Monday, April 19, 2010

Photos: Larry Silver


Interviewed by Anthony Rhoades

/One/: What drives you to make photographs and what is your goal in doing so?

Larry Silver: The reasons I take photographs have shifted over the past 60 years. My work started with my growing up in New York City. At the age of 15, I set out to record what life was like, photographing the things that surrounded me. This was a documentary approach where my interests and observations guided the subject matter. Documenting the event eventually became less important, and my work grew to reflect shared interests with photographers such as Henri Cartier Bresson. This meant emphasizing a larger area of the environment I was photographing. Because I have spent many years in the darkroom, I have a great deal of control and use many methods to create specific qualities in the print—my darkroom practice has always been a vital element in enhancing the subject matter.


Ten years ago, however, I took my photography in a totally new direction where documenting and designing my images around a subject became less important. This new body of work is, in part, a response to the onset of digital photography. People were (and still are) constantly telling me that digital photography was going to replace the darkroom, and that I should be doing it. This inspired me, conversely, to take my darkroom work and produce photographs that cannot be produced digitally. This is what I have been preoccupied with for the past five years.


Now my work is less allied with documentary photography, and more in line with contemporary art practices of any medium. Today, contemporary artists often use photography as a medium. This also frees up photographers to approach the medium in ways that are more expansive. The necessity of producing a perfect print like Ansel Adams or Edward Weston is no longer necessary. This freedom has enabled me to break many of the established rules. In violating these rules I have created new photographs that are moving, exciting, and unique.


The work I am submitting includes images with and without recognizable subject matter. The images that are recognizable are older, and I have added the element of color to them. Every image started out as a photograph printed on silver paper in my darkroom, but was then manipulated using light, chemistry, pigments, and stains. Most recently, I am using my existing knowledge of the darkroom to do something that does not begin with an image, but instead treats the paper as a blank page on which I make marks using light and chemicals. I move around my work while I manipulate these elements on photographic paper. It is a physical process, not unlike Jackson Pollock’s action paintings.


/One/: What was the impetus for moving from a commercial photographer to a fine art photographer?

LS: I had a commercial studio in New York City for 40 years working freelance for advertising agencies on major accounts. While I was doing commercial advertising photography I continued my own personal work. I would use weekends, holidays, and whatever down time I had to either shoot or print, which I am doing to this very day. My current darkroom is in Shelton, Connecticut.


/One/: How has your image-making process changed with the advent of digital photography, if at all?

LS: Digital photography does not enter into my creative work. The only use I have for digital is to copy my original silver prints because curators and galleries prefer receiving e-mail or CDs rather then slides. I find that the best way to view my work is by seeing the original prints.


/One/: How do you see the progression of your works from the beginning to now and in what ways has your focus changed? Why do you think it has changed?

LS: I no longer think it is necessary to be able to distinguish a subject in an image. I believe an artist can move people by the dynamics of a picture, just like a composer does not need lyrics to move an audience. The sheer dynamics of the music can move and excite people.


I was looking to alter the image and still maintain it as a photograph because photography was always my life and I wanted to maintain the integrity of the photograph. While making my prints, I crumpled what I thought was a discarded photograph and threw it in the garbage, then turned on the lights in the darkroom and left. When I came back to continue my work, I glanced at the discarded print and removed it from the trash. It looked very interesting; it had stained and fogged, causing black streaks. The wrinkles in the paper caused a mottling effect and it actually looked more interesting than the print I was laboring over. I decided to try to re-create that effect, and I started wrinkling the paper and opening the lights. I found it very difficult. Then I started to take measures that were designed to purposely get that effect and the prints became more interesting and I decided that maybe violating the established rules of printing would be more interesting. That started me on a whole new world of photography. That happened about five years ago, and in viewing the work of other artists I realized that it is no longer necessary to follow the past. Since then I have been experimenting and not all of my attempts have been successful, but I think the usage of photographic techniques I have discovered is a new way of creating. This technique is all photographic and I believe totally out of the range of the computer. It is widely believed in the art world that in order for an artist to find a new direction he or she has to be young. I feel that because of my long career in photography at the age of 75 I am still finding new horizons.


Larry Silver

Larry Silver

Larry Silver is an American-born artist and was a member of the Photo League. The artist’s work resides in various museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Brooklyn Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Yale University Art Gallery and George Eastman House. Larry Silver’s artwork has been exhibited in many solo and group exhibitions.

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In memory of Kurt Brown

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