I/Eye: On Photography

From “Los Caprichos: after Goya”: O te hundes o sales a flote (“Sink or swim”)

Posted in Los Caprichos, Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on June 3, 2017
"O te hundes o sales a flote" ("Sink or swim"), from "Los Caprichos: after Goya"

“O te hundes o sales a flote” (“Sink or swim”), from the series of platinum palladium prints Los Caprichos: after Goya.

 

In late 2017, my first complete set of Caprichos will become part of the collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. This means they will live under the same roof as a set of Goya’s eighteenth-century originals. This would have seemed like a guarantee of permanence (and a flattering proximity) even a decade ago. But libraries are fragile things; they burn, they’re looted, they’re lost in political chaos.

Today is the day after  President Trump announced the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, which many governments labored to construct under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

An analysis of the political and legal repercussions for His Highness (and us) of His Highness’ Colossal Climate Tantrum can be read at the LawFare blog, in a post by David Wirth. Take what heart from it you can.

Aprenda a tragar (“Learn to swallow” from Los Caprichos)

Posted in Los Caprichos by Sheila Newbery on October 1, 2014
"Learn to swallow" (from *Los Caprichos*, platinum palladium print, 2014) by Sheila Newbery

“Learn to swallow” (from *Los Caprichos*, platinum palladium print, 2014) by Sheila Newbery

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.

Los Caprichos: Tantos adeptos

Posted in Los Caprichos, Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on July 28, 2014
"Tantos adeptos", from *Los Caprichos: after Goya* (platinum palladium, 2014)

“Tantos adeptos”, from *Los Caprichos: after Goya* (platinum palladium, 2014)

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.

Los Caprichos: Buen viaje!

Posted in Los Caprichos by Sheila Newbery on March 23, 2014
From *Los Caprichos: after Goya*, “Buen viaje!”, platinum palladium print, 2013, by Sheila Newbery

From *Los Caprichos: after Goya*, “Buen viaje!”, platinum palladium print, 2013, by Sheila Newbery

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.

Beso inesperado

Posted in Los Caprichos by Sheila Newbery on March 3, 2014
"Beso inesperado" from *Los Caprichos: after Goya* (platinum palladium prints)

“Beso inesperado” from *Los Caprichos: after Goya* (platinum palladium prints)

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”.

Getting ready for November

Posted in News, Still life, Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on October 24, 2013
Bosc (platinum palladium print, 2013) © Sheila Newbery

Bosc (platinum palladium print, 2013) © Sheila Newbery

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.

Ohio Woods

Posted in News by Sheila Newbery on October 7, 2013
Ohio, 2013 (platinum palladium print) © Sheila Newbery

Ohio, 2013 (platinum palladium print) © Sheila Newbery

A print from “Ohio Woods”, on view at at the Arterra Gallery, 300 Berry Street, San Francisco, starting November 4.

Ohio Woods

Posted in News by Sheila Newbery on September 23, 2013
Ohio, 2013 (platinum palladium print) © Sheila Newbery

Ohio, 2013 (platinum palladium print) © Sheila Newbery

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.

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Snow storm, Ohio

Posted in Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on September 12, 2013
New Year, Ohio (2013) © Sheila Newbery (platinum palladium on Arches Platine).

New Year, Ohio (2013) © Sheila Newbery (platinum palladium on Arches Platine).

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Queen’s Day in Amsterdam (tree reflections)

Posted in Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on May 15, 2013
Tree branches (Amsterdam, 2013) © Sheila Newbery

Tree branches (Amsterdam, 2013) © Sheila Newbery

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.

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