Robert Treat’s portfolio Discovery was a 2023 Denis Roussel Work of Merit award winner. We are pleased to share his work today on Rfotofolio.
“These are such beautifully crafted images… ripe with mystery (like a Giorgio de Chirico painting) or a transcendental moment in a horror film. The architectural strength is clear as is the existential suggestion of what exists around the next corner that has not yet become empirical or experienced. Your toned cyanotypes are complete and I am very interested in the scale and immersive experience of what they might be like in person… and what the next iteration might be. First thought was suggesting replicating them on 40” x 60” 1200 lb Arches paper and installing them in a white-cube space where the cube (gallery) disappears. Might be really impressive!” Christopher James
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Would you please tell us about yourself?
I was raised in Midwest suburbia with corn fields in my backyard. As a kid I
had a strong interest in fine art and architecture. It was my primary focus in high school and college and has been a major element in my life through present day.
It was in high school that photography entered my life. Darkroom work
became a magical escape for me plus eventually helped augment college expenses.
Architecture, painting and printmaking became my majors in college.
My fine art background opened some doors at a small film studio in
Cincinnati where we primarily created local TV commercials and industrial
films. There, I got thrown into animation and film work by the “seat of my
pants”. It was a lot of on-the-job training that became indispensable to me.
Eventually, my professional life re-located me to LA to work as an animator and animation director in the TV and film industry. Up until this time I had been thinking of photography only as a tool for taking pretty pictures and documenting event. It wasn’t until I had the good fortune of taking workshops with Ansel Adams and Paul Caponigro that I began looking at the photography from a fine art point of view… a way of making heartfelt personal images. Even though I continued to paint, printmake and photograph during this time, it wasn’t until an early retirement that I was able to pursue these interests more seriously.
For me photography has become a very personal and intimate event; both in the act of capturing the image and in the act of viewing it. Rather than making images of the grand landscape, I prefer to focus on small details, the ones that often go unnoticed with the aim of, as Edward Weston once said, “transforming the ordinary into something extraordinary”. These details are usually nature driven and devoid of people…but not necessarily devoid of human existence. It’s my way of simplifying a complicated world. Recently I have begun to combine my long absence from printmaking with alternative photographic processes including cyanotype and photogravure. More and more I find myself creating fantasy tabletop landscapes in my studio rather than exploring real life landscapes.
Please tell us about the portfolio you submitted to the Denis Roussel Award.
I’ve always had a fascination with miniature fantasy landscapes and environments. A while back I came up on some iron slabs and started arranging them, creating miniature stage sets with ambiguous spaces behind. Lighting became an important element. Eventually I began seeing them as diptychs and triptychs, breaking up the original photograph into more graphic elements. I then proceeded to print them on Kozo paper as cyanotypes to remove them one more step from their reality.
Please tell us about your process.
Coming from a painting and printmaking background, I love paper! Off and on, for about four years now I’ve been printing cyanotype images on Japanese papers. Since I’m not a big fan of pure blue photographs, I generally tone them with Yerba Mata tea or other toning solutions. The final images are mounted onto Rives BFK printmaking paper and occasionally coated with encaustic.
What is the most frustrating part of the process?
I don’t consider myself a technical artist so for a long time I was frustrated at the repeated inconsistency of making a cyanotype image. However, overtime I’ve come to embrace the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi; the concept of the “beauty of imperfection” and knowing every image is going to be slightly different…unique within itself. I’ve come to love this element of surprise, for better or worse.
Do you enjoy the process itself or is it just a means to an end?
I immensely enjoy working with cyanotypes. The simplicity and immediate gratification of working in this medium fits my psyche perfectly. Ever since high school, I’ve enjoyed darkroom work. With the advent of digital photography, my darkroom enjoyment ceased to exist. Making cyanotypes has allowed me to get physical in a darkroom environment once again.
Do you have a mentor or a teacher that has helped you in your journey?
There is no specific individual. However, about seven years ago a group of us formed a photography community, the Snow Creek Collaborative. We meet at my studio every six weeks or so to show work, exchange ideas, and gain inspiration. Receiving feedback from this group has been very rewarding
How do you work at times when nothing seems to work?
Not to sound glib, but I take a nap. More times than not, drifting into an alpha state helps me resolve problems or come up with solutions.
What part of image making do you find most rewarding?
Once a photograph is processed and dry, I like to it lay it aside for a day or a week and return to look at it with a fresh eye. I like to remove myself from creator to that of an “unbiased” viewer’s perspective. It’s those moments where I can say, “Wow, did I make that?” (or realize the image doesn’t quite work yet) that brings the creative process for circle.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
More and more I find creating images in my studio, rather than out in the field, to be most rewarding. While a “studio” isn’t exactly a tool, it provides a safe place to find inspiration.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
Absolutely! Since by having a background in printmaking and having an etching press, I’m all set to start working with solar plate photogravure. I’ve been saying that for a couple years now as other projects seem to gain precedence, but hopefully one day soon…
To learn more about the work ofRobert Treat please visit his page by clicking on his name.
Featured Comments :
“Fascinating, mysterious, engaging. In this particular time, during which so many dreadful things are happening, in so many places around the world, it was a pleasure and a relief to be pulled in by these engaging images. Thanks to Robert and Rfotofolio.” Norm Snyder
“I really admire these built landscapes- especially presented as diptychs or triptychs. As toned cyanotypes, too, they’re so rich and mysterious- and with such perfection in the lighting.” Diana Bloomfield
“They are without exception mysterious, intriguing. I love the way he has modified the process.”