Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Reception and Presentation March 10 @ 3pm

Show Dates:  February 24 - March 21, 2014
Gallery Open: Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm
1000 River Road, Teaneck, NJ
Fairleigh Dickinson University

The text below was written (quickly) for the benefit of all the students who will visit the show:

The images in this show were taken on a self-supported trip through the Grand Canyon from December 19, 2010 through January 2, 2011.  We launched at Lee’s Ferry, AZ and travelled 225 miles along the Colorado River, camping on sand bars and rock ledges every night.  The 10 person team consisted of 6 women and 4 men, paddling 3 rafts and 6 kayaks.  All supplies had to be carried with us, since the only contact with the modern world would be via helicopter (and only in case of emergency, IF we could get a satellite signal from deep within the canyon). 

Nights were cold, but most days saw temperatures in the mid 40’s.  We paddled fast in the long shadows cast by canyon walls, and lazily floated through the section where sun hit the water.  With three rafts, we had plenty of food and hot water for tea and cocoa.  Still, I caught a bad cold for a few days, and one friend endured the final week of the trip with a broken ankle.  Group dynamics plays a very important role in wilderness trips, and we were lucky to have a group that got along well, allowing for open communication and good decision-making.

The prints were developed over the course of the next two years, right here at Fairleigh Dickinson University.  The polymer photogravure process used to create the final images is difficult and takes a lot of time.  It is a process in which a full sized image must be printed on a transparency, allowed to dry, then placed against a photo-sensitive polymer plate to be exposed to ultraviolet light.   After being exposed, the plate is washed with water.  The parts of the plate that were not exposed to UV light are carried away with the water, while the parts that were cured by the ultraviolet light remain.  This happens on a very small scale to create a photographic image.  Take a close look at the final prints.  You will see a series of small dots that make the image.

The exposed and cured polymer plate is inked with traditional intaglio printmaking ink.  The ink is pushed into the recessed areas of the plate, and the excess ink is wiped from the surface.  Varying depths will have more or less ink, creating lighter or darker dots with that ink.  The inked plate is placed on an etching press.  A piece of damp cotton printmaking paper is placed on top of the plate.  Blankets are put over the plate and paper, and everything is run through the etching press, smashing the paper onto the plate with high pressure.  The damp paper picks up ink from the plate and the image is transferred from plate to paper, making the final image that you see hanging in this show. 

The choice to use the photogravure printing method for these images is a way to draw parallels between the process of making the final prints and the process of preparing and going on the trip through the Grand Canyon.  

The easiest parallel to draw is the 19th century spirit of exploration of the American West during a time when photography was a new art form.  During that time, the most reliable means of photographic reproduction (for mass distribution) was photogravure, using copper plates.  Intaglio printmaking methods were well-established (for several hundred years), and many skilled craftsman existed who could make good intaglio prints for photographers.  The process was difficult, but the resulting prints have a quality that was not yet matched by many other means of photographic reproduction.  (Some photographers were making very nice prints in the wet darkroom, but the art form was new enough that only a handful of people were highly skilled.  Also, the archival stability of the new technology called photography was not yet known in the 19th century, so many artists turned to the centuries tested intaglio printing technique to make reproductions of their photographs). 

The second reason I chose to reproduce these images as photogravures was to make a connection between the difficulty of a 16 day wilderness trip along the Colorado River and the difficulty of making photogravure plates and making the final prints.  Both experiences required eclectic sets of skills that demanded careful balancing of many odd constraints while finding a mental space that balances calm determination to see the project to completion, fully knowing that conditions will most likely change every step of the way. 

The simplest parallel I wanted to make was the action of water etching a surface.  The water of the Colorado River carved the mile-deep Grand Canyon, choosing a path that cut through the softer strata and carried the sediment away, leaving behind high peaks of solid stone.  Water in the darkroom cut the soft polymer and carried the material off the plate, making pits and valleys that would hold ink, while leaving behind elevated relief areas where the polymer had been hardened by ultraviolet light. 

Because this project took so long to complete, and was so unique, word travelled within the whitewater/outdoor community.  I was invited, by a the kayak manufacturer Liquid Logic, on a second winter Grand Canyon trip that launched on January 1, 2013.  That trip did not have any rafts.  Each person’s gear, for the 12-day trip, had to fit inside their kayak.  Currently, I’m in the process of preparing those images for a second portfolio of photogravures.  If you want to see the project as it continues to evolve, feel free to check into the website on a regular basis. 


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