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“The way that I remember things”: An Interview with Photographer Matthew Terrell

"You're a Mess," Matthew Terrell (2016), 12 x 31, archival ink on duratrans polyester film

“You’re a Mess,” Matthew Terrell (2016), 12 x 31, archival ink on duratrans polyester film

The Atlanta- and San Francisco-based photographer and writer Matthew Terrell currently has his sensual second show, “The Exquisite Corpse of Film Photography,” featured in Whitespec. I sat down with Terrell on a windy Saturday in mid-November to speak about double exposure, memory, and Surrealism—a conversation frequently interrupted by our fascination with the autumn light and shadow moving across the gallery floor.

—Whitespace intern Nathan Blansett

Nathan Blansett: Your current installation, which is in Whitespec, is a series of photographic works. How did you arrive at the formal process specific to this work? Could you name that process and talk about what it involves?

Matthew Terrell: Well, I’ve never really had a nice digital camera, like the Canon and the Nikon, the big ones that everybody uses these days. I’ve always had a Pentax K1000, which I’ve had since high school. So I’ve been shooting film for a very long time and I’ve been keeping it up.

Probably about 2012, something went wrong with the winding mechanism of my camera, and it wasn’t winding the film back all the way, so it was causing some of the images to be double exposed on each other. And I really liked the way that looked—it was such a surprise, and I thought the images were just so dynamic and so interesting that I decided to recreate it myself. And at the time I also really wanted to take a lot of pictures but couldn’t really afford to use up a lot of film, and so if you double expose film, it’s a way to take twice as many pictures [laughs] and only pay for one roll of film, which is a really silly thing to think about, but it lets me take more pictures. So it really just developed as a fun practice, a way for me to develop my skills.

I really think about just what is the most beautiful thing that I can take a picture of. How can I frame it, crop it, light it, in order to bring it to its…whatever it is. Whether it’s a fire hydrant or a Corvette or a Schnauzer—how can I take the most perfect picture of it, knowing that it’s going to get double exposed over, so I don’t really know what it’s going to look like […] and that’s freeing. It allows for some play and some fun and I’ve kept it up ever since.

I think what’s really fun about it—what you see in this show—is that they end up basically being long strips of continuously double exposed images. So I get to scan those long strips and print them like that, which is really interesting. […] You don’t see a lot of that.

NB: How do you think that complements the thematic aspects of work?

MT: I think that it’s really interesting to see it the way it’s printed, because I’ve got it with the frame breaks, I’ve got it with the sprocket holes and it’s got numbers on it, so it almost looks like a movie reel. I call them little cinematic stories. It shows the process because you’re really seeing my progression, usually on foot, through an area as I’m exploring a subject—whether it’s like the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco or if I’m just spending an afternoon with my friend Brigitte Bidet. You get to see all those sorts of things that I see through my lens as I progress through it because it really doesn’t matter the order in which I see it, because you see it in the order on the strips of film. But then you see two different moments exposed over each other. I would almost compare it to, like, you’re going on vacation, and you have these memories of, “I did these series of things in one afternoon and I did these other series of things in one afternoon,” but everything kind of starts to blend together in your memory.

NB: Yeah, memory is not that linear.

MT: Yeah, it’s linear and not linear at the same time. It’s reflective of the way that I kind of remember things. Both series and things start to blur together. So that’s a reflection of what’s going on inside my mind as well. With these images here […] sometimes I’ll add color lenses or prism lenses to my camera, but I didn’t in this show. These are all pretty straightforward. The composites that you see, they are taken directly from the strips of film. I’m not going into Photoshop and laying them over. Pretty much it’s just scanning them and doing a little color correction, and then sending them to the printer.

NB: I’m curious as to who your direct influences are—not just for this work, but as an artist, who you’re turning to, who you think is informing your work and your process?

MT: Definitely Arthur Tress. He’s actually a friend of mine, and I was actually with him when I was shooting some of these photos. He is what I would call a “surrealist documentary street photographer.” He had actually encouraged me to print the work like this and have a show like this, with the long strips of film, with the sprocket holes and everything. So he’s definitely my first influence. When you look at Arthur Tress’ work, there’s definitely a surreal undertone to it. He’s got a very surreal photographic eye.

And Keith Haring—he’s just a really awesome artist. I don’t know thematically or technically what kind of an influence he has on me, but whenever I see a Keith Haring piece of art, I’ll photograph it, and there’s actually two separate pieces in [“The Exquisite Corpse of Film Photography”] that have Keith Haring objects in them. One’s got the Keith Haring altarpiece from Grace Cathedral, and another is Dancing Figures, which was in front of the de Young in San Francisco.

Duane Michals, for sure. He came actually for Atlanta Celebrates Photography, and I regret not getting tickets. But he’s definitely a photographer that I look at because he actually has series of images that tell a story, like four images in a set that tell a story. And I think about that sometimes when I’m choosing images—how does the progression of what I show tell a story somehow?

NB: How would you see your work, not just this project but your work as a whole, engaging with a particular tradition in visual art, not just photography, perhaps a queer tradition or an aesthetic one?

MT: You know I think I’m definitely a Surrealist. Surrealism is not taught right now, but it comes and goes in waves every once and awhile. I think we’re actually kind of due for a new wave of Surrealism. I feel like with photography right now, it’s what I call “hyperrealistic documentary photography”—it’s very political, very theoretical, very theme-driven. But what I’m interested in with Surrealist photography, it’s really about the process, it’s really about the aesthetics of it; making, for me, something that’s just beautiful to look at, something that’s interesting to look at. When you look at a Surrealist work, it’s really interesting because you can look at it time and time again and see something new every single time. That’s something that I want in my own work. I will walk by the photos and notice little details that I have never noticed before. I find that a very interesting quality for artwork. I find it something that makes me want to enjoy it and produce work like that more.

Definitely, I look back more towards older photographers. Both Duane Michals and Arthur Tress are queer photographers from the ‘60s and ‘70s who did black and white and traditional photography. So I think there’s definitely some queer and classic influences in there.

I’m very interested in the artisanal archival analogue processes, simply because they’re just different—and this is a silly thing to say, but even though you know it’s really expensive for me to do it, when I pay to have [the work] developed, I get prints back. So I have prints of everything I’ve done. And I know a lot of photographers who have fancy digital cameras and they don’t have a single print. I’ve got scrapbooks, thirty scrapbooks on my shelves of photos, and boxes and boxes of prints. It’s really important for me to actually have the item, for the item to exist not just digitally, not just on my computer, but in some sort of real world context.

NB: Absolutely—it’s an object, not just a file.

MT: Yeah. I’ve always been someone who very much values giving people prints. Usually at the end of every year, I do this huge project where I will go through all my photos from that year and pull out the ones that I want to give to people. I have, like, all these giant piles, “Camille” and “Ted” and “Jason.” I go through hundreds of photos and sort them out and I’ll sign them all on the back, and I really try and label them all on the back as well. So I’ll say when it was taken, what it is, where it is. That’s usually my Christmas gift for the year. That’s another reason that I do film-based photography, because I get to do that.

I’m always really surprised by the different things people pick up on, the different things people are drawn to. Different people like the words “Hot Cookie,” different people like some sections that are more formalistic, they’ve got ferns and fountains on them, they have very strong lines. Some people really like that because it’s more graphical. Some people like the more soft elements, like the candles. I think that part of the fun of the process is that I sort of get to allow graphic elements and soft elements, things of design and things of color and shape, all these things that—you know, if I was just what I would call a “straight photographer,” just regular photography, you might not get to play with all those different elements in one. But in this case, in these photos, you can have all of them, all the different elements. So there’s something for everybody. That’s something I like—something for everybody and you can constantly look at it and find something new. That’s really fun.

Matthew Terrell’s “The Exquisite Corpse of Film Photography” is at Whitespec through Saturday, November 26.

Run Rampant by Laura Bell | whitespace gallery, October 21 – November 26

13_rutstag
How appropriate that autumn is the season in which Laura Bell’s new exhibition, Run Rampant, appears at Whitespace. The evening of its opening, white-dark rabbit feet in a ceramic bowl were given like amulets to the partygoers, and as dusk passed into night, the wind outside chilled and dried. The weather’s tone was both strange and elegant—perfectly matching the work being studied.

Run Rampant, an artistic realignment for Bell, is an impressive, multimedia tableau vivant. Its diction is foremost Victorian, though invaded. One enters the gallery and, on the right wall, sees two intensely intricate pen and ink drawings of a stag and a boar. On the left, seven framed portraits of mammalian decay—the paper cut with an x-acto knife, then pinned behind glass. These initial works are hung against walls of dark mauve like insects pinned to felt.

The back wall is centered by the taxidermied bust of a deer. A sleek dark mask slipped over its face—with slits for eyes—is erotic in its evocation of BDSM, and is strikingly dotted with off-white pearls. A mobile of rustic ornaments hang from the bust’s antlers.

In the second room of the gallery, Bell has installed lavender wallpaper. In a design reminiscent of steampunk, the single faces of opossums, pigeons, rats, wolves, and rabbits emerge through illusionistic frames crenellated with beetles, buds of flowers and tufts of grass, and pulsing cicadas and butterflies.

The exhibition has a marked interest in taxonomy and classification. Beneath the deer bust, a marble shelf protrudes from the wall, and on its surface one sees an egg with a round lacuna in its shell, which reveals a decorative figuration of an owl inside—this whole scene protected beneath a glass bell jar flanked with two animal skulls. These details that ornament the exhibition have the astute role of converting the gallery space into its own realm, a separate one, just as the animal world is, layered with its own secrets and rituals. Bell’s work, too, has secrets. A second viewing is almost imperative to capture pieces in their fullness of detail.

These are just some of the exhibition’s highlights, or at least the installations that are most prominent. While the project’s assemblage may behold the distance between our natures and others, never does Bell’s work feel emotionally detached from us. Its energy is palpable and amorous, like a dark European fairy tale. But there is something about the intenseness of the project’s cataloguing and observations (note the exquisiteness of the stag’s hair, quill-like) that also communicates fear. But I believe I am registering the ramifications of Bell’s study. To view her prickly work is to confront the possibility of a realm completely ungoverned by us, by our truths, even our hands.

Hieronymus Bosch in the 21st Century

The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, c. 1495–1505, attributed to Bosch.

Hieronymus Bosch was an Early Netherlandish painter whose work is well known for its religious imagery, fantastical illustrations and attention to detail. Little is known about his life and his paintings are difficult to interpret, resulting in a deep fascination of art historians surrounding his work. On the 500th anniversary of his death, whitespace has taken the enigma surrounding Bosch’s life and opened it up for interpretation.

As the show comes to a close, we would like to reflect on the experimentation, spontaneity, and prank-like qualities of this latest exhibition in order to pay true homage to one of the most gifted, yet mysterious, painters of the fifteenth century. The participating artists did not fail. With little curatorial guidance and free reign of medium and imagery, twenty-four artists presented a body of work as deeply multi-faceted, humorous, and, in the words of the show’s curator, Jerry Cullum, “weirdly impossible to interpret as Hieronymus Bosch.” An appropriate presentation to honor the fascination surrounding the artist to say the least.

As we reflect on this exhibition we can internalize the intersections between humor and seriousness, sexuality and religion, macabre and aesthetically pleasing. Bosch represents a series of paradoxes that somehow bled together in an all together stunning presentation of images, colors and details. With the talent of our participating artists on display this past month, Bosch in the 21st century has come to be a carnival of confounding ideas. Ideas that will stay with us as we continue to be puzzled as well as humored by Bosch and look forward to art as an experience of both.

Fall and Folds

Vesna Pavlovic’s exhibition “Fall and Folds,” will delight contemporary art connoisseurs and art history students alike. Pavlovic’s work examines trends in art extending to the renaissance, through a contemporary lens. Her compelling appropriation of art history slides shows the works of many well-known and impressive artists reframed within the context of pedagogy.

tintoretto
PG TINTORETTO It Removal of the Body of Saint Mark, 1562-66, 30 x 30 inches, endura metallic color print with metal stand, edition of 3

Perhaps the most striking objects of the exhibition are the curtains, which take on various tasks, reflecting the perpetually turning slide monitor, providing backdrop to works of art, and altering the light coming into the gallery; mirroring that of a dimmed art history classroom. Pavlovic’s slides also bring forth the vernacular of art historians with large black emblazoned letters detailing college campuses from whence the slides came, as well as details of their originals.

greekGREEK: ARCH: ATHENS GEN: ACR: PARTHENON: EPEDIMENT GODDESSES, 30 x 30 inches, endura metallic color print, edition of 3

This duality of presenting famous turn-of-the-century works of art through a didactic lens creates an oscillation between now and then, contemporary and antiquated, revolutionary and appropriated. Pavlovic’s work provides a new context for fundamental artistic studies, placing them as artifacts rendered contemporary. Bordered by diaphanous curtains, even the texture of the material projected upon becomes an augmentation of the antiquated. What is stands out most is that Pavlovic’s slides, enlarged and hung, are incorporated into the slide projector reel, flashing across a draped slightly transparent curtain of plastic. When one enters the gallery, they see the slides, enlarged and with their full and original texts, against the dimmed light created by the curtains and hear the click of the projector reel as it turns. Pavlovic’s art is double-edged in that regard, perpetuating notions of art history teachings in darkened lecture halls, as well as calling forth the use of detail, shadow and light in classical and early modern painting.

slide
Slide Cabinet, 30 x 38 inches, archival pigment print, edition of three

Pavlovic also photographs in detail images of the various colored dots used to signify certain information on a given slide, as well as the slides themselves. A choice that shortens the distance between images of slides as art and image of slides and images of slides. These details focus on that of the art history world and how items such as projector slides are preserved. On view until July 30th, stop by this week to see how whitespace has been transformed into a place of pedagogy: in which classical images are elevated to high contemporary art.

Eyes Open Slowly

This past weekend, Constance Thalken’s artist talk proved to be engaging, thoughtful and thorough as she explained her latest body of work, “Eyes Open Slowly.” The show consists of photographs of taxidermies mounted on archival print and framed; many of them appear to be almost three dimensional in their incredible detail. Thalken explained that she spent two years visiting the taxidermy shop where the images were captured. The shop provides taxidermy pieces for a nearby Longhorn restaurant and is often busy, running on a very disciplined schedule in order to complete the many tasks at hand. Thalken came to start photographing the animals at the location after she had taken a class to visit on a field trip. She said that after this initial excursion she knew she needed to go back. Something about the shop’s environment sparked her interest and creative eye. Thalken came to admire and appreciate the care the shop owners paid to the animals that came into the shop. As a result she formed a very close bond with the shop owners and the relationship that blossomed became key in her creation of the works.

When one listens to Thalken elaborate on a piece, it is easily discerned that respect is of the utmost importance for her as an artist. Her relationship with the shop owners serves to indicate the level of carefulness Thalken exemplifies when entering and visiting another’s space in order to photograph it. She is quite knowledgeable when it comes to taxidermy as well, describing for the audience some of the practices that go into the preservation of the animals.

But beyond the scientific details of the works, Thalken explains that the premise of “Eyes Open Slowly” stems in part from her intrinsic interest in animals in terms of the drives they share with humans, as well as her admiration for nature and its creatures. While she is interested in examining the preservation of the animals’ lives, her exploration of death, as a common destiny between all living things, is also key. Her works reference sacrifice, love and closeness while ultimately and simultaneously citing death. That is what is most interesting about Thalken’s show, there is an intimacy between viewer and photograph, one that forces an examination of beauty and fabrication, respect and admiration and yet, there is also an inherent reference to death: one that is almost inescapable when viewing her works.

Despite the morbidity of this reference to death, there is a kind of reverence to her work, not only in terms of the taxidermy practice, with its delicate treatment and preservation of the animals, but also in terms of Thalken’s photographic practices. Her photographs highlight the gentle manner in which the animals are treated and act as relics of the animals’ sacrifice found in death. The animals in her pieces are posed in noble positions and become subjects of admiration and wonder, in spite of the deaths that had to occur in order for them to exist in the taxidermy shop.

Ultimately, the pieces invite viewers to confront their own ideals about taxidermy and what it means to preserve the nature and life around us. The animals are reconstructed in ways that adhere to human needs. They are made to look soft or regal, and yet the works are embedded with death; an aspect that forces the viewer to also come into contact with ideals about mortality and what it means to be alive. This oscillation between life and death, respect and sacrifice and finally the process of preservation, is what allows Thalken’s pieces to achieve their power. The viewer is placed in a position to appreciate, the animals and their sacrifices and also deeply contemplate, on a spiritual and transformative level, what it means to observe death, loss, life and conservation.

Written by: Hilleary Gramling

Whitespace Reflections

Today is my last day interning for whitespace and as I sit in the gallery surrounded by Matt Haffner’s work I find great appreciation in the wide range of art I have been introduced to over the past few months.  I first encountered whitespace this past January when Beth Lilly’s photographs were on display.  The opportunity to attend Lilly’s artist talk and speak with her individually broadened my understanding of photography.  The following exhibit, Build a Fire by Pete Schulte, spoke to my interest in architecture and design.  Schulte intended for each work displayed to function as a complement to whitespace’s structure and interior.  PATH by Nicole Livieratos, currently on display in whitespec, has opened up the world of installation art to me.  Livieratos, inspired by dance, has created a space that engages visitors with text and motion.  After spending time with such a variety of exhibits, I feel confident about confronting a form of art I am less familiar with.

Reflecting on the shows and artists I have encountered over the past few months emphasizes the amazing quality and breadth of work that whitespace displays.  It was an incredible experience to survey each show on my own and then have the opportunity to pick each artist’s brain.  I found myself beginning conversations with artists with a lot of very specific questions about the purpose and meaning of every little detail of their work.  Over the course of many conversations I began to understand that while these artists do have specific inspirations and intentions there is not necessarily a right or wrong interpretation of each work.  Whitespace is meant to facilitate discussion about the art on display in order for individuals to come to their own unique conclusions.

Coming to this understanding about whitespace leaves me with an enhanced curiosity for all forms of art.  As I wrap up my internship with whitespace, I am preparing to begin architecture school.  I think my time at whitespace has served as a nice transitional period between my undergraduate liberal arts experience to a more focused, design-intensive graduate program.  My experiences at whitespace give me confidence that I will be able to engage with any form of art or design I encounter in my future endeavors.

 

Thank you whitespace!

–Margaret Gregg

Photo Courtesy of Erin Branch

The Old Gods and Their Crumbling City

Matt Haffner’s eccentric new show drew a big crowd to the whitespace opening reception of The Old Gods and Their Crumbling City.  The warm night created the perfect atmosphere for families and friends to gather around the grounds outside whitespace and enjoy food and drinks.  Some of Haffner’s black aluminum crows were even able to join the outside crowd since they are exhibited on the exterior patio outside whitespace.  The exterior crows create instantaneous intrigue for anyone who notices their presence.  The gatherings of crows cluster outside one of the large window walls and seamlessly continue to the other side of the glass inside the gallery space.  Each crow is unique: some seem enthralled by a specimen on the ground while others are frozen in the midst of what should be a wild motion.  Ultimately, these sixty-two crows have chosen their gathering space because of its close proximity to “The Banshee and Her Conspiracy”, a large painted plywood installation of a reclining nude that takes over an entire wall in the gallery.  The sight in its entirety is mesmerizing, disorienting but also strangely logical.  The placement of the crows and their relationship with the wall installation make sense and the viewer is pulled into the scene.

Both large glass doors were left open on Friday night so visitors could wander from outdoors into either room of whitespace.  If the clustering crows did not entice you to enter the Carriage Room, then the massive portrait covered with crawling cockroaches was enough to draw you into the Stable Room.  Entitled “Cockroach Shepherd”, this large plywood wall installation depicts a rather serious man with large black paper cockroaches crawling up his shoulders and onto his face.  Some cockroaches have fallen from the installation wall and lay haphazardly along the gallery floor.

Adjacent to “Cockroach Shepard”, visitors will encounter the aluminum silhouettes of three large black dogs.  These figures have a confident stature and seem to survey the gallery space from their installation spot.

Haffner intends for the crows, cockroaches, and dogs to act as three main characters in his exhibition.  These animals embody important characteristics of deities from mythology and oral narratives that drive the inspiration of the show:  crows can be equated to the messengers, guides, and watchmen of the world, cockroaches suggest everlasting life, and dogs are considered guardians.

In addition to presenting these three characters, The Old Gods and Their Crumbling City also aims to incorporate salvaged urban materials in mixed-media works.  Haffner has strategically spray painted the surfaces of scavenged signs, panels, and rusted steel to create various compositions found in an urban environment.  The large wall installations, individualized crows and cockroaches, and engaging compositions displayed have left whitespace buzzing with activity.

 

Written by: Margaret Gregg

Photo Courtesy of: Erin Branch