Gerardo Stübing portfolio was the Rfotofolio Selection in the2020 Denis Roussel Award.
“I am so impressed with your alchemical hybridization between science, art and nature. Many of my current and recent MFA candidates are following the same path that you are and it is clear that your years of teaching have honed your concept very well. I will add that my wife, an organic gardener and lover of nature, loved your work!” Christopher James.
Would you please tell us about yourself?
For over 35 years I have dedicated myself to teaching and research in botany as a professor and researcher at the University of Valencia. Linked to this activity, I have been using photography as a means to document my work. About 15 years ago my interest in artistic creation was awakened, which led me to start painting, studying Fine Arts at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, where I am currently doing my doctoral thesis that I expect to finish next year. Five years ago, I came into contact with alternative photography and little by little I have been switching my artwork towards this field.
Could you tell us about your photographic training?
The need to obtain images to represent plants and ecosystems within my research and teaching activity. At a time digital media to document any situation was not available, so it led me to develop a certain mastery in obtaining analogue images, mainly 35 mm slides, intended to illustrate work and complement the classes and practices in my teaching practice. Later, during my training in Fine Arts, I acquired a series of general and specific knowledge in the audio-visual field that I have applied to my activity as a photographer.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
There are three photographers that are a clear reference for my work, both in terms of motifs and aesthetics and because of the way they approach their work with an experimental nature. The first is Karl Blossfeldt, his a way of approaching the morphology of the plant world is very similar to my way of seeing plants. My second reference is Ansel Adams, for his way of approaching the landscape and the experimental development that characterizes him when capturing the images in the dark room. Lastly, I should also mention the aesthetics of Edward Weston, who makes his more or less ordinary vegetable photographs a surprise for the viewer thanks to their scale, focus and composition.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
One of the images that has struck me the most is Blossfeldt’s photography. It shows the circinate apex of a male fern (Dryopteris filix), an example of aesthetic perfection that combines golden proportion, condensed fractality and visual ambiguity for an unexperienced observer.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
Edward Weston’s series of photographs on peppers are a paradigm of ambiguous abstraction, which I try to achieve in some of my creations when I manage to overcome my deformation as a botanist. I try to show things so that they can be studied and recognized.
Please tell us about the work you submitted to The Denis Roussel Award.
This series attempts an allegory of climate change and one of its main consequences, the desertification of vast territories and loss of biodiversity.
The chemical degradation process to which the initial negatives are subjected generates an aesthetic that is reminiscent of the appearance of plants subjected to prolonged periods of stress due to lack of water before dying. Likewise, in those cases in which the composition of the image includes the environment, there is also a cracked structure that is reminiscent of soils subjected to prolonged droughts. On the other hand, the predominant yellowish and somewhat reddish tones, a consequence of both the physical and digital treatment to which the negatives and prints are subjected, convey a sensation of heat in accordance with this desertification process.
In this series the following processes are combined: obtaining analog images in black and white, mordanting of negatives, digital treatment to transform the images into CMYK color and manual printing by means of transfer of toner with solvent and argyropy.
The images are obtained using an old Polaroid CU-5 camera equipped with an annular flash and with Fuji FP-100 film cartridges (not actual sourcing) adapted and loaded one by one with one plate of Fomapan 100 film cut out to fit the size to the aforementioned cartridges. Macro photographs are obtained on the ground using generally a background backlit by battery-powered LEDs in order to obtain a high-density negative and black background that can be subjected to the mordanting process.
After the standard development indicated by the manufacturer, a mild mordanting is carried out by subjecting the negative to the degradative action of a mixture of acetic acid, copper sulfate and hydrogen peroxide. Alternate several passes through developer and water until the desired look is achieved. It is a random process that is difficult to control, which often makes the negative obtained useless.
After washing with water and drying, the scan is carried out to obtain a CMYK image that captures the colorations derived from the mordanting process. This image is processed with the appropriate software (Photoshop) and it is separated into two files, one corresponding to the K channel and the other including the CMY channels. From both files, xerographs on transparencies with toner pigments are obtained.
With the transparency corresponding to the CMY channels, a transfer with registration marks is carried out on acid-free cotton paper (Arches platine or Canson mix media) with the help of solvent and a press. The paper is subjected, as it is done to carry out an engraving, to a hydration and drying in order to prevent later contractions and changes in size that would prevent a correct superposition.
The transparency corresponding to the K channel is used as a digital contact negative to carry out an argyrotype on the previous impression that is turned with selenium to increase the intensity of the black color.
After drying, a waxing is applied with “Renaissance wax” which, in addition to protecting, intensifies the colors and gives depth to the image.
This sums up very well the alchemical philosophy that in a way I intend to develop in my artistic creation process where I combine 19th century techniques, 20th century techniques and 21st century techniques, that is, an integration between analog and digital with large experimentation. Many times, success arises as a result of error or lucky accident. Deviating from the protocols established in the literature has led me to solve new problems and inevitably find new results.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?
The entire creative process is gratifying from the conception of the initial image to the development process and the entire experimentation phase. Of course, the most gratifying aspect is when you reach the final point that you get a unique impression on a physical support. I understand photography not only as the capture of images that convey different sensations and information, but also as a creative process that ends with the creation of something physical that is unrepeatable.
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
When one encounters this situation the first feeling is one of impatient suffering, which is then rewarded when the final result is reached. The solution that I found is to arm yourself with patience and try to get something out of those unexpected glitches.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
Despite my clear tendency towards classic analogue processes, undoubtedly the integration of digital media, especially in the realization of contact negatives, has been essential to develop my work.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
I have a pending subject called “daguerrotype”.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
It forces me to perceive details in my environment that before, despite my profession as a botanist, went unnoticed by not being useful in my research. I find the observation of plants especially attractive in unfavourable times or when they have died, looking for a “Wabi-Sabi” aesthetic.
How has the pandemic influenced your work methods ? Or has it?
It has allowed me to spend much more time experimenting in the laboratory and darkroom, and as a result I have discovered a technique that I am passionate about: wet plate collodion.
What’s on the horizon?
The unexpected outbreak of the pandemic earlier this year made an important traveling exhibition project, recently inaugurated, closed, as well as interrupted the publication of its catalog. I am waiting for better times, which I hope will arrive in 2021.
I am currently delving into the wet plate collodion techniques, as a preliminary preparation to be able to approach daguerreotype. Likewise, I am focused on writing my doctoral thesis that I hope to present by the end of 2021.
To learn more about the work of Gerardo Stübing please visit his site at Gerardo Stübing