Photographers on Photographers: Dan Shepherd on Charlie Kitchen
For the entire month of August, photographers will be interviewing photographers–sharing image makers who have inspired them, who they are curious about, whose work has impacted them in some way. I am so grateful to all the participants for their efforts, talents, and time. -Aline Smithson
I am drawn to artists who make me see things differently. Especially if the subject matter is something that is as ubiquitous as landscape photography. As a photographer, I try to look at the natural world through fresh inquisitive eyes and I have found a kindred spirit in Charlie Kitchen. To learn more about Charlie, I gave him call on the phone, old school style. It seemed appropriate given that most of his work is created with a view camera on 4 x 5 film. Like many artists, Charlie is not particularly loquacious and prefers to let the artwork stand on its own without reams of “art speak.” However, I did glean some insights that I would like to share.
Dan Shepherd was raised in the Pacific Northwest, enjoyed many creative years in New York City and Los Angeles now finds himself based in Seattle. The balance between urban living and love of nature is an ongoing pursuit for him and a universal human theme that drives his artistic practice. Dan has a Masters in Environmental Science from Columbia University and an International Diploma in Plant Conservation from the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew in England, as well as a BA in Japanese from the University of Oregon.
When he is not making art, he loves to champion the art of others. He is the owner and director of GALLERY 1/1 the only gallery in the U.S. to specialize exclusively in unique one-of-a-kind photographic prints. He also is a Guest Editor for LENSCRATCH – Fine Art Photography Daily and a Contributing Writer for Don’t Take Pictures Magazine.
Charlie Kitchen was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. He received his BFA from Texas State University, San Marcos in 2014 and now lives and works in San Antonio as the Building and Events Coordinator at Artpace, Inc.
Charlie is a Texan. He was born and raised in San Antonio. His grandfather instilled his love of photography and gave him his first 35mm camera. Skateboarding, hanging with friends, rolls of film and a high school darkroom is a teenage life some of the readers can certainly identify with. Charlie earned a BFA from Texas State University in San Marcos about an hour outside of San Antonio where he started as a communications major, but soon redirected his path to focus on photography. Charlie continues to live in San Antonio where he works for Artpace, an innovative local arts organization with an acclaimed international reputation.
The vast and diverse Texas landscape has been his most recent photographic muse. So, it would not be a surprise to find out that an ideal day for him might be swimming down at the river with his fiancé and a cooler of Lone Star Beer. However, it is not like Charlie is some nomad with a camera just wandering the dusty roads looking for the perfect vista. Charlie considers his work an exploration of the relationship between geometry and photography. Particularly by eschewing the idealized representation of landscape and embracing the visual dichotomy of geometric versus organic shapes.
To pull this off there is a large amount of planning and pre-construction that happens way before he packs up and heads out to scenic locations. Charlie starts by creating various 3D shapes in SketchUp and cutting those shapes out of sheets of vinyl and acetate. These become the masks that he will later slide into his film holder to create his re-imagined multiple-exposure geometric landscapes. There is always a right tool for the right job and for Charlie it is his Toyo View 45G. He says that the large format process is ideal for manipulating the visual planes and emphasizing the geometric over the organic with the shapes and gradients. Charlie finds this key to shifting the energy of his images with the push and pull of negative space. I am reminded of a passage in David Hockney’s book, A History of Pictures, where he recounts a conversation he had with Henri Cartier – Bresson about how geometry is what made a photograph good and the ability to translate three dimensions into two dimensions by making good patterns and arranging them well. For Charlie, it is a time consuming and laborious process of changing masks, exposure timings, and focuses but worth it when he can capture his vision onto a single negative. He embraces the hand-cut aesthetic and the unintended film scratches that denote a certain imperfect authenticity in his final prints.
There are hints from Charlie that studio work might be on his horizon. Given that he includes fellow large format experimental photographers like Hannah Whitaker, Dan Boardman and Jessica Eaton as photographic influences, one can be excited about how he might incorporate a studio practice into his future projects. Stay tuned. For now check out his recently self-publish photobook The Other Side of the Sky
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