CW: Furthermore, Jacob, I think you’re a fantastic photographer. That said, do you feel as intimated behind the camera as I do? I think my intimidation stems from the surrender of control involved with taking a picture. I mean, relative to painting a work from scratch, snapping a photograph requires a significant mental shift from musician, so to speak, to composer. To belabor the analogy: we’re relying a lot more on the mechanics of the orchestra as oppose to performing the notes ourselves. I think this could be a controversial statement I’m making. Someone on Facebook recently shared the Ansel Adams quote, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” I think Adams is correct in many ways, and in some ways he was a modernist—and like all modernists he was thoroughly, almost exclusively, invested in the materiality of his medium. Can you express your feelings toward photography, especially in relation to the other mediums you employ?
JVL: The weight of a brush stroke, the colors, the thickness of the paint, and the motion it has each create a simple language to consume. Thick is bold, bright is happy, arbitrary combinations are “pop,” rough and fast is angry, dark and heavy is sad (whether or not it actually is). You can look at an Adams photograph and say, “Here is Ansel Adams showing me he was once at Yellowstone.” He was showing in his photographs exactly what he saw in those places, not what those places actually look like. The amount of calculation and manipulation that made his photographs match a memory is hardly an automatic process, nor is it a process led by the camera.
I guess we can trade contentious statements here—A lot of visual artists have a profound lack of understanding towards photography. That misunderstanding comes across as phobic and immature. I think disenchantment with photography comes from how industrious the application of photography can be, it came into popular commercial use around the same time other mechanical devices started replacing the human hand in the workforce. I guess painters and illustrators in the commercial fields over a hundred years ago had more reason to resent photography—some of those artists were making six digits annually and then had to compete with photographs, which facilitated the already blossoming idea of mass production and immediacy. More recently, cameras with the capacity to make great art are in the hands of everyone with a phone. Not many are slaving over a tray of chemicals in the darkoom anymore, tweaking test prints and blowing through expensive silver-gelatin coated paper. The accessibility and ease of photograph-to-print demystifies the medium. That somehow doesn’t cross over into being able to buy a portable pan of watercolor paints and a pad of paper at Wal-Mart—after all, painting takes time, photography is just clicking a button, right?
For the record, the two and a half years I spent in the darkroom developing film and photographs was the messiest and probably most dangerous studio experience I’ve had in my life.
CW: Photography is tricky in that it seems to be both utilitarian and artistic in ways, and to a degree, never before seen. I think early photographers had to fight hard to imbue the technology with some legitimacy in the art scene—resorting, it would seem, to creative measures to convey “reality” in impressionistic, often lyrical and surreal ways (as you said, Adams was photographing an impression more than a reality). The results were often dreamlike and stunningly beautiful.
I think photography’s ubiquitous today because the technology has allowed it, but I also think everyone seems to want to take pictures and to be in pictures. It’s narcissistic but it’s also a legitimate way to archive one’s experiences. What’s more, applications like Instagram seem to blur the boundaries between artistry and utilitarianism even further: superimposing artful filters and sharing publicly the creative results of otherwise commonplace, private images. It causes one to question: what is “fine art photography” today and what sets it apart from every other photo? Are the differences important? Is the “battle” between film and digital effectively the battle between dedicated artists and armchair photographers? These questions might be more rhetorical than answerable. On a more personal level, you seem to lament the darkroom somewhat; are you remorseful about the diminished presence of film, or are you accepting of the sea change to digitalism?
JVL: No resentment whatsoever, I’m just very proud to have had the experiences I did with photography because process has always been important in my work. Since a lot of the popular software is modeled after analog processes, I think my transition has been marked that way and some of my decision-making is anchored in that relation. In contrast, some of the ways younger artists not exposed to traditional process manipulate the same software in a much different way, with an entirely different intuition. I see technology playing a greater role in my work and profession in the future, especially if I get time to learn CAD.
CW: I’ve always felt more at home at a computer than with a pencil or brush in my hand. My father has been instrumental in that regard; since my earliest memory there was always a PC in the house. But unlike the pencil or brush, one often must adapt to changing technologies. There’s something exciting there, I think, but also a sense of constant, impending obsoletism. I think that’s very good for art in general, though. There’s no worry, at least in my mind, that art will never not be fresh and experimental.
Jacob van Loon, Untitled (from Weird Love), photograph (2013) Jacob van Loon, Untitled (from Weird Love), photograph (2013) Jacob van Loon, Untitled (from Weird Love), photograph (2013) - Chad Wys, At The Museum 1. c-print, 20"x30" (2010) Chad Wys, Burqa. c-print, 30"x30" (2010) Chad Wys, Cover. c-print, 30"x30" (2010)