RYAN BOATRIGHT. BYPRODUCTS OF PHOTOGRAPHY
© Ryan Boatright from the series ‘Exurbia’
Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots?
Ryan boatright (RB): When I was 16, I happened to see a local exhibition by the American photographer Ansel Adams. I was blown away by his detailed and luminous depictions of the American West and the magnificent tonal transitions within his prints. Afterwards I borrowed my mother’s 35mm SLR and began shooting the only landscape I had access to: suburbia. I made a ton of images of golf course shrubbery, plants and trees on cul-de-sac islands, and my mother’s flowerbeds. I also began obsessively studying all aspects of Adams’ working process and, in short time, I built my own darkroom and switched to using large format cameras. I started practicing the Zone System and began spending my free time after school mapping the density of my negatives and fine-tuning the greys in my prints. Early on, my approach to photography was purely technical.
How did your research evolve with respect to those early days?
RB: Over time, I began to find real substance in grey. I used it in a metaphorical manner in the series ‘Exurbia’ and in other early projects when I attempted to map non-quantifiable emotions, human interactions, and other experiential aspects of my life with photography. My working methods also shifted drastically with time. I used to start with an image then work with a process to achieve a certain result. It was like using the formula 1+1=2. Over the years the formula became varied. Today, I craft processes around ideas or ideas around processes. I then seek out my subjects and start connecting the dots. The works of art that resonate with me are those that are composed of just parts, without any sort of answer. 1+1+1, if you will, with the formula at the fulcrum.
© Ryan Boatright from the series ‘Exurbia’
What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking?
RB: Although photography has become so mundane and commonplace in the digital age, technology has created complications to its long-term preservation and access. Personally, I’m disillusioned by my own abilities to catalogue, organize, and preserve my image assets in the form of digital files. My 92 year old grandmother, by comparison, can revisit her life with small BW or color prints catalogued in paper sleeves with dates. If I hit her age, I’m not so sure I’ll be able to do the same or at least access my images in a meaningful way like she can. This question comes up in some of my recent works, like ‘Marginal Compositions’ and ‘2012’s Pictures’, where I examine concepts pertaining to the yield rates of contemporary image production and preservation, and explore the products and byproducts of photography’s everyday use.
© Ryan Boatright, ‘Marginal Composition v.1′ from Taking Measure
About your work now. How would you describe your personal research in general?
RB: The photographic process itself has remained central to my personal research, and I’ve become further engrossed in the inherent errors in photography, its manipulation, and its larger representational and indicative powers. The tools and techniques used to increase accuracy in the medium also have become more and more central to my investigations. My approach has been heavily influenced by my day-to-day activities working for other artists and the concentration that I’ve placed on our studio, Atelier Boba, and other professional activities. I’m less of a traditional studio artist than I was 5 or 10 years ago. I split my time between the studio, teaching, conducting research, and professional printing. This has given me the opportunity to engage with various professions that orbit around photography. I now view the medium from various diverse artistic, cultural, and professional perspectives.
Do you have any preferences in terms of cameras, techniques and format?
RB: My preference is completely variable based on the particular project and the process required to realize it. Sometimes I need a 4x5 view camera and other times I need the disconnected frame lines of a rangefinder camera to address a particular concept. I’ve used more scientific and analytical tools as well, including spectrophotometers, colorimeters, densitometers, and cameras mounted to microscopes normally used in the medical industry.
Tell us about “Atelier Boba”
RB: Atelier Boba is both a photograph conservation lab and a digital printmaking studio that works collaboratively with contemporary artists and photographers to create specialized editions and exhibition prints. It grew out of my own art practice, my longtime passion for printing (both within the darkroom and with digital machines), and my experience at the Image Permanence Institute, in Rochester, NY, where I studied the aesthetics of photographic and digital print technologies and taught their identification. At Atelier Boba we often work with contemporary digital printing processes and substrates in nonstandard ways and provide research assistance for specialized projects.
Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, who influenced you in some way?
RB: There were a number of contemporary artists that were pivotal to my understanding of art and influenced the direction of my work. Early on, I looked a lot at Jason Salavon’s work, which deals with new perspectives on the familiar via custom computer software algorithms. I began to use specific photographic processes both in the darkroom and with digital tools like Photoshop, in the vein of a computer programmer or an artist like Salavon, to arrive at seemingly scientific representations that question the medium’s capacity to depict and preserve incalculable experiences and phenomena.
My professors at school also heavily influenced me. Jeffrey Wolin and Osamu James Nakagawa, both excellent artists and superb teachers, really pushed me to reconsider my intentions as an artist and to explore the process end of my work. I also owe James M. Reilly, the director of the Image Permanence Institute, a ton of gratitude for his mentorship and his patience with me picking his brain about photographic technologies and preservation.
Three books of photography that you recommend?
1. H. Baines,. The Science of Photography: Fountain Press, 1967
2. Vik Muniz. Natura Pictrix: Edgewise Press, 2003
3. Martin Jurgens. The Digital Print. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2009
Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?
RB: In the Garden at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, NY, USA
Having spent a good deal of time photographing suburban landscaping, this show really resonated with me. It’s a show with a simple but rich concept and the depth and breadth of the works and processes in the exhibition is impressive and spans the entire history of photography.
Projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?
RB: Recently I’ve been concentrating on my activities as a printmaker in order to jump-start things at Atelier Boba. Working with other artists to help them realize their ideas and images in the physical form also rubs off on my own work. And since my clients have such varied intentions with their work, they help me better understand facets of art and photography that I had not previously considered.
Moving forward, I’d like to concentrate on a few projects that I’ve already started. Last year I created ‘Sky Checker’, an object I began photographing in many different environments and locations. Essentially it’s a home built X-Rite Colorchecker where I’ve replaced the “Blue Sky” color patch with an inlaid mirror. I’ve started to investigate the decisions of color scientists behind the original Macbeth Colorchecker, and more specifically their choices of “natural” colors. How can the variability of natural color be quantified? Do the patches “Skin,” “Blue Sky,” “Foliage,” and “Blue-Flower” actually help us better calibrate the medium? For me, seeing a color chart within an image sparks an internal discourse on the representative nature of the medium, and offers an illusive gateway back to reality. I need to better understand the effectiveness and ramifications of such tools. This work stems from an earlier project entitled Color Rendition Charts for… where I constructed custom Colorcheckers with colors based on highly personal and emotional experiences as opposed to scientifically chosen ones.
© Ryan Boatright, ‘Sky Checker’
Another project that I’m working on began in collaboration with Owen Mundy. It revolves around the concept that technology itself mediates what we see and know. We began by taking culturally significant images culled from the Internet and created computer algorithms to convert them into specialized images with very fine and precise line pairs and patterns. These newly formed images are downloaded and then printed. Depending on the type and resolution of your printer, you either see the printed image or you don’t. We’re planning to continue the research this fall and winter and hope to publish an essay on it sometime next year.
© Ryan Boatright and Owen Mundy , ‘Self print test’
How do you see the future of photography in general evolve?
RB: I think the practice of photography, at least the way we’ve understood it throughout the 20th century, will eventually fade away. The industrial production of photographic film and paper is highly technical. I once took a private tour of the polyester base manufacturing plant at Kodak in Rochester, NY, and was blown away by the immensity of the operation and the R&D that goes into making light sensitive emulsions. If the demand for silver halide products keeps dropping, the machines will continue to shut down. Fortunately there will always be a niche group of photographers using 19th century processes because they can essentially be concocted at home. It’s great to know that we can always return to the roots of photography. It takes the edge off!
I think printmaking techniques will evolve, as we continue to move towards ink on paper and away from light sensitive materials, and viewing images on screen will continue to develop. Virtual Reality will offer a more experiential platform for the medium. Although I’m unsure of its true ramifications and question whether it will completely change our practice like the digital camera, personal computer, Photoshop, and digital printer did.