Rfotofolio’s annual call for entries introduced us to photographers from around the world. Many whose work we would have not seen otherwise. This week we are pleased to share the work of Andrew Bale.
Our guest juror Catherine Couturier of theCatherine Couturier Gallery included Andrew’s work as a Work of Merit choice. We agree. Andrews dedication to his work and craft shows in his print, from the inception to the printing, framing, and shipping.
Now here is our interview with Andrew Bale.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I am a fine art photographer and photography educator at Dickinson College in Central Pennsylvania. In 1994, I received my BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design and ten years later earned my MFA from the University of Delaware. During the ten years between degrees I was an artist assistant in Taos, New Mexico. I owned a small commercial photography business and worked for a commercial photographer for seven years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
During those seven years we had several large clients in the area, one of them being Messiah College. In 2001, the art department reached out to us, as they were in need of someone to teach an advanced photo course. The first year my boss Carl Socolow and I teamed taught the course and the following year I taught it on my own. This is when I completely fell in love with the classroom environment and immediately knew my next career path.
I now spend my time working on personal projects, traveling the globe in pursuit of new images and teaching. I’m old school in that I love the tradition of a finely crafted print especially the process of Platinum/Palladium printing. I enjoy the slow pace of the process, the mixing of chemistry and the fact that I’m dealing with precious metals. I still get nervous every time I’m about to coat a piece of paper with liquid Platinum/Palladium emulsion and love knowing that each print is handmade and that no two are alike. For me, that’s what fine art photography should be.
How did you get started photography?
In high school I wasn’t in any clubs, didn’t play sports or an instrument, and I wasn’t a book-worm. I took a photography class in tenth grade and that was it, I never looked back. My art teacher Ms. Walsh, nourished my creative spirit and taught me to use the camera in a way where I wasn’t just regurgitating what was in front of the lens. She inspired me to see differently and to use the camera to tell a story, not just facts.
Where did you get your photographic training?
Well, I have my two degrees, but I would say that better than any degree has been the time I’ve spend surrounded by photographers that are more creative and better image makers than myself. I spent seven years working for Carl Socolow a fine art photographer and commercial photographer in Central PA. Working with him taught me to think on my feet, problem solve and to make a solid image under less than ideal conditions.
I never wanted to be a commercial photographer, but there is no doubt that I’m a much better artist because of Carl and working commercially. Additionally I have worked with a lot of other talented photographers and John Corcoran is a master in my opinion. I’ve learned so much just by watching his every move, whether it be on location or in his studio shooting products. To this day, I wish I could see and understand light the way he does.
Did you have a mentor?
Too many to mention! I consistently surround myself with artists and image makers that I feel are better than I am. That way I absorb their knowledge and gain an understanding of how they work. Over the years I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to learn from Tom Fischer, Carl Socolow, John Corcoran and Jon Cox, just to highlight a few.
If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or passed who would it be?
This is such a difficult question, but I think I would have to say Harry Callahan. I love the diversity of his work and his vision. I would love to see him working in the field or working with his wife Eleanor.
What hangs on your own walls?
My walls are eclectic and range from works by famous photographers to a collection of canoe paddles. Over the years I have had the great opportunity to know many artists locally and nationally, so my walls are filled with their works. I also have a few prized photographs such as a Paula Chamlee, a Jerry Uelsmann, and an Edward S. Curtis. I traded prints with all my undergraduate professors and love seeing their works hanging in my studio. I also have oil paintings by Edith Socolow and paintings by a very dear friend of mine, Brenton Good.
One of my favorite things that I see everyday, is a folk art style needle point that my mother made that says “Welcome.” She died in 1997, so seeing this daily really means a lot to me.
Would you share with us an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time and why?
Harry Callahan, Bob Fine c. 1952
I know that Robert Capa said, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” and in many cases I do agree. But for me, it’s easier to make a photograph when getting closer to your subject and much more difficult to make a successful image when backing up and incorporating space. This image uses space so beautifully and for me redefines a portrait and solidifies that a portrait isn’t the geography of the face.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
Generally speaking, the images that I have made that aren’t perfect or even good are the ones that have taught me the most. I learn more from my mistakes than from my successes, so studying my images and trying to understand why an image doesn’t work is such an important lesson. We tend to gravitate towards our successful images but it should be the opposite, otherwise we’ll continue to make those images time and time again.
As for a specific example, I would have to say the images I made on my first visit to the Amazon. I come from a large format background where working with static subjects and maximum apertures of F/45 or F/90 is pretty common. So fast lenses and f-stops of f/2.8 or f/1.4 were completely foreign to me and I had no understanding of their importance until working in the Eastern Peruvian Amazon. The forest canopy was so thick and dark that maximum apertures and fast lenses were not only needed but a must have. After working there I immediately purchased faster lenses.
What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?
I work with formats ranging from DSLR to 8×10 film and 8×10 Daguerreotypes to the Holga, so the most essential piece of equipment for me is a sturdy tripod and tripod head. I’ve found that nothing beats Really Right Stuff tripods and heads and I’ve grown to appreciate their quality despite the cost. The upfront cost might seem excessive, but if you buy one tripod and have it for life, then it actually becomes the cheapest tripod you’ll ever purchase.
I’ve also found that the right bag makes all the difference when it comes to working in the field. I prefer Mindshift Gear and Think Tank Photo bags. They are made of the highest quality materials and craftsmanship, and are designed by working photographers – WinWin!
Additionally I’ve searched a lifetime for the right camera strap and I think I found it this past year when I finally found 1901 fotografi out of the UK. Mark Lewis is putting out some great straps and bags and I will continue to buy his products. They are of the highest quality and of minimal design.
Is there one thing that you wish people would stop doing when it comes to the creative process or the photographic world?
In my Intro to photography class we start off learning the photographic process with the Holga. One of the reasons I do this is because I want students to understand that better cameras don’t make better photographs, but better photographers make better photographs. So I wish people would stop worrying about mega pixels and learn to creatively use the camera they own.
Whats on the horizon?
The near future is actually very exciting. For the last couple of years I’ve been involved with a cultural mapping project of the Ese’Eja, an indigenous tribe in the southeastern Peruvian Amazon. My colleague Jon Cox and I have a traveling exhibition of 25 Platinum/Palladium Prints, 20 Mercury Developed-Gold Gilded Daguerreotypes and 20 plus cultural objects, which will launched in the fall of 2016 at the University of Delaware.
In the late fall or early winter of 2016, a documentary style book funded by a National Geographic, Genographic Legacy Grant will be ready for distribution. One of the main goals of this project is to call attention to the cultural heritage of the people and the daily struggles they face. In the early 1900’s they numbered 15,000 to 20,000, they now number a mere 650.
The platinum/palladium prints in the exhibit are printed on Japanese Kozo paper to reference outside influences faced by the Ese’Eja. After World War II, Japanese refugees fled Japan and built settlements within the Ese’Eja ancestral lands along the shores of Lake Valencia. The Ese’Eja learned to farm rice from the Japanese and even today they continue to grow rice in their gardens. Ultimately, conflicts arose between the Ese’Eja and Japanese, and the Ese’Eja were forced to leave their settlements surrounding Lake Valencia.
Our mercury-developed, gold-gilded images of Ese’Eja community members are created to draw attention to the mercury pollution being cast upon one of the world’s last remaining Amazonian cultures and the unique environment where they live. Like many other indigenous peoples in the Amazon, the Ese’Eja are affected by mercury that has been dumped into their environment as a byproduct of illegal gold mining. The mercury pollution is devastating on the rainforest, its inhabitants and other remote locations across our planet. We are all part of the problem when it comes to illegal gold mining. Our global economies were built on gold, our technological devices require gold, and we adorn ourselves in gold as status symbols.
Developed in 1839, daguerreotypes are the earliest photographic images and have long been described as mirrors with a memory. When viewing each daguerreotype, you first see yourself reflected on the silver surface, and as you look deeper the portrait of an Ese’Eja becomes visible.
Thank you Andrew for sharing your work with us. To learn more about Andrew Bales please visit is site atAndrew Bale.
THE ESE’EJA PEOPLE OF THE AMAZON: CONNECTED BY A THREAD
Old College Gallery
August 31 – December 9, 2016
Opening reception on Tuesday Oct. 11 from 5-7pm
For more information please visit University of Delaware.
Rfotofolio is pleased to announce we will be sharing the work from INPrint in 2017 at
Photo Méthode Gallery in Austin, TX. Thank you Tina.