“I choose this photograph for a merit award. There is a wonderful tension and energy in this image, one feels drawn to pay attention to the dialogue, to the urgency, and the vulnerability. On the other hand, the raw quality of the nude unsettles which creates a conflicting situation for the viewer. This dynamic brings a great interest to the photograph. Beautiful tonal range, supporting the intensity of the subject.” Joanne Teasdale.
Thank you Joanne for being our co-juror.
Today we are pleased to share the work and words of Brett Henrikson.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Brett Henrikson, and I’m an Artist-Photographer . . . artist being the most important part. Photographic processes are my hammer and chisel, as I approach the world and use visual language to understand and re-interpret being. I spend my spare time reading about photography, The Greats and feel like I know Weston and A. Adams personally. That being said, I live in Pawtucket and work at my studio in Central Falls at an old mill above a loading dock, where I can blast vinyl symphonies while making prints in the red warm confines of my darkroom.
How did you get started in photography?
I was never good at anything . . . I had terrible grades in high school, a lack of motivation and an older brother who got straight A’s. It felt as though I couldn’t compete. The summer before senior year, I went to one of those summertime fair/carnival tents in my hometown. There was a table with some unwanted electronics, old VCRs, etc. But in this stack, I saw the strangest thing . . . it was a Polaroid Super Shooter. It was my first camera. It was like nothing I had ever seen before . . . I took it home, I got the back open and it all made sense. From that point on, I decided to take an art class and before I knew it, I was obsessed. I experimented.
Art school wasn’t even on my radar before, suddenly I’m putting a portfolio together, filling out college applications and in the span of a few months, got accepted to RISD. This is where I fell in love with the darkroom and my heart has been there ever since. Photography gave me something to be passionate about; it very much so saved my life.
Which photographers and other artists’ work do you admire?
The Masters. If someone desires to learn about photography, The Greats show us it’s in no way about technical information, but in being passionate about the world around you. With that passion, beauty is created and anything can be accomplished. Through reading Weston’s Daybooks I was able to understand the inner working of his mind. Reading his journals was very much so an experience of maturation. The mindset of an artist is incredibly important and I feel like getting to know him has saved me years of self-discovery. I also think Gauguin and Weston would be great friends, both incredibly driven by passion.
If you could spend a day with another photographer living or passed who would it be?
I would want to say Weston or Ansel, but I think everyone knows how those days would play out. They would be a dream of beautiful, meditative talks on photography. Which would be great don’t get me wrong! But how fun would it be to spend a night riding around some dark dangerous streets with Weegee? That would be excitement!
Would you share with us an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time?
“Sentinel” 2010 Joe Freeman
People can hear music from photographs. Symphonic tones. I moved in to Joe Freeman’s old apartment when he went out west to get his MFA. One of the rooms he used was designated as a print finishing room with dry mount presses, matte cutters etc. In the corner of the room, he had been making constructions out of tape, charcoal and other materials. The actual constructions themselves didn’t look impressive to the naked eye, but the way that he visualized them, photographed them, transformed them. He knew what he was doing. It always astonished me that something of immense beauty can come from such humble beginnings, i.e. his constructions. He saw something that wasn’t in front of him. He could visualize and imagine the beauty and be able to execute that to the viewer with a word, confidence. I’m not sure I know anyone more dedicated to his craft than he is.
What challenges do you face as an artist?
I think right now one of the biggest problems I see is that no one is buying art. This is partly to do with the economy, but it seems to be a cultural devaluing of images when they can be constantly absorbed freely, through a screen. The Internet and digital imaging made photography more accessible than ever before. We live in a torrent of images, constantly being uploaded onto our phones, seen on Facebook and Instagram. With images constantly at our fingertips, why commit to owning one? The funny thing is that art is an incredibly solid investment. But I think with the digital print, it has changed the value in a negative way. People should want something touched by the artist, made and crafted. An Epson can’t do that, but the processes that I’m committed to are all crafted. This personal hand of the artist, I think, has been forgotten and devalued as well. People have forgotten what it is like to hold a print. People have forgotten what it means to own something special made from the light that reflected from the object. To hold a footprint of a brief fleeting moment.
Is there one thing that you wish people would stop doing when it comes to the creative process or in the art world?
Yes. It has to do with Collodion and the type of pictures that I see being made with it. It’s a historic process, being that it was used primarily in the 19th century, so a lot of the images that we’ve seen with Collodion have a historical context. I see people using the process as a historical re-enactor would: wagon wheels, men in top hats, Victorian dresses and apparel. It feels like a photographic game of ‘dress up’. Some of those images feel like they lack an authenticity. There seems to be a trend in making Collodion portrait work that looks just like everyone else’s, even mine; and when I hear statements about how ‘this or that’ artist displayed their ‘deep personal vision’ through Collodion portraits, I’m a bit taken a back.
As Mark Osterman puts it in regard to Collodion portraiture, “angry passport pictures”. This type of work flow is very controlled as far as the limitations of the medium go, and I would be hard pressed to see a personal vision through a large group of albeit gorgeous portraits. I know this may be problematic, and of course there will always be outliers doing truly beautiful original work, I just hope people realize that Collodion is pure. That new exciting work can be made with it and that it can dispatch all ties to the 19th Century. I would hope to think that no medium with a 40-year history can be run dry of all the possibilities to be made. I want art that says something new.
How do you view this time in the history of photography?
I think that we are faced with a new frontier. In terms of photography, images have never been worth less than they are now. We have an insatiable appetite for them, which we consume by the hundreds from our mobile devices. So on straight photography I’m not sure . . . but what I do know is that beautiful work will always be made. And photography is the only medium that has no doctrine. It is a tool that can lead to endless ways of use and philosophies that spans all of humanity. We all come at it from different angles but photography itself is purely vision.
I think in the Alternative Process world some really interesting things are happening. I’m interested in photography itself and specifically how digital has changed the potential of film and medium based photography, a tool for realism into one about expression, surface qualities, abstraction, physicality, and tangibility. In the same way photography freed painting in the 19th century, I believe that the darkroom and the physical glass, silver, paper, and light of analogue photography has been freed from being only a tool to capture realism [the world] and can be looked upon with the same considerations one can have with other mediums.
How do you over come a creative block?
I certainly have blocks but I don’t think I have creative blocks. My blocks come from exhaustion and the constant questioning of myself, and the value of my work. It’s a difficult and personal thing that I’m sure all artists go through. I tend to retreat into nature as much as I can, I’m not very good at being bored, and this forces me to work. There are always ideas and projects I want to complete. There will never be enough time.
What do you hope the viewer takes from your images?
My images resonate, to me, as this very dark sense of dreaming that I had as a child. It reminds me of this very base place in my soul. I hope the viewer can experience just a fleeting moment this beauty has to offer.
Please tell us about your process and what the perfect day is for you.
My process right now is an interesting one. Using Collodion glass plates, I end up breaking, cutting, smashing plates that I make and piece back together. In the dark, I arrange them on the paper to make Silver Prints. I feel like I’m in the process of creating this giant image archive. I shoot nudes, hands and portraits as well as enlarge objects onto large Collodion panes. I feel like I’m slowly building my own alphabet, more and more I feel I have the literal pieces I need to create, in making my own syntax [something beautiful.] I need to shoot and make work on a daily basis, otherwise I start to feel almost overcome with stagnation. Being unproductive for me is tied to a feeling of worthlessness.
An example of ‘my perfect day’ was spent yesterday. I spent the best part of the day being productive in the darkroom, seeing beauty in negatives never printed before, to come home to a wonderful home and woman.
Where can we see your work, and would you like to share any upcoming projects?
I have one very large project in which I’m heading that would be a great contribution to the arts community in Rhode Island (currently in developmental stages). It’s a house museum with the goal of featuring the work of aspiring and established national artists, while enriching the community and providing a source of creativity that is easily accessible to the public.
Thank you Brett for sharing your work.
To learn more about the work of Brett please visit his site at, Brett Henrikson.
To learn more about the work of Joe Freeman please visit his site at, Joe Freeman.