Brian Van de Wetering was one of the 2018 Rfotofolio Selected photographers.
“This project showed me botanicals in completely fresh and unique way. There is often a sameness to lumen prints, where this artist created new worlds that kept me wanting to see more. More like abstract painting, with a nod to Japanese sensibilities, this work is stellar in it’s artistry and presentation.” Aline Smithson
Please tell us a little about yourself?
I am a visual artist whose primary medium is photography. My work encompasses a variety of styles from street photography to constructed images and conceptual series. Most recently, I have been experimenting with cameraless photography and my most recent work is based on lumen prints. My artistic practice is an exploration of ideas, of self, of people, and of the world. Play, experimentation, and observation are important parts of my process and often lead me in directions I never expected. I’m not seeking to establish a signature style, but to explore as many different ideas as I can.
I’m a native San Diegan. I took a couple of detours and lived in the Netherlands and in Los Angeles for a number of years, but I recently moved back to San Diego. Over the years, I have worked in theater, music, software development and, most recently, visual art. As a child, I liked to draw and I also liked to take apart my toys and put them back together in new and different ways. In high school I worked as the master electrician and lighting designer for the Mission Playhouse, a pioneering San Diego community theater. In college, I worked on and off at the Old Globe Theater as a stagehand. I finally settled on software development as my career path and have worked at that for over 30 years. I’m a founding member of San Diego’s own folk-punk band The Downs Family and have been playing with them for over 25 years. We just recently released our third album.
Although I was introduced to the darkroom and film photography in grade school, I began to seriously pursue photography about eight years ago when my wife gave me a DSLR for my birthday. I love the local desert and started photographing there. I had some success in the annual photography contest of the Anza Borrego Desert Foundation and that sort of launched me down this path. I stumbled upon classes at the Los Angeles Center of Photography and it really was life changing, opening my eyes to the possibilities of photography and giving me permission to call myself an artist. Since then, my work has gone in directions I never would have expected and my artistic practice has become a tremendously fulfilling and exciting part of my life.
Where did you get your photographic training?
On the technical side, I’m mostly self-taught. Working in the software business one becomes good at learning new skills and concepts on the fly because things change so quickly. But on the artistic side, I have taken workshops at LACP, Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, and through the Medium Festival of Photography here in San Diego.
Why do you create?
If I had to sum up my character in one simple phrase, it would be “I like to make things.” Whether that’s a meal, a song, a poem, or a photograph, the process of starting with an idea and applying skill and effort and ending up with a tangible product is something I find enthralling.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
Aline Smithson. After taking several classes with her, she has become a cherished mentor and dear friend. Aside from her support and encouragement, she stresses the importance of reflection, introspection, and intention in artistic practice. She is an advocate of a well-crafted artist statement. Fortunately, I’m comfortable with writing and the artist statement has become a valuable tool for me while I’m working on a project. I usually start working on the statement shortly after I start working on a new project and they evolve together. The process of putting my thoughts on paper helps me clarify and focus my ideas.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
I grew up during the Vietnam War, so there are a few images that are burned into my mind: Nick Ut’s image of a naked girl fleeing a napalm attack, Eddie Adams’ image of the summary execution of a Viet Cong on the streets of Saigon, and John Paul Filo’s image of a young woman screaming and kneeling over the body of a student shot at Kent State. These things stick with you and are testimony to the power of photography to influence social and political trends. But that’s not the type of work I do.
When it comes to images that have influenced my work, it’s hard to say. There is one image, “Glass Tears” by Man Ray, that sticks with me and I’ve admired over the years. I had a t-shirt with a detail of one of the eyes from that image back in my punk rock days of the late 80s and early 90s. I’d wear a button-up shirt over it unbuttoned part way down so that it appeared as if the eye were peering out from behind the shirt. I love doing stuff like that. I’ve always been drawn to the surrealists and the Dadaists and I think my own work has a similar aesthetic.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
The image, currently titled “Graveyard Spiral” from my “Acting Hand” series was really transformational for me. It taught me the importance of play — unstructured time to work and experiment — in my creative process. This image came from spending an afternoon messing about in the backyard with interesting items I found around the house. I immediately recognized it as a strong image, but it took some time and some writing before the full concept for a series emerged.
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
Free time with no other obligations is what it takes for me to produce quality work. I cherish those days. That might mean a full day to do post processing and printing. It might mean creating new work in my garage/studio. But creativity for me can come at any time. I’m often thinking through new ideas as I take my morning walk or in the shower, or as I’m lying in bed trying to get to sleep.
I’ve been trying more and more to lead a creative life and make every day a creative day. For me that means taking joy and pleasure in the small, daily acts of creation, whether it be baking a loaf of bread, planning a dinner party for friends, or something as simple as choosing my clothing for the day. We put so much importance on the big creative idea, creativity with a capital “C”, that we forget all the small creative decisions we make throughout our lives. These can be just as important and paying attention to them and relishing them makes life fuller.
If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or passed who would it be?
There are many artists, photographers, and musicians whose work I enjoy and admire. But it’s hard to tell from the work whether or not that person is someone you want to spend time with. I’d have to go with someone who has a reputation for graciousness and bringing out the best in whomever he collaborates with, Tony Bennett. He seems to have incredible creative energy and a commitment to excellence and lifelong learning. I would like some of that to rub off on me.
How important is the photographic community to you?
The photographic community is incredibly important to me. Being an artist is a difficult path, especially if one expects or hopes to make a living at it. Almost all of the artists I know have day jobs. In the current political and social climate, it seems that art is seen more and more as a luxury, but I think it is more important than ever. It is the soul and conscience of a society. The most important thing we can do for each other as artists is to create and foster community rather than competition. Whether it is through small, informal groups of artist friends that meet to share and critique work, or more formal organizations like the Medium Festival of Photography , and theLACP, and Open Show
What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?
I will unapologetically say the computer. And when I say that, I include my digital cameras. They’ve got memory, a CPU, storage devices, input/output devices, and an operating system just like my laptop. And, of course, my scanner, and inkjet printer.
I’ve had a 35-year career writing software of one kind or another. I started my career before the Internet and digital photography as we know it. I worked side by side with electrical engineers on early graphics and digital video systems. I really get pixels. I don’t get chemistry. Photoshop is very intuitive to me.
Digital photography and Photoshop have gotten a bad rap in some circles, with claims that they take the skill and craft out of photography. I disagree. But they have completely changed the skill sets necessary to capture, process, and print a quality image.
Even when I shoot film, most of my workflow is digital. My current works start as lumen prints. But they are scanned and manipulated digitally to enhance the subtle details and colors. Scanning and digital processing allows me to find and visualize details in these analogue images that aren’t necessarily apparent to the naked eye.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
I am curious, inquisitive, and self-taught by nature, so it might be more efficient for me to list the things I don’t want to try. I’ve got current project ideas involving Polaroid emulsion transfers and cyanotype printing. I also have project ideas that involve writing custom software for processing digital images in a unique way.
Whats on the horizon?
Jonathan Blaustein’s Antidote Photo Retreat in Taos is coming up in August and I’m really looking forward to that. I’m hoping to find some time away from the day job this summer to get some tangible results from some of the new ideas floating around in my head. And of course I’m always in search of that elusive solo show. I’d really like to do a show of very large prints of my lumen print work.
Thank you Brian for sharing your time and some work with us.
To learn more about the work of Brian Van de Wetering please visit his site at Brian Van de Wetering