Critique Collective

Critique Collective is your source for information and interviews about emerging and established contemporary artists.

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David DiLillo’s Documentary Investigation of Nick Drake’s Hometown

David DiLillo’s multimedia artwork has been included in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Calumet Photographic, Anthology Film Archives, Museum of the City of New York, State of the Art Gallery in Ithaca, Bottleneck Gallery in Brooklyn, Art Takes Times Square, Liverpool Lift-Off Film Festival, on SICTV, and in a wide variety of other galleries, festivals, and publications. He also works as an art instructor and as the Co-Founder/Co-Director of Aquehonga Cinema, a Staten Island community film series. During his interview on Critique Collective, DiLillo illustrates his recent trek to Tanworth-in-Arden, where he documented the town that cult-music icon Nick Drake lived in. Further images of DiLillo’s artwork can be found on his website.

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire


Paul Weiner:
When did you originally find your interest in working as a multimedia artist?

David DiLillo:
The exact point in time is hard to pin down. I’ve been shooting photographs since middle school and drawing long before that. I’m immensely lucky and proud to come from a family of photographers and painters on both sides. They taught me that visual art is not only an important act of expression but also a form of preservation. I grew friendlier with a slew of diverse artists during my time in school and beyond who fiendishly got me involved in film production, sculpture, humor illustration, and other mediums. I love creative collaboration, but I also have an often-overwhelming amount of interests and passions, so I try to have my hands in many projects at once.

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Three Hours From London; Wilmcote Station, Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
Who is Nick Drake, and how has his music impacted you?

David DiLillo:
When a close friend first showed me Nick’s music years ago, I devoured it obsessively only to find myself continually rediscovering new layers up to this day. Nick Drake was born in 1948 in Burma and grew up in Tanworth-in-Arden, a small hamlet in Warwickshire, England. His music never gained the recognition or visibility he desired, and he was eventually stricken with depression. Nick mysteriously died from an antidepressant overdose at the age of 26.

You can read a lot about the details, either known or rumored, about his tragically short life, about how he didn’t quite fit into rigid British norms of the time. What speaks to me most is this: Nick had an almost mystical ability to communicate timeless meditations on love and nature, and I’m one of many who deeply relates to his thoughts and struggles. But I believe he was just trying to share his mind and heart with others in the best way he knew how. His music never gained the audience and response that it deserved, and he was eventually overcome with depression. His lyrics shifted between cryptic psalms and beautifully descriptive accounts, and his guitar style blended English folk, American blues, and even Eastern tonality later on. Nick’s fragile music and words of romance and universal connection have consistently given me new eyes to see myself and the world.

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
Do you consider your Three Hours from London series to be a documentary, narrative, or more conceptual sort of project?

David DiLillo:
The phrase Three Hours from London comes from one of Nick’s darker songs about escape. Interestingly enough, it took me about three hours by train to get to Tanworth-in-Arden from the English capital. When I stayed in the village, I solely listened to Nick’s music and shot without a strict objective in mind, which was a bit non-academic and liberating. I was writing, too, but the series is a very personal visual journal of sorts. It can act as a narrative if certain lyrics of Nick’s are paired with particular images, and it can act as a documentary piece about the town and surrounding areas. I shot in black and white to evoke the time in which Nick lived, though – to use another of Nick’s lyrics, a time of no reply. By visiting Nick’s final resting place, I had the chance to bridge the chasm of decades and feel like I was meeting him.

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
I like the idea of trying meet a dead artist and experience the town he lived in. When you were in Tanworth-in-Arden, did you meet and discuss Nick Drake with any of the locals or was this more of an immersive experience of everyday life in the village?

David DiLillo:
I spent a large amount of time hiking the area in solitude, unplugged from most technology and my common distractions. I attempted simply to observe and document what was around me – the shades of leaves in the afternoon, the sounds of children playing in the distance, the brushes of wind from the hills. My immersion seemed sacred, familiar, and rustic all at once. It reminded me of Nick’s songs of isolation. This wasn’t a negative feeling but more a type of connection with the graves and green pastures and people around me. In a strange and welcoming way, this demystified the idea of idolizing a musician whom I’ll never truly know and instead helped me to deepen my understanding of him as a young man who lived a vibrantly creative but far too short life.

I was also completely warmed by meeting and talking to those who lived and worked in town. They were brilliantly and immeasurably kind-hearted, open-minded people. Many patrons at the inn heard my accent and might have assumed that I had come to visit Nick Drake, the singer buried among their many other loved ones and friends. One day, in the cemetery, I met a man sitting on a bench close to me where his wife and he used to sit together. He was there in remembrance of the woman he’d spent most of his life with, and I felt as if I were remembering a man I’d never met. We spoke for a long while, and it was a bond I’ll always cherish.

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
Are there any particular songs that you used as inspiration?

David DiLillo:
Beyond “Three Hours,” the song “From The Morning” was especially resonant with me. It’s the final track on Nick’s third and last album released during his lifetime, ‘Pink Moon,’ and its lyrics are engraved as the stark epitaph on his tombstone: “Now we rise / And we are everywhere.” Nick’s music is poignantly spiritual, but there are recurring, naturalistic element and motifs without adherence to one single denomination of faith. I interpret this line as a beautiful and hopeful vision of the constantly cycling energy in this world, reborn again and again.

From a different angle, the song “One of These Things First” paints a very stark and grounded image of regret. It’s a perpetually fascinating song. As the litany of paths not taken and responsibilities unmet grows, Nick’s somber words float over brightly swung major chords and piano rolls. I view the piece as an admission and apology to those whom Nick might have neglected while still being an enlightened and wise acceptance of the choices he actually made. I sincerely relate and try to reach this awareness.

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Three Hours From London; Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
Were you at all surprised by what you saw in Tanworth-in-Arden?

David DiLillo:
I felt like I had been there before in an old dream. The English Midlands are not unlike the hillsides of eastern Pennsylvania, but the newness of the scents and sounds gave a unique and raw experience. The passing of time, or my perception of it, surprised me. The days seemed long but ethereal and illuminated. I was rendered stunned by the emotional impact that one individual artist’s work and life could have on me, and I was taken aback by a town not frozen in history on the countryside but, rather, breathing with lives and stories that come and go.

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Three Hours From London; Warwickshire

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Three Hours From London; Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
Was this series shot digitally or with a film process?

David DiLillo:
I shot with my father’s Canon AE-1 and used black and white film. I nearly forgot to request that the rolls be checked separately at the airport, an important reminder for all other picture makers and photo takers who still travel with film. I was also collecting digital video footage, but it was important for me to use an older process to shoot this project because of the investment of time and care required. There’s the inherent risk of not knowing the look of images taken until much later, but I put trust in my knowledge with the process and in whatever outcome I’d end up with.

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire

Paul Weiner:
Has your project with Nick Drake affected your way of thinking when creating new works? Did you learn anything about your own practice either technically or conceptually throughout this process?

David DiLillo:
Going into the project, I knew it would be important for me to present the area around Tanworth-in-Arden from an observer’s point of view. Since then, I’ve tried to take the many creative influences I have and make work that can be seen as a reinterpretation of inputs instead of representation and reflection. The isolation of the project and the trip also had its significance and place, but I think I’ve become more drawn to collaborative work in any medium; exchanging ideas with others has become invaluable to me. And I’m still learning to focus less on how a photograph, or any other creative pursuit or piece of art, might fit into the greater whole of an outlined project and more on how I can best genuinely express my own thoughts through art.

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Three Hours From London; Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire


Please view David DiLillo’s work on hiswebsite and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Sharon Holck’s Experimental Alcohol Photography Process

Sharon Holck is a photographer from Hawaii who is currently working in New York City in pursuit of a BFA at Pratt Institute. Her current body of work deals with photographing bars using long exposure and various alcoholic beverages for processing film. More images of Holck’s work are available on her website.
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Paul Weiner:
In your recent Pick Your Poison series, you are using various alcohols to process your film. What has been the most interesting formula so far?

Sharon Holck:
So far my favorite formula has been where I used Arrogant Bastard Ale and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale that was heated up to 103 degrees. Before that, I had been using beers like Stella Artois and Yuengling, which are milder beers that created only slight color changes in the negatives. When I chose the Arrogant Bastard Ale and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, which are 7.2% alcohol and decided to heat it up to the same temperature as the developer, it created smokey effects with a blue or green hue.

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Paul Weiner:
Are you aiming to send a particular message with your examination of bar culture?

Sharon Holck:
This project is still very much in the works so I haven’t quite figured out the message I want to send. Originally, I set out to create an experience through photography that one may have while he or she attends the bar by having the series start off with very static, straight images just like our vision is when we begin the night and then gradually go into the more abstract images to symbolize drunkenness.

I feel a connection between photography works as a medium and how alcohol affects our judgment. Photography is made to where we believe things are true, but, in fact, when you study it, you can find so many other stories behind an image. An image that may be thought to be true can actually be a lie. Alcohol, in the same sense, clouds our judgment and can make things be looked at in different ways as well as make people make choices they may regret later on. They can also remember things differently or not remember things at all.

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Paul Weiner:
Are your photos ever staged or are these photos of events as they naturally occurred?

Sharon Holck:
It’s a balance of both. There are some portraits in the series where I have asked people to sit still for a minute for a photograph. Then there are some who approach me and ask for a portrait, and I let them choose whether or not to stay still or move. I will also occasionally set up still lifes with wine glasses or beer bottles on a table. I’ve also once asked for a bunch of people to dance for me.

The more abstract ones though aren’t really planned. I look for a space that has interesting light or objects in the image, and then I will keep the camera straight for maybe half the exposure. Then I move the camera around to get light trails and help to abstract the image.

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Paul Weiner:
When you go to these bars, are you going only as an observer or as a participant who is interested in documenting your own experience?

Sharon Holck:
I think I’m more of an observer. I like people watching and make things out of what I got in the moment. For myself I even don’t like getting drunk and it’s only happened once. So a lot of what I’m making is taken from that one experience or from what I hear from friends.

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Paul Weiner:
This seems to be a process that is unique to film photography. What are some of the challenges of working with film in the 21st century?

Sharon Holck:
It’s definitely a lot more work. There aren’t tons of places that sell the film, and sometimes they don’t have it in stock. Then bringing this large camera into a bar setting where it’s dark is really hard to focus so there are times I’m not sure what I’m going to get. But I think that’s part of what makes film so intriguing. Something you may think you see will come out different, either better or worse but still different then what you thought.

Another hard thing is processing. At first, I had a place to send my negatives to, but I couldn’t get the effects I wanted in the post processing, so I had to learn how to process color myself and buy the chemicals and equipment.

I think really the only other issue I find is the cost of film being so expensive. 35mm is easy cause you get so many exposures for four dollars, but shooting large format where it’s ten pictures for $43 is a bit of a struggle when you’re maybe only getting 4 images out of each shoot. But I love the detail that large format gives, and it really makes me stop and think when I shoot. I love the medium. I think I would be too wild working in a smaller format.

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Paul Weiner:
Which photographers do you find the most inspirational?

Sharon Holck:
Keith Carter is very influential in my life. His story and photography helped get me out of a rut back when I first started college. I still share his work with others whenever I can.

I also love Ian Ruhter for his use of wet plate photography and using a van as his camera.

I also like other photographers like William Eggleston, Thomas Roma, John Divola, and Todd Hido to name a few.

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Paul Weiner:
Many of your most dynamic photos incorporate a sense of repetition probably because of your use of long exposure. Why did you choose to use a long exposure process in this series?

Sharon Holck:
It was both planned and limited to not being able to use flash. In general, I don’t really like using flash. I’d rather use the natural ambiance of an interior to light itself, so I had already planned the exposures to be long. Then, when I went to the bars, they would tell me they would rather me not use flash.

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Paul Weiner:
Have you ran into any interesting characters during your bar photography trips?

Sharon Holck:
Yes! I have good relationships with two bars in particular right now. Both are very friendly, supportive, and interested in the project. Many people approach me asking questions and are very intrigued to see me working with a large camera instead of digital or some other small, handheld camera. I’ve met many artists, musicians, bartenders, and, recently, someone who works at an art museum. To hear her opinion was very interesting, and it gave me a lot of things to think about for the future.


Please view Sharon Holck’s work online and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Samuel Lopez and Portrait Photography

Samuel Lopez is a photographer living in New York City and working with film while developing his own prints. His work can also be found online.

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Paul Weiner:
How did you get into photography?

Samuel Lopez:
I grew up looking at the wonderful photos in Life, Look, and many well know newspapers during the late 60s and through the 70s. The images from Vietnam and other places fueled my interest. Photojournalism was my desire. I have always been an observer. I wanted to bring the world to everyone looking at my work.

Also, due to a set of circumstances, all of the photos from my mother’s life had been lost or destroyed. We only had one photo of her as a child and no photos of her mother, my grandmother. I wanted to preserve our family history by taking so many photos that, even if some got lost, there would always be plenty available for future generations.

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Paul Weiner:
Why do you prefer film photography to digital?

Samuel Lopez:
It is a personal preference. I love the entire process of making a photograph. Seeing the image come out on what used to be a blank piece of photo paper still fascinates me. I have always liked things I can touch and see. It goes along with my personality, also. I have always been a hands on, old-school type of guy. The process holds, for me, a certain therapeutic aspect. When I do prints I am in my own world. Knowing that I took an image from eye to camera, to film, then to print it and see it again before anyone else is, and always will be, magical for me.

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Paul Weiner:
Describe the sensation you get while developing your own prints.

Samuel Lopez:
When I go in for a printing session, I lock myself away for about 7 hours or until my chemicals are exhausted. I surround myself with all I need for that time. I even have a small refrigerator in my space for food and drink. I play my favorite music.

As I do each print it, takes me back to the exact moment I exposed the photo. I literally get a chill up and down the back of my neck when I see it first enlarged to the size I’ll be doing the print and secondly when the image comes out as it’s in the developing tray. There are times I’ve been moved to tears, not because I think I’ve created some masterpiece of photography but because, at times, the circumstances, the emotions, and feelings come rushing back to me as I’m reliving the moment all over again.

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Paul Weiner:
What are some challenges that you’ve found as a film photographer in the digital age?

Samuel Lopez:
I often feel a bit isolated. I’ve tried to network with other photographers, but because I work in film it’s like I speak a different language. The fact that I am not able to move into commercial work saddens me, but I realize it’s just the way the business is these days. I am also seeing more and more stores I visit for supplies making their film sections smaller and smaller with less choice for chemicals and paper. Archiving my work properly has become a challenge. My negatives and original Polaroid prints have to be filed away properly. I take great care keeping them dust and scratch free, as well as trying to control humidity and temperature. I recently moved from California to New York City, and I was terrified the entire time that my archive would meet some bad fate on the moving truck!

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Samuel Lopez:
Chemicals are becoming harder to find. Photo paper is becoming scarce also. The loss of Polaroid 600 film was a big loss for the photo community. Spare parts for my cameras when they need repair is getting very hard. Most of my cameras are from the 40’s to 50’s.

Paul Weiner:
Do you see yourself more as a photojournalist documenting the world around you or a fine art photographer?

Samuel Lopez:
Definitely a photojournalist documenting the world. Even when I do studio work, I prefer to work with models that can take a concept and move about freely within the idea as I document their journeys in the moment. I rarely use a tripod. I’m always in motion with my subjects.

Paul Weiner:
I can see how supplies must be limited nowadays. Are there any particular materials for film photography that you wish you could still find for sale somewhere?

Paul Weiner:
How do you find subjects for your photography?

Samuel Lopez:
I look on various model photographer sites, and, at times, I’ve put out open calls for free portraits for anyone willing to sit for me. Models will refer me to people they know that fit my work style, also. I will even ask someone I see that looks interesting on the street or subway to model for me. As a freelance photographer, I don’t have the budget yet to hire from agencies.

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Paul Weiner:
Many contemporary artists shy away from the male nude because of expectations and assumptions our society makes. Have you found it difficult photographing nude men, and have you ever received surprising feedback about male nude photography?

Samuel Lopez:
I have only found that finding male models has been difficult. Most are a bit more over-muscled for my choosing. As a former athlete, I formed an appreciation for both the male and female form. Therefore, the models I choose to work with are more lean and athletic, and I try to pose them in natural positions, also.

Photographing males, for me, is the same process as when I work with women. I try and represent the body as a whole, even in my abstract work. I haven’t had any surprising feedback so far. Mostly very receptive and positive.


Please view Samuel Lopez’s work online and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

Subscribe to the Critique Collective newsletter for additional content, faster updates, art tips, and insider information absolutely free.