Platinum-palladium prints from Los Caprichos: after Goya, an artist’s book inspired by an eighteenth-century masterpiece of the same name: Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes’ album of eighty satirical aquatints, published in 1799.
Los Caprichos means literally: whims. The images are photographed from video source and printed in platinum-palladium. In keeping with the original’s mordant and pun-laden commentary, each of the images is printed with a caption — in Spanish.
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 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.
The Caprichos project has been an abiding interest, and recently I started exploring exhibition possibilities — for a collection of, say, 20 prints. This has involved looking into grants, competitions and the like, and as anyone who’s ever done this sort of thing knows, you can spend a lot of money in pursuit of an oasis of opportunity. So you have to be choosy. I did see something that caught my eye not long ago, and it meant I had to sum up the project in a few paragraphs — the dread artist’s statement. Here’s what I wrote:
Los Caprichos: after Goya is an artist’s book of 80 platinum-palladium prints, based loosely on Francisco de Goya y Lucientes’ album of the same name from 1799.
I’ve been intrigued by the harrowing eccentricity of Goya’s aquatints since my student days, and in 2011, began to explore using their satirical impetus as a springboard into a photographic project. I was interested in how images from familiar sources could acquire an unexpected, dream-like potency when transformed and re-imagined in a new context, and the idea of composing an extended sequence — one, moreover, with a textual element — was strongly appealing.
My fascination with Goya’s work had to do with the way his cast of characters seem beset by the chaotic energies of a parallel nightmare world. The boundary between the sphere in which people conduct business as usual and the threatening nightmarish one is never terribly clear in the Caprichos; indeed, the implication seems to be that we, the viewer, are situated in both.
To imagine the ordinary as a version of nightmare (and vice versa) became a central concern in the photographs. My subject matter is varied, like Goya’s, and is rooted ostensibly in the social realm, drawn from the ballooning, online repositories of digital video. I photograph stills from moving footage on a computer screen, shooting with a deliberately slow shutter speed. This way I can efface details and trigger tonal distortions, and so distill visual ideas into their graphic essentials. Though the resulting images are distinctly contemporary, I suspect the dreamer in Goya’s best-known print, “El sueño de la razón produce monstruos”, would recognize their unsettling phantasmagoria.
Like aquatint, platinum printing — my medium of choice — can convey the velvety depths of an engulfing darkness. I use it because I wanted to let the nocturnal desolation that seemed to lie at the heart of Goya’s prints come flooding into my prints as well. Platinum has the advantage that it allows me to work directly on paper — that is, without any resin or gelatin substrate, which tends to smooth out appearances.
Goya’s voice in the Caprichos is unmistakable: by turns cryptic, mordant, and darkly funny. He included captions, engraved directly onto the plates, which were printed as part of the image — a device adopted in making my photographic negatives. In some instances, I’ve preserved his captions verbatim; in others, I’ve written new ones. The legends, and the language, are, in effect, a mask: a way to speak in a transformed voice, one that’s not merely my own.
I’m back to the Caprichos (based loosely on Goya’s album of the same name), after taking some time off to do a solo show (Ohio Woods) in San Francisco last fall. The website has been updated: there’s been a lot of editing going on behind the scenes and — slowly — I’ve been adding legends (captions) to the images. For those who don’t know Goya’s work (of 1799), you can see the full set of 80 prints online here. The prints were an experimental series of aquatint etchings that ranged in tone from satiric to grotesque, and which cast a jaundiced eye on late eighteenth-century Madrid. Goya’s paintings and prints (including work from other series like Los Desastres de la Guerra) have inspired artists as varied as Édouard Manet, Pablo Picasso, the Chapman brothers, Enrique Chagoya, and William Kentridge.The legend above translates as “unexpected kiss”.
In addition to Ohio Woods, the body of slow-shutter work I’ll be showing at the Arterra Gallery in SF in November, some of my still lifes will also be on view—including this platinum palladium print (above). Please come join me at the opening reception on November 7, 6–8pm, at the Arterra Gallery, 300 Berry Street, San Francisco.
A print from “Ohio Woods”, on view at at the Arterra Gallery, 300 Berry Street, San Francisco, starting November 4.
One of the prints that’ll be on view at the Arterra Gallery, 300 Berry Street, San Francisco, starting November 4. Click here to download a press release.
Platinum palladium print, 11 x 8.25″ (image size) on Arches Platine. Amsterdam was teeming with party-goers on Queen’s Day, because it was also the day of the investiture of the new king. Party boats with between 10–25 people each, rigged out in orange, were making slow, clamorous progress around the city, churning up the quieter backwaters, making the old bricks quiver. The folks on board waved ecstatically to those of us on shore. Along the margins, the reflections of the branches undulating in the water grew frenetic and loopy — the surface was pulsating in mesmerizing, wildly shifting patterns: A thousand different images every minute. I pointed my lens downward.