It is with great sadness that we share the news of John Chervinsky’s passing. Even though we did not know him on a personal level we know he was a talented and generous person. We where fortunate to share his work. We will miss his unique way of seeing. Our thoughts go out to his family, friends and to all those that he touched. In honor of John we are reposting his words and work. Thank you John, you will be missed but not forgotten. Rfotofolio
An Experiment in Perspective
“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding”.
Lenses and cameras are the tools of the trade for a working photographer, but it is the field of optics, as it relates to human vision, that can carry with it multivalent symbolic possibilities for the artist. It can stand as a testament to our expansion of human knowledge and perception. It can also symbolize aspects of our weaknesses, thus leading to a greater understanding of the human condition. Are we prone to the same limitations as our trusty camera on a tripod, held to the earth, seeing the universe from a fixed and single point?
My exploration begins in my attic studio. In it is a pair of slate blackboards; they are illuminated with a single window aided by reflecting panels. One of the boards is placed in the vertical plane, the other in the horizontal. A large-format view camera points toward their line of intersection and records chalk markings, combined with real objects. I employ a mixed media approach with found and constructed objects as sculptural elements, while using chalk drawing as a spatial tool. I use Polaroid Type 55 film because it produces an instant positive (for proofing) and a high-quality negative for scanning and printing.
I intend for these open-ended images to appear as imaginary, or even whimsical science demonstrations or physics experiments, complete with diagrammatic embellishment. They are not intended to be scientifically factual, but more that they are reflective of the ongoing philosophical debates that have raged for centuries. While it is my intent that the work’s institutional learning motif places it into the world of ideas, it is not intended to be instructional. Rather, I see An Experiment in Perspective as posing questions without easy answers. My intent is not to express a single narrow perspective, but to, among other things, expose the pitfalls of doing so.
Please share with us how you got started in photography?
In the mid 1980’s I tried to teach myself how to draw and paint. I generally worked from album covers or images in photo books or magazines. Eventually, I wanted to paint my own images and got involved with photography. My father gave me his Kodak Retina and I walked the streets of Boston and started taking pictures. Someone I worked with gave me some darkroom equipment and I moved forward from there. In 2003, I took a seminar at Lesley University called “Photography Atelier” and went from taking pictures to producing what some might consider art. One of the instructors, Holly Smith Pedlosky, introduced me to the great landscape photographer, John Pfahl. It was his series, Altered Landscapes that inspired me to produce An Experiment in Perspective.
What challenges do you face as an artist?
Having enough time is and has always been my main challenge. I was diagnosed with cancer last April and it has proven to be a major inconvenience. Not only has it cut into my creative time on a daily basis, it has caused me to view time itself as much more of a precious commodity, than ever before. It’s not that I ever squandered it, but the idea of an endgame seemed a bit further off. I find it interesting and perhaps a bit ironic that my project, Studio Physics, is about not only the physical aspects of time, but also as a human, living in it. I have been making these images long before my diagnosis or even before I started developing symptoms. How was I to know that my tabletop tableau was actually about me directly, in such a concrete way?
If you could work with another photographer living or passed who would it be?
Berenice Abbott was a pioneer on many levels. She is best known for her Changing NY images of New York City and for rescuing Eugene Atget’s work from obscurity. The work that interests me are her Science photographs that were produced mostly in the late 1950’s. This work has been getting a lot of attention lately with a traveling show organized by MIT and the release of Documenting Science on Steidl. It literally puts shivers down my spine.
How do you view this time in the history of photography?
From a technological perspective, it may seem that we are approaching a period of stagnation. Certainly cameras and computers are getting faster, better, and cheaper and that trend will continue apace. The other tools of our trade like printers, scanners and image manipulation software have improved only incrementally in the last five years. The same goes for image dissemination: there have been exceptions of course, but it’s the same old Internet that it’s been for at least five years. This is not 2002 when everything was new. It’s time that we start to realize that digital photography is traditional photography.
The real question and the part that I have the most trouble with is whether our art is in a period of stagnation or transformation. I leave that to the art historians.
How do you overcome a creative block?
I actually enjoy the freedom of a creative block because it allows me to make work, not for the purpose of displaying it publicly but for the simple act of making it. During one of those periods, I was enamored by the work of Dain L. Tasker. He was a physician that made these really exquisite x-rays of flowers and plants in the 1930’s. I gained access to a machine at work and not only did I learn to use it, I learned to make calibrated digital negatives and I converted my dark room to make very large panoramic silver gelatin prints. Unfortunately, the project lasted almost two years and I never really led to anything that I wanted to put out in the world. However, I learned so much and what I learned will most certainly lead to something in the future. I made a few cool images too.
Is there one thing that you wish people would stop doing when it comes to the creative process or in the art world?
I realize that many artists thrive by having strongly held views on such topics, but I try not to think that way. There is so much great work out there that I don’t need to waste time criticizing the work of others that does not interest me or aspects of the art world. It’s much easier to walk away.
Would you like to share a story about one of your images?
I was working on an image that had to do with the idea of mathematical probability and random occurrences in life. What are the odds for example, that I would meet my future wife Kirsten, on a random trip by train to NYC? (100%, as it turns out). Anyway, and as you can imagine, I get a lot of packages in the mail because of my photography needs. I started to notice that certain packages went missing. One day, my neighbor caught a middle-aged woman, stealing our mail. He yelled, she dropped a package and ran, police were called. They caught her a few moments later and arrested her. She had lots of prior convictions and eventually did significant prison time for trying to steal the package. The image that I was working on was to contain a sea of scattered dice. That’s what she tried to steal – a big box of hundreds of dice that I ordered from a novelty store. What are the odds? The package is still sitting in the evidence vault at the police station. I never did finish it.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
Isn’t it the other way around? I see the world in a particular way and that is (hopefully) expressed in my art.
Where can we see your work, and would you like to share any upcoming projects?
Last year, I finished a hand-made book of my Experiment in Perspective project. I designed it at Light Work in Syracuse, NY during a month-long Artist In Residence program. The entire book is printed onto archival inkjet double-sided cotton photo rag paper. The pages were trimmed folded hand sewn and bound by bookbinding students at Boston’s North Bennett Street School. It is really a beautiful production and it will be featured, along with several framed pieces in the project space at PhotoEye in Santa Fe. It opens on February 20th and runs to May 16th.
I’m currently working on producing more images in my Studio Physics series and doing some R&D work for a possible new series. Stay tuned.
Thank you John for sharing your work and words with us.
Please see comments below the gallery.
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“Thank you for reminding us of the work and life of John. I am heartbroken for the loss of him. A great photographer and, more importantly, a great man.”Liese Ricketts
“A truly brilliant artist, but beyond that, an incredibly generous and extraordinary human. He will be so deeply missed.” Grace Weston
From the Griffin Museum,
The John Chervinsky Emerging Photographer Scholarship seeks to recognize, encourage and reward photographers with the potential to create a body of work and sustain solo exhibition. Awarded annually, the Scholarship provides recipients with a monetary award, tuition-free enrollment in Photography Atelier, exhibition of their work at the Griffin Museum of Photography, and a volume from John’s personal library of photography books. The Scholarship seeks to provide a watershed moment in the professional lives of emerging photographers, providing them with the support and encouragement necessary to develop, articulate and grow their own vision for photography.
If you would like to consider making a contribution to the John Chervinsky Emerging Photographer Scholarship Fund. In doing so, you honor John’s memory by making it possible for others to continue his work of tirelessly questioning the world around us.
To learn more about the work of John Chervinsky please visit his site at John Chervinsky.
To learn more about Dain L.Tasker please visit, The Camera That Can See Strait Through You.