I’m not an artist. I can’t even take a decent picture for Instagram. I am clueless about photography, but as a writer I know a great deal about setting a scene, and Stephen Takacs’ Brownie in Motion gallery is quite the scene. Upon walking into the Cultural Arts Center, the surreal images of the camera obscura evoke a sense of wonder. The camera obscura has a personality that easily caught my attention and drew me into the images; then, as I ventured further into the gallery, I was confronted with the camera obscura, and I was truly a part of this surreal exhibit. The photographs that lined the walls were those taken with the camera obscura, and I was enveloped by this world Stephen created. Compared to the vibrant and surreal digital photographs visible upon entering, the black and white photographs surrounding me then seemed grounded, as if they were bringing me back to earth. They evoke this feeling of nostalgia, despite being taken in the last couple of years. I had to periodically remind myself that I was not looking into the distant past.
The portraits in particular caught my attention more than anything else. One that I particularly enjoyed was Sue Cavanaugh: Fiber Artist. On first glance, the image feels regal, this stern woman looking down on me. But the longer I look at her the more I see in her. Through her sunglasses I can see half-closed eyes; she is not looking on with contempt, she seems exhausted, like a woman who has done what was hard and now just needs to rest. The corner of her mouth had a slight upturn, suggesting that what I first thought was a scowl were just the signs of a long life playing across her face. She is not a queen looking down on her subjects with derision, she is a mother looking on to her children, appreciating the work she has done.
The portrait Big Mike: Ropemaker really grabbed my attention as well. When I saw the photo, I was both humored and impressed by Big Mike. He is definitely large in stature, but the emotional presence he evokes is large as well. His face is stoic. From his size to his facial hair to the rope he works with, Big Mike is masculine. Not only that, but he is a particular kind of man. Big Mike represents a standard of masculinity that is disappearing. The image that men must be big, strong, and unfeeling is fading from our collective consciousness, and with it so is Big Mike.
As I left the gallery I admired once more the individuals, practices, and ideals that are disappearing from our world. I looked again into the fading world of the camera obscura before reentering the vibrant reality of the digital photographs, and I left the gallery wondering how long before my way of doing things would die out as well.
Brownie In Motion: Traveling Picture Show is on view at the Columbus Cultural Art Center until March 19th, 2016.
In case you haven’t heard (and have missed my excessive Facebook posts), I’m excited to have the Columbus Cultural Art Center host an exhibition of my photographs from The Brownie In Motion Project! The show will include one-of-a-kind silver gelatin photographs and contact prints made with the camera obscura, as well as digital images that trace our cross country journeys. The exhibit opens on February 19th and runs until March 19th, with an opening reception on Friday Feb 19th from 6-8pm.
On 10:15 A.M. on Thursday, July 17th, Stephen and I blazed a trail westward from Columbus. We had been at his studio until 3:00 A.M. the night before; packing, plotting, and recording one hell of an inspirational monologue from a fellow artist at 400 West Rich. The van was filled to capacity with the world’s largest Brownie camera, 5 tripods, 12 other cameras of various sizes and styles, Stephen’s homemade developing cart, a guitar, a ukulele, camping gear, darkroom supplies, and a cooler filled with food.
(click to read more)
We drove without cruise control, rolled the windows down, and chain-smoked unapologetically. Our only mission for the first day was to put as many miles between Ohio and us as possible. The first 600 dusty miles brought us through western Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Eastern Missouri. I picked out a campsite about an hour west of St. Louis, Little Lost Creek Nature Reserve. I really had no idea what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised when we discovered a secluded, shady site well removed from the highway.
Upon arrival, Steve serenaded me on the ukulele while I prepared our kielbasa and canned sauerkraut dinner over a fire. We drank some tall cans of beer and waxed philosophic. I brought two hammocks along and that first night on the road found us sleeping suspended by pine trees. Camping by hammock is super comfortable. Normally, I sleep like a baby but late that night, I was startled awake by coyotes howling recklessly from what sounded like 20 yards away. Unable to fall back asleep, I nervously awaited sunrise, losing myself in the textures and sounds of the woods. Serious moonlight gently brushed the top of the old pines, cool air swaying above our heads. I listened to the crickets, frogs, and coyote as one listens to an orchestra. Breathing gently with the crescendos and lulls. Each creature instinctively knowing its place, without a conductor they perform in perfect time.
The next afternoon, we stopped in Manhattan, KA to grab some food, recharge our batteries, and plot our next move. In Caribou Coffee tucked inside a Hy-Lee grocery store, it was decided that we camp at Lake Wilson around 120 miles west on I-70. I picked up a Go-Pro in Manhattan and I was excited to shoot some underwater footage in what was reported to be the “Clearest Lake in Kansas.”
As the van eased through hills towards Lake Wilson, the sunset highlighted the rocks filling us with awe. Steve had expressed interest in shooting a wind farm, and on the approach to the lake the prairie landscape populated with giant turbines and the occasional limestone outcropping seemed perfect; the kind of landscape we were thirsty for. Inspired to shoot the next day, we slowly rolled around to the east side of the lake to inquire about a campsite.
Connie Cash was checking in RV’s at an info kiosk across the damn. Connie was the first person we made a real connection with on this trip. She was excited to guide us to all sorts of strange eccentric local attractions, the kind of things unique to rural Kansas. Following her suggestion, we checked into a Camp Lucas on the North shore of the lake. We ate apples and cheese in the cool windy twilight as we set up camp. Our plan had been continue to Denver in the morning, but, like an unexpected love interest, Kansas had seduced us with her landscapes, setting the stage for our first Brownie shoot.
Following Connie’s suggestion, our first stop on Saturday was an old dusty town called Lucas, 14 miles north of Lake Wilson. Known for it’s eccentric art installations. This funky town in rural Kansas is full of limestone carvings, industrial farming equipment, old limestone buildings, and numerous oddball tourist attractions. From a giant mosaic sculpture of a toilet to the Garden of Eden – the residence of an early 20th century sculptor concerned with class struggle – I found Lucas thoroughly full of the kind of weird that only the rural Midwest can provide. (Inside of the Garden of Eden, the sculptor is preserved in a glass casket.) In Lucas, a 4th generation meat market making old school bologna and pepperoni from a 100-year old family recipe caught our attention as a potential subject for the Brownie In Motion project. The owner seemed uncomfortable with the idea but tipped us off about getting access to the wind farms the next county over.
An hour later, driving along unpaved country roads, we knocked on the doors of several farmhouses to ask permission to photograph on their land. On the third try, a greasy farm dog greeted us and a quiet old man gave us permission to shoot in his pasture down the road. A few miles later, we saw what we thought was a good spot to setup, tall grass and corn beneath massive spinning industrial wind turbines. The location was surreal, scenic, and reassuringly Kansas. Brimming with optimism, our dynamic duo pulled in and began setting up.
Seven hours later, things were very different. After battling with the wind, tripping on gopher holes, being harassed by biting flies, and baking alive inside the Brownie, it seemed failure was upon us. The wind was a steady 20 mph and the Brownie’s lens shook uncontrollably as a result. The first positive shots weren’t developing well, and then the negatives couldn’t focus because of the vibration. Stephen is a persistent worker though; despite the 94-degree heat, we kept shooting until we ran out of light. I was sunburned, dehydrated, impatient, and ready to give up after this flop. Our gear was splayed out in the tall prairie grass, making packing up an even greater frustration for the both of us. Sitting in the car and waiting for Stephen, misery sank in quickly. I didn’t feel like talking. I was twitchy and itchy from black fly bites, and could feel my tired muscles screaming for hydration. The silence was overwhelming in the car, my ears longing for music. I grabbed the ipod and desperately scanned for something to get us back to camp.
“Get the hell away from this nightmare.” I was thinking to myself. I was ready to tuck tail and head home, when Stephen offered me a pull of Black Velvet. Neil Young’s Harvest, a shot of whiskey, and a few smokes on the way back had us belting out each tune with reckless abandon. Our spirits rose high once again at the sigh of Lake Wilson in the prairie sunset. Later that night relaxing under the stars was all we would manage. A few meteors glinting in the north, and the great blanket of stars pulled me into sleep. We had skirted with disaster and made it out the other end. Even with a bad taste in our mouths, tomorrow back on the road would be a better day.
Chris Gatten wrote an awesome article on Brownie In Motion in this month’s 614 Magazine, which is illustrated with photos by the talented Chris Casella! I’d like to thank the whole 614 team, including editor-in-chief, Travis Hoewischer, for including me in their magazine! If you haven’t pick up a copy yet, do it soon before they disappear from the newsstands!
I’m proud to say that the band featured on the cover of this month’s issue are my long time friends Damn the Witch Siren! They just release a new EP earlier this month called Super Delicious. This rump shaking record, which channels both Madonna and early Nine Inch Nails, is like a bowl of coco-puffs – processed, crunchy and oh-so-sweet!
I want to remind you that there are only 5-days left to support Brownie In Motion on indiegogo, please donate today and help us make it happen!
A huge thank you goes out to my friend and fellow photographer Nevin Price-Meader for his generous donation to Brownie In Motion! I’m continually blown away by everyone’s support! Thank you so much man!
My Indiegogo campaign to bring the camera obscura out west and begin a new series of ULF photographs of artisans launched on Friday at Imagine400 here in Columbus. The turn out was amazing and I was proud to be part of it such an interesting mix of creators! Many thanks goes out to the organizers & my fellow exhibitors (including Gavin Bruce, Roman Holowinksy, Reese Nader, Mikey Thomas, TLA, Linda Diec, Chris Howel, Stephen Pence and the whole Art Party crew.) I appreciated everyone who donated money and sat for a portrait at the event AND a great big thank you to everyone who has backed this project online!
On Sunday, I was interviewed by Alissa Henry from Good Day Columbus about my camera obscura project, Target Six-16, which was being displayed at Nationwide Starry Night in Westerville. It was pretty early in the morning and my first time on TV so I was a bit nervous, do I look it?!
Skip to minute 6:50 on the timeline and let me know what you think!
Alex Bandar from the Columbus Idea Foundry was interviewed as well. Skip to 5:10 to hear Alex discuss 3D printers.