Wavepool – The first thing that a viewer will probably notice when looking at your work is the ways in which some of the images are manipulated. There can be a lot of new or unexpected things happening in them, but they seem to retain most of their original state. What do those manipulations bring to the table?
Barry Stone – It’s a way for the picture to talk back. Just prior to experimenting digitally, I was making many traditional collages. While working with the material of photographs or drawings, I often found the best images came about by just dropping the material on top of itself, the way I read that Ellsworth Kelley makes collages. I wanted to figure out a way to do that with whatever the “material” of a digital photograph is and that is where I arrived at directly manipulating the code of the image. When I open the image back up in Photoshop after rearranging the code, there is a surprise and recognition of a new picture possibility, which is the same charge I get from making more traditional photographs out in the world.
Wavepool – How do you determine whether an image should be manipulated or left untouched? Does subject matter play any role in that equation?
Barry Stone – The manipulated or databent pictures are pretty subject driven. The usually deal with liminal or otherwise magical landscapes, like clouds, or the seashore. I have made many pictures of a particular beach in Maine which during low tide reveals an alien landscape of seaweed strewn boulders. It is like walking on the bottom of the sea in the open air. I have also made and manipulated many pictures in Bastrop, Texas near where I live. There an anomaly Eastern stand of Pine trees called The Lost Pines stood for years and recently burned tragically to the ground in 2011. I started manipulating places in the woods of Maine where children are invited to make Fairy Houses from natural materials among the trees. The rule is that the picture must be at least as interesting as its “straight” version, often it’s not. There is a certain balance I am looking for. And sometimes the world is stranger straight up than any manipulation could hope to render it.
Wavepool – I like that self imposed rule a lot because I think it can be easy to accept any glitch as a good adjustment simply because it shakes things up in an unexpected way. So I appreciate that thoughtful consideration. Do the subjects of your “straight” photographs fit into a category as well?
Barry Stone – When I am making pictures, I remain pretty open, but as Winogrand once remarked “I am stuck with my own psychology, – with me”. So there are recurring motifs: unicorns, rainbows, and the veneers of fantasy. I take my camera everywhere and especially if I am about to go somewhere new or expect a new experience. I photograph my family, friends, and things that tumble from my daily experiences. I rarely go specifically somewhere solely to photograph it.
When I have an opportunity to exhibit or create a book, a more conceptual framework begins to coalesce. It usually starts with one picture and then I assemble a constellation of images that form a kind of porous architecture together. Eggleston once said when asked about what he was working on that he thinks of his pictures “as part of a novel I am working on”. One sentence leads to another. For my last two solo shows, I have been thinking of the effervescence of time and our futile attempts (often through photographing and other clumsier means) to stop its inevitable march. But from the beginning there has always been a fascination with language and how we create meanings from fragmentary abstractions. It is often the spaces between the pictures that interest me most. Those spaces are invitations to imagine a speculative universe and probably speak to my left wing melancholic tendencies which is “my psychology” at work, I suppose.
Wavepool – How do you sequence with both those spaces in between and the viewers in mind? Do some sections of an exhibition or book come with maybe a more direct or detectable connection?
Barry Stone – This is a good question. I suppose the spaces are interesting because that is where the speculation begins and remains. It is my favorite part of a viewing experience, trying to suss out the connection between images. It is what is so great about early photographic practices, Talbot, Strand, Bourke-White, Steiglitz, and one of my favorites of all time, Alvin Langdon Coburn, and their peripatetic approach to picture making and sequencing.
Although, I also don’t want the viewer to be totally lost, and my deepest darkest hand wringing fear is that my pictures appear utterly random, even though I know such a thing is a practical impossibility, true randomness that is. There are some formal devices that the images cohere that I am more conscious of lately, such as color palettes and picture orientation among them, I try to think of the work as kind of chap books.
The work for the longest time suffered (and perhaps still does) the most in a slide show format. I remember being utterly dressed down and humiliated after showing a sequence of twenty slides (and they were actually slides this was around 2003) at a “slide slam” at ICP in New York. The format called for the photographer to show and talk about a sequence of work and a panel of folks then critiqued the work. I can hardly remember what I showed, but I remember saying something like “I guess I am a sort of water photographer.” I got particularly harsh feedback from a more traditionally narrative oriented photographer which I deserved. I remember afterward a couple of sheepish audience members coming out to comfort me with their hands outstretched offering hugs.
Wavepool – Though the slide show format is a slightly more straight forward presentation of a sequence, it still shares some characteristics with the book format. An obvious example is the linear nature of both of them. What makes a book more engaging? How does the experience of a book compare to that of an exhibition?
Barry Stone – Well, a book and/or an exhibition lends a physical architecture to a constellation of images, and its a constraint I lean on pretty heavily. So much so, that I have not been able to come up with a book edit of my work that I have been satisfied with that didn’t proceed an exhibition. I really seem to need to have a space to place the pictures in. A slideshow loses all sense of scale and juxtaposition, the syntax is hard to establish unless you get all multimedia (dual projectors and the like). I have recently explored video recently which allows the images to be sequenced on top of one other (fades) and music, which is something I often try to pair with art and fail at. In life before art, there was music, or some variation there of.
The last book I put together, Highway 71 Revisited, was a mock up of a body of work that I made from 2007-2009 when I moved back to Texas after living in NYC for 6 years. I had just taken the grown up job I have had since, at Texas State University, and it felt like I had relocated my family to live under this highway which I could hear from our rented perch on the far south side of town. I did field and on site recordings for that project as well.
Wavepool – Do you have an idea as to why you think you’ve yet to successfully pair music with images? In my mind, music might seem to make everything a little more specific, in that it could establish some kind of emotional tone and therefore filling in the gaps that you want the viewer to interpret. Am I close at all?
Barry Stone – No you are right on target! The hope is that the music would lend a sort of emotional scaffolding for the pictures. I think in the video work it works seamlessly, for obvious reasons. I don’t know why it took me so long to come at such a plainly evident solution! Still, I like to work with a separation of the elements and there in lies and remains a bit of a struggle.
Two of my most moving art experiences involved this separation courtesy of Janet Cardiff. The first was one of her guided tours, where her recorded voice guides you via headphones through a narrative via the streets of London taking you in and out of churches and libraries. The other was her Forty Part Motet at PS1 in Queens. It was snowing and the piece is arranged so each singer’s voice is heard from an individual speaker positioned at head height around the room. You could hear the piece simultaneously as a whole and its constituent parts as you walked by the speakers to hear each voice contributing its particular song and combine in the space. There were benches placed at either end of the installation, my wife and I were seated opposite each other and when we looked up we realized we both had tears in our eyes and then immediately started laughing at how awkward it is to be so moved in public places.
To see more, please visit Barry’s website.