperatures soaring into the mid-nineties in the platinum palladium room). Here’s a sample. I work on a combination of instant film and color transparency. The instant film is for proofing the composition and lighting. The color transparency is for the “final” image and is the medium that gets drum-scanned.
Fuji’s instant film is gorgeous; I’ve shot with it often enough before, but never to do still life. The trick to getting consistent results on instant film is to swab the polaroid back rollers with alcohol before loading each new pack. (The parcheesi men here were stowaways in a vase I found at Urban Ore, Berkeley’s greatest recycle and reuse store—aka junk shop.)
It’s almost time to eat the pears… I had dinner last night with my painter friend, Tim Rice, and two of his friends — one an actor and the other a collector. The conversation was lively — we’d just been to an opening, and talk was about changes to the gallery world (the magaritas helped buoy the mood, in spite of the subject). This morning when I got to the studio, Lisa, the collector, had left a bag of Asian pears on the stoop. I must have told her that my Boscs were nearing their end.
Tomorrow, maybe another run to the junk shop. There was a brass candlestick I wish I’d gotten last time.
More postings on the Caprichos soon, too. The hand lettering is coming along, slowly but surely.
Turning to the world inside the studio at the moment — and there’s a lot going here. I’ve submitted a portfolio of the Ohio Woods work to Photolucida’s 2014 Critical Mass. This is my first time doing it, so I’m not sure what to expect or how fruitful it’ll be. Meanwhile, the Caprichos are undergoing intensive changes and each one requires hours of focused work. Sometimes I need a change of pace — so I’ve been doing some still life. It sounds easy, or at least easier, than many types of photography, but it in fact it’s a mysterious and exacting discipline. I’ve been an admirer of Jan Groover’s work for some time, and still remember a Morandi show at SF’s Paul Thiebaud Gallery that I saw years ago. I’d always meant to set aside the time to work at it.
We’ve got a great junk shop here in Berkeley — Urban Ore; it’s where I bought the trunk this group is sitting on. It’s not too heavy (the trunk), and I can move it around the studio, following the light. One thing I’ve learned the hard way: every object has to contribute vitality to the picture.
One printing project has come to an end (a digital restoration and palladium copy print of a portrait (ca. 1913) by Gertrude Käsebier, and now I’m planning the next few weeks’ worth of printing. I’ll be working on Caprichos, of course, and also some new still lifes — this is one.
New work for Los Caprichos: after Goya: the caption can be translated as “so many followers”. The original Caprichos contain a number of images that show dubious authority figures and their fulsome adherents, either emphasizing the blind slavishness of the latter or the fatuous pretensions of the former:
Here I give you a contemporary riff on that theme.
The first post in a long while: I’ve been working intensively on the Caprichos. The lettering has been the hardest part: my aim has always been a simulacrum of the 18th-century round hand script used by the master calligrapher(s) who inscribed Goya’s legends. (For a sample of the elegant fluidity of the original, click here.) When I first encountered Goya’s plates years ago, I naively assumed that he’d written the legends himself, on each of the images. Subsequently, I realized that would have been impossible: he produced thousands of individual Caprichos during the brief period of their production, and hand-lettering them all would have been staggeringly difficult for all the reasons I’ve already encountered: you simply can’t afford to make mistakes! Last year, I had the chance to inspect one of the British Museum’s bound presentation albums, prepared by Goya for a patron/friend. With the chance to hold it in my hands and eyeball it in a raking light, I could see clearly that the lettering was part of the plate, something Robert Hughes also notes in his study Goya (New York: Knopf, 2003), but which I’d somehow overlooked in my reading. So that explained a few things—yet knowing this didn’t diminish my admiration for the skill of the calligrapher; in fact, it increased it, because I can’t imagine how it was done (drypoint directly on the plates?).
Meanwhile, I’ve been writing my legends out by hand (this is the laborious, somewhat nerve-wracking part) and then scanning them so they can become part of the negative, which is ultimately printed in platinum-palladium. The one you see above is a recent one. The translation in English would be “every man for himself”.
Note: in “Goya’s Caprichos” (Print Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 2, June 1993, 187–189), Janis Tomlinson questions Juliet Wilson-Bareau’s position that Goya was responsible for making the captions to the Caprichos. The fact is that the orthography is varied—and this has always made me wonder about the calligraphic aspect of production. Tomlinson also emphasises how little we know about the origins of the project: “Despite the seeming familiarity of Los Caprichos, our knowledge about the series if very limited. […] [W]e in fact know very little about the artist’s motives or intended audience.” What we do know is that it was the first of Goya’s works to be offered for sale to the general public, and that it was a financial disaster.
The latest in a collection of platinum palladium prints in homage to Goya’s great eighteenth-century album Los Caprichos (1799). In Caprichos 23 and 24, we see victims of the Inquisition’s authority being subjected to the humiliation of the autillo, the privately conducted eighteenth-century version of the spectacular medieval ritual of the auto de fe, in which the accused stood trial in a public square. In her readings of Goya’s Inquisition drawings (see Goya and the Spirit of Englightenment, Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1989, pp. 217–236), Eleanor Sayre writes that in the artist’s day the Inquisition was no longer the scourge it once was, and that many of its judgements on matters of dissent (religious or political) were pro forma, involving settlements in private or penalties of “spiritual penance”.
Yet in popular memory, Sayre notes, the fear of the Santo Oficio de la Inquisición was vivid, its secrecy notorious — and in intellectual reform circles, questions about the proper limits of its authority warranted continued argument, particularly during the Constitutional debates of 1810–1812. In the condensed visual language of the Caprichos, the Inquisition symbolized the abuse of power and the hypocrisy that fueled its excess. Goya’s focus is clear: the deliberate psychological destruction wreaked by corrupt zeal.
The legend for this image can be translated as: We want to ask you a few questions.
I decided to go to Denver for the “One by One” show at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center—by train. I like the feeling of moving through the landscape (as opposed to rocketing through the air); there are fewer things that have to go right to prevent violent death, and the mechanical failures of trains—though legion—are generally harmless, though like as not they will cause delays. There is also the leitmotif of the “smoking stop”—the conductors may be the last officials in the travel business who take into account the fact of addiction; accordingly, there are stops along the way of more or less a cigarette’s duration. Then the whistle blows and the chuffing progress resumes—and no remorse for any left behind. We’re reminded at each approach that once the train departs, it doesn’t stop for anyone.
But I know this isn’t strictly true.
I once witnessed a woman stop the train at Grand Junction—with great presence of mind. She had had a smoke on the platform and wandered off, unconcerned. When she saw the train pulling away, she didn’t panic. She hoofed it into the station, assumed her best “frantic mother” demeanor and told the station master her baby was on board that train. She was thoroughly convincing, and hopped neatly back into her car (one ahead of mine), with a little kick of her heels. She was the talk of the train.
Of course, there was no baby…
Anyway, I’m glad I went. Rupert Jenkins, Paul Sisson and the staff at CPAC made good order and a handsome display out of the bewildering variety of pictures on view, and Eric Paddock very sensibly addressed this in his opening remarks where he stressed that photography is no longer one kind of practice, and no single medium. It’s many things. I kept thinking of David Hockney’s lament that the “chemistry” of photography had replaced the “hand” of the artist (in the sense of drawing or painting), but even this pronouncement seems now almost quaintly out of step. Photography is strapped to the atom, the electron: its essence is speed. We can barely keep up.