Friday, November 7, 2008
Self Portrait as a Drowned Man (After Bayard)
Here’s my latest piece. I finished the last bit of work on it a few days ago. I made this piece specifically for this year’s annual exhibit of faculty work at Moraine Valley Community College, where I teach, although I’ve had the idea for this piece for several years. It was one of those ideas that was too good not to pursue, and with the theme of this year’s faculty exhibit being self portrait and autobiographical work, the time seemed right.
The piece is made of twelve cyanotype prints. The prints are made on copies of rejection letters I’ve received from various galleries. Here's a close-up of the piece so you can see the letters the piece is printed on (click on the photo to see a larger version).
This piece is based on a well known historical photograph by Hippolyte Bayard. Bayard was one of the first inventors of photography, but was given duplicitous advice which allowed Louis Daguerre to receive the French patent for the invention of photography (that’s why you’ve heard of daguerreotypes, but not bayardotypes). Bayard’s response was to pose as a corpse, an apparent suicide due to the injustice and lack of recognition for his invention. Ironically, the image became famous as the first staged photograph, and can be found in nearly every book on photographic history. Here’s the original Bayard photograph I based my piece on:
I originally wanted to print directly onto the actual rejection letters, but that proved to be unworkable. Many papers use bleach in the manufacturing process, and residual bleach in the paper bleached the cyanotype prints. I made several test prints that looked great when first developed, but when dry, had bleached so much that the image was very pale.
I wanted the piece to look as much like it was printed on the actual rejection letters as possible. After trying a few experiments, I arrived at a solution that worked (for the most part). I scanned all the rejection letters, and printed them on a matte surface Epson inkjet paper. I generally like Epson papers, and was very surprised that the ink held up to the cyanotype process. These prints were washed in a tray of water for about 20 minutes, and the ink did not run at all. Epson claims their ultrachrome inks (the type my printer uses) are water resistant, but I never expected that I could expose them to this much water without the ink running. There was one drawback to using the Epson paper, however. The cyanotype solution stained the white areas of the prints yellow, and no amount of washing would remove that color. I decided I could live with it.
This work is obviously a self portrait, but it is autobiographical as well. By printing the piece on rejection letters I’ve received from galleries, I’m not just referencing the rejection Hippolyte Bayard felt when he lost the patent. I’m commenting on my (lack of) success in the world of commercial galleries (in a lighthearted way). I have an ambivalent relationship with commercial galleries. While exhibits in commercial galleries are often considered the primary goal of the working artist, I just do not enjoy the smoozing and ass kissing that often accompanies them. I also know firsthand (I worked briefly in a gallery when I first moved to Chicago) that decisions in these galleries are made based on commerce, not artistic merit. I’ve done really well at academic galleries, non profit spaces, etc., but my work doesn’t have seem to have much commercial appeal. I’m comfortable with that, although I still dutifully leave discs of my work at galleries whenever I finish a new body of work. At least, my efforts have provided me with the letters used to make this piece!
Autobiographical works and self-portraits by Moraine Valley faculty
Nov. 17-Jan. 8
Reception: Thursday, Dec. 4, 2-4 p.m.
Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery
Fine and Performing Arts Center
Moraine Valley Community College
9000 W. College Pkwy.
Palos Hills, IL