Christopher Bennett’s portfolio was chosen as an Outstanding Work in the 2020 Denis Roussel Award.

“I loved your scanned Calotypes (really well-done paper negatives) enhanced in Photoshop and completely understand the need to marry the paper negative with digital technology. I like the images a great deal and see their compositional construction as windows isolating me from the actual experience of the nature depicted is particularly effective and quite powerful. I often felt like I was visiting the environment rather than experiencing it.”

Christopher James

Would you please tell us about yourself?

I currently live in Detroit, Michigan where I run a custom inkjet print studio and gallery called Image Works. I moved to Detroit from Portland, Oregon in 2017 where I had been living for 16 years. While in Portland I founded and was the Director of Newspace Center for Photography for 12 years.

Where did you get your photographic training?

My first photography class was in high School around 1990. I went on to earn my BFA from Indiana University in1999 and MFA from the Hartford Art School in 2014. Before, after and in between included many wonderful experiences as an intern at the George Eastman Museum, working at the Santa Fe Photography Workshops, Photo-eye Bookstore, and as a photo assistant for photographers in Chicago and Portland.

Who has had an influence on your creative process?

My first WOW! moment was when I heard Thomas Joshua Cooper lecture at the Maine Photography Workshops around 1996. I wish now that I had taken his workshop! Over the years too many photographers to name have influenced me but currently I might have to say that Ron Jude, Aiwoska Van Der Molen, Michael Schmidt, and Batia Suter continually knock my socks off. Also, many painters have influenced me quite a bit from masters like Francis Bacon, Caspar David Friedrich and J.M.W. Turner to contemporary painters like James Lavadour and Samantha Keely Smith.

Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.

This is tough to pick just one! But to pick one of the first images that I experienced at a younger age where I had a visceral response I would have to go with “Study after Valazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X” by Francis Bacon. I saw this at some point in High School and first thought….This is art! Francis Bacon is to this day still one of my favorite painters.

What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson.

I would say most portraits I’ve made have taught me that I am not comfortable or very good at taking pictures of people, specifically strangers, and that I should stick to inanimate objects!

Please tell us about the work you submitted to The Denis Roussel Award

During my time in self-quarantine for the COVID-19 crisis I began turning my focus to work that I had previously shot, but never brought to fruition. Around 2010 while living in Oregon and traveling frequently through the western states I was shooting paper negatives with my 4×5” view camera, also known as Calotypes or Talbotypes, named for William Henry Fox Talbot who invented this early photographic process in 1841.

After shooting and developing the paper negatives, I scan them and begin manipulating them in Photoshop for final output as digital pigment (Inkjet) prints. During the last two months I began adding color and shape, inspired by artists of various mediums I admire (see mood board), and reacting to the emotions of an unprecedented situation experiencing a global pandemic.

My work investigates issues of place, time and memory by exploring how the environment in which I live and its history guides my views and perceptions. By studying historical aspects of a region and employing philosophical aspects of the sublime and beauty in nature, I hope to inform my internal dialogue and address the ontological aspects of my relationship to the world.

I consider photography as visual poetry. I am more drawn to its ability to transcend time and place. I constantly revisit personal memories and history through my photography, reflecting on my inner self. Capturing or representing reality are not my goals when photographing. Rather, the coexistence between the past and present, dream and reality, and absence and presence are what consume me. Incidental moments during the passing of time and their surreal qualities and tensions between what is real and imagined are what I seek to convey in my work, taking the viewer elsewhere.

What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?

There are many moments of joy (and pain) throughout the creative process for me, but seeing a finished piece hanging on the wall is by far the most rewarding for me.

How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?

I can’t say there is one sure remedy for this situation, but often times I will just need to take a break from a certain image or body of work and wait for another day. Go read a book, watch a movie, listen to music, or take a walk. The important thing though is to just keep working through the tough times and not give up. Take a break, but don’t give up, keep pushing!

What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?

From a technical (and literal) standpoint Photoshop has become huge for me, especially with this work in particular. But more importantly, I need a space where I can focus and work without distractions so my studio space has always been an important “tool” for me. I can hang things on the wall, create a “mood board” if you will. Have things close by that help inspire me and push me to create.

How does your art affect the way you see the world?

I think that the way I see the world affects my art more than the other way around but I guess there is some back and forth. When I am in the middle of making images I will start to imagine scenes, and how I might transform them, as I come across them. We just took a trip to Colorado as I want to continue on this series of images so naturally I am seeking out shots that I feel could make dramatic pictures. Luckily my wife and son don’t mind coming along for the ride usually.

How has the pandemic influenced your work methods ? Or has it?

The Pandemic helped me step out of the everyday routine and look back at some older work and re-examine and explore it in a new way. Perhaps this work would have never come to be without it? A light in the dark I guess.

What’s on the horizon?

I want to keep working on this series of images and see where it goes or where it might lead me next!

Thank you Chris, To learn more about the work of Christopher Bennett please visit his site at Christopher Bennett.

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