Today we feature the work and words of Francisco Diaz .
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
Though born in the U.S., my heritage is Cuban/Spanish. My predilection for artists like Goya, El Greco, and the still lifes of Juan Bautista de Espinosa may come from that background. Childhood years were spent in Brooklyn on Coney Island, but it wasn’t the luxurious turn-of-the-century playground that many see in old postcards. For me, it meant poverty and urban blight. Many of the old ripped posters and crumbling rides that surrounded my home had a big visual impact on me. As a child, I played under the boardwalk and spied on the hidden culture there. I frequented the concession stands that lined the boardwalk and spent hours soaking in the ocean air. Interestingly, one of the big impacts on my life was a cheap supermarket encyclopedia that introduced me to Leonardo da Vinci and the concept of the Renaissance Man.
How did you get started with photography?
Coming out of graduate school, I hooked up with an artist who was very into black + white film photography. He taught me dark room work and the functional aspects of the analogue camera. I experimented with film photography for a while, but eventually gave it up … till five years ago, when another good friend, Raymond Helfrich, introduced me to digital cameras and their possibilities. The amazing flexibility of digital photography so knocked me out that I immediately bought a digital camera and began developing my notion of cinematic narrative images.
Which photographers and other artists work do you admire?
There are so many I truly admire! To narrow down a little, I am a BIG fan of Dutch/Flemish painting from the 1500’s — Bosch to Grunewald. Their storytelling has always blown me away; their use of black and their compositional structures impress me. TodayI admire photographers like Tom Chambers, Angela Bacon-Kidwell, Sylvia de Swaan, Katarina Tina Johnson, Deb Young, Honey Lazar, Ellen Jantzen, Julie Blackmon and Aline Smithson, to name just a few. I’m leaving out others—there are so many talented photographers today. I also look to great film directors for ideas—Hitchcock, Godard, Tykwer, Kurosawa, Lynch, Tarantino. They play a big role in inspiring the conceptualization of my work.
And what about their work inspires you?
Well, Tom Chambers’ work knocks my socks off because it’s so damn iconic. His thoughtfulness on image creation is just so freakin’ spot on. It’s pushed me to think carefully about how I construct my images. Angela Bacon Kidwell has a series of a dirt road with birds scattering in the distance—the sense of mystery that pervades these pieces reinforces my desire to include more of those haunting feelings into my work. Film directors inspire me to really think about camera placement, lighting, character creation, narrative development, and style. Would you tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you overtime?
Would you tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you overtime?
To answer your question, I would say that Tom Chambers’ piece “Prom Gown 3” has stayed with me for quite some time. It’s an iconic work, full of layers of meaning. The way in which he has crafted this piece together has always impressed me.
When did you start to develop a personal style?
Well funny thing, I’ve never actually thought about developing a personal style. I see myself as a conceptual artist who uses photography as his medium for the discussion of ideas. Each of my series has a style unique to the series. The style comes out of the original concept—in other words, i create a style that’s the best conveyance for the concept. The best way to look at my work stylistically is as cinematic narratives, which generally rely on a cinematic way of telling a story. But I really spend no time in the development of a personal style.
If no one saw your work, would you still create it?
No. Like most artists, I want to sell my work and exhibit my work in galleries. Why? Because for me, being in dialogue with a greater community, sharing ideas and possibly having a positive impact means more than just the personal desire to create.
Please tell us about your process and what the perfect day of photography is for you.
All of my work is a process of selecting, editing and piecing together separate photographs to form a continuous, coherent image. At its core, I fabricate my work in a way that is similar to how we take in and assemble information–processing bits of impressions to form a coherent reality. My work is all photomontage. So first I develop a concept for a series–many times I will storyboard–then i go and shoot 100’s of photographs that i can use in the development of characters, ambience, props and so on. I have an archive of 1000’s of photographs all filed by subject.
My perfect day of photography is when I see a series coming to fruition just as I conceived it. When I am involved with working on a piece and it’s working out beautifully–that is a day I love. The other side to that perfect day coin is when that work is exhibited and I see viewers interacting with it. Ahhh, that is the full cycle of the perfect day for me!
What challenges do you face as a photographer?
Well, the first challenge I face is my limitation as a person. Being able to dig inside myself to come up with concepts/series that I think are relevant for viewers. The more I learn to grow as an individual–the more I can break through my personal limitations–the better I can conceptualize and communicate relevant ideas. The other challenge I face as an artist is the one of exhibition—-developing work that galleries will want to exhibit that stays true to what I think and feel is important to discuss in this era.
With the rapid changes in how people make and view a photograph how do you view this time in the history of photography?
Well, I am a true 21st century artist–I have embraced digital photography wholeheartedly and find that what can be accomplished digitally is creatively astounding! I have great respect for analog photography but have no ties to it. This is potentially such an explosively creative period for photography–all that we can imagine can now be put into an image–amazing! And the time it takes to shoot and then process that photograph–just minutes. Out of my joyful embracing of this digital era came my unique vision of an International Collaboration: a collaborative effort where artist/photographers could create together from different corners of the globe, never meet, be total strangers, yet come together creatively using Facebook as a portal. There is no other era where this could take place! My first collaborator, Deb Young, is a New Zealand artist/photographer. We have created several compelling works but have never met! Recently we joined with a terrific French artist/photographer, Agnes Courrault, and expanded the International Collaboration to a triad. This remarkable idea is an expansive positive one–disparate people working together from various countries creating instead of destroying. Imagine.
How do you overcome a creative block ?
Hmmmm, there are times when am slower in bringing a piece to fruition because I can’t immediately see a resolution. In those instances, I look at other works, watch a good movie, read–in other words surround myself with inspiration without the pressure to create anything. Then I go back and look at the piece with renewed ideas. I will say that working on the International Collaboration project has had a side benefit of having other artists with whom to kick ideas around. We just finished the second triad International Collaboration and while I was working on my part, I got stymied. I discussed my thoughts with Deb and she made a suggestion that BOOM was the solution!
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
Well, I seem to look at everything as a possible subject for a series … LOL! You might say I’ve become a visual omnivore — but it’s more of a give & take — my art informs how I observe and then, how I observe impacts my art. Much of the time I’m in observational study mode–watching how people move, how light falls through a doorway, how a woman touches a man’s hand, how a little child reaches out. My art has allowed me to feel and see in a deeply sensitive way the subtleties that abound in our daily routines.
Is there another type of photography or subject matter you would like to tackle?
There are two subject matters I would like to explore more fully–first, the idea of simultaneity or the occurrence of activities at the same moment in a frame of reference; second, breaking the fourth wall, where the boundary of the picture plane is transgressed by a character in a narrative work who addresses the audience. In a few of my series, I have individual pieces where I break the fourth wall, but I would like to focus a series on that. I have recently been creating more work with simultaneity in mind, allowing the viewer to see different events happening at the same moment. Not as an accident of taking the photograph (man is walking and car is passing), but as a subject/idea for viewers to ponder.
Where can we see your work, and would you like to share any upcoming projects?
2013 has been a rewarding and busy year–my work was chosen as one of Photographer’s Forum Magazine’s Best of 2013; my series “The Lost Road” was selected for the core exhibition at The Ballarat International Foto Bienale in Australia and I won First Prize in the New York Center for Photographic Arts’ “Rural Impressions” Exhibition. Additionally, I was a Gold Medal winner at the Gallery Photographica’s International Photography Exhibition in California, and my work was selected for the Photo Center NW’s “Musings” Photographic Exhibition in Washington.
My focus is on the International Collaboration, where a new triad piece will be posted on Facebook shortly.
To learn more about the work of Francisco Diaz please visit his site. Diaz + Young
Thank you Francisco for sharing your work and words.
Thank you to the photographers that share their work with us.
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