Artist Talk – 2 pm, Saturday April 15 at Track 29 Gallery in Minneapolis. In conversation with curator Jan Elftmann, I will discuss the evolution of the project, and the role of types in my approach to portraiture.
As Uprooted progressed, I needed a framework to guide my choice of subjects, so I turned to the method of typology. Archetypes are universal patterns in human nature that often appear in literature and psychology. I decided to photograph every role in the town, including different occupations and socioeconomic classes. The butcher at the local grocery store is an interesting archetype, his profession has an ancient connection to our hunter-gatherer ancestors as well as a link to current-day societies around the globe. It reminded me of when I was photographing in Tuscany and a local butcher told me his family had been in the profession for over 400 years! That tradition and connection to identity is entrenched in Italy’s culture, which parallels and contrasts with the Belmond butcher.
In my portraits, I almost always use flash to build on the light existing in a scene, to direct the viewer's eye around an image and create a hierarchy of information about the subject. Even outdoors, the addition of lighting can make a difference in the way an image communicates. In some situations there are crowded backgrounds to consider. That was definitely the case when I photographed scrap metal workers in their warehouse as it was a jumble of machinery and metal: Engine parts commingled with construction debris and disused farm implements. Here the flash highlights the subject, Joe (and the circuit boards to his right), bringing them out of the chaotic background. The use of lighting to help organize information in the frame is an important part of my process in creating environmental portraits.
I describe an environmental portrait as a photograph that reveals something to us about the essence of the subject through their surroundings (you could even call it their habitat). For example, Herb, Retired Farmer gives a peek into the life of a 95-year-old resident of the Belmond retirement community. He’s a widower who does his own healthy cooking—notice the sweet potato on the counter. I often think of the kitchen as the heart of the home, intimate in its own way. His living space is a little institutional, but it has Herb's personal touches. One thing that stood out to me was his traditional work shirt and jeans. Through these elements the photograph shows that he is old school, but has adapted to where he is in life. Thanks to environmental portraiture, the viewer learns about who the person is and what’s important to them. When making decisions about how to frame a photograph, I spend some time observing how a person interacts with their space in order to convey them in a way that reflects to me who they are.
Join me for a public opening celebration of Uprooted from 5 - 9 pm. at Track 29 Gallery , 2841 Bryant Ave South, Minneapolis, MN 55408 . Regular gallery hours are noon - 6 pm daily. Uprooted is on view through the month of May, 2017.