Robert Dash’s portfolio Food for Thought was chosen as a 2020 Rfotofolio Selection .We are pleased to share his work here on Rfotofolio.
Would you please tell us about yourself?
I’ve been a fan of tiny nature for as far back as I can remember. Tadpoles and salamanders were “wildlife” to me, and I’ve never lost my fascination with up-close beauty. Macro lenses and a scanning electron microscope have inspired me to explore with much greater depth and precision. I chose to be an educator for a career, and that has allowed me to further study and share my passion for biology, photography, and environmental issues.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I did a great week-long workshop with Sam Abell, but other than that, I’m self-taught (which really means: I’ve been inspired by countless teachers, web tutorials, blogs, portfolio reviewers, etc.)
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
Jerry Uelsmann, for his creative approach to composites and photomontage. His naming of photo elements as “assets” that can be combined in compelling ways. Karl Blossfeldt for his eye for detail with the patterns and textures of plants. Edward Weston for his black and white imagery and stark contrast between background and sensuous natural objects. Minor White for his black and white work, and his comment, “One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.” Chris Jordan, for his remarkable series, “Running the Numbers,” in which he blends the huge picture with the miniature, both in fact and metaphor. Also, his Midway series, where he offers essential commentary about life, grief, and love by studying the art, life, and death of the Laysen albatross.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
William Anders,’ “Earthrise”, and the Hubble Telescope, “Deep Field composite”. Neither of these were made by professional photographers, but they capture so much mystery and emotion. I’m intrigued by how photographs reach well beyond the fine art world.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson.
During the first two year that I used a scanning electron microscope, I was frustrated by the resolution and limited file size. I’d make an image of something remarkable, but it would become pixelated and mushy beyond an 8 x 10 print. It took me a long time to realize that I could make a micro panorama, thereby increasing the file size and resulting print size/sharpness dramatically. Finally, I started to apply this idea, making up to 56 separate images to merge. That particular image of algae and diatoms was razor sharp at a large size, and my practice was radically altered.
Please click on images to have a different view.
Please tell us about the work you submitted to The Rfotofolio Call.
My submission is part of a multi-year project about food and climate change, from my traveling exhibition, “Food for Thought.” I’ve been fascinated to look at hundreds of different foods (mostly plants) and other objects connected to agriculture such as pollinators, soil grains, rock dust, etc. I’ve chosen subjects with stunning textures and patterns which also tell an important story about food security and ecosystem health. In the process, my assumptions have been upended many times. I started by seeing ways that agriculture was destroying the planet, and how crops were suffering due to a warming planet. To my great thrill, I learned about the ancient and modern work of regenerative agriculture which actually reverses this destruction. I’ve been fascinated by the way that textures and patterns have pulled me into deeper stories about the state of the world. A viewer at my exhibition opening wrote, “Thank you for balancing despair and hope and reality and art.”
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding.
Working with a scanning electron microscope is like taking a miniature hike through a wilderness I’ve never visited. Every now and then I happen upon a texture, pattern, or structure that makes my jaw drop in amazement. Translating that into an artful image is a tedious task, involving micro-panoramas and focus stacking to create a sharp image that not even the microscope can reveal. This creates a high-quality “asset.” The most rewarding part of the montage process is seeing how this black and white micrograph relates to the color macrograph, so that a bigger story can be implied.
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
Mostly I leave it alone for a while. Some images have taken a year or two to figure out. When they’re ready, they’re ready. Rushing rarely works – I rely on the “weathering” process to see if the work keeps my interest .
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
A scanning electron microscope and a mentor who showed me how to operate it, Photoshop photomerge and focus stacking software, a tripod, lightbox, black background material, and a crazy amount of patience.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
They mirror each other. Life exists in layers: physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and so many combinations in between. My images are built in layers: micrographs, macro, color, black and white, fact, metaphor, surreal, hyper-real, aesthetic/political.
How has the pandemic influenced your work methods?
Most of my work is studio or lab-based these days, so other than working around closures – not very much.
What’s on the horizon?
I’m completing a book about this work. I look forward to engaging conversations about the material, sharing it at conferences/festivals/exhibitions/talks/interviews. My educator/political/activist self wants to see how art can help inspire change, and when it comes to food security and climate chaos, we need all hands on deck.
To learn more about the work of Robert Dash please click on his name.
Thank you to the photographers that share their work.