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Artist-in-Residence David Wolf

Posted by Shawn Tamaribuchi on 11/12/2012 to interviews


What initially inspired you to apply for RayKo's Artist in Residence Program?

RayKo became my darkroom home when I began doing color work a couple of years ago. The color darkroom workspace at RayKo is fantastic, and the staff is committed to keeping traditional photography alive ~ including the behemoth Colex color processing machine which we depend on so dearly!

The chance to explore a project at RayKo with the financial support so important to the spirit of experimentation and growth is a rare opportunity. Having a show to bring the work to the public makes for a delicious icing on one sweet cake! I first applied for a residency with a different project two years ago, and am thrilled I’ve had this opportunity now with “The After Life of Things.”



In your biography, you talk about how your work aims to "explore worlds both seen and imagined" and your devotion "to the pursuit of handmade excellence". Can you talk about how both of these qualities are a part of your current project?

My residency project begins with images of discarded things I photographed just as I found them on the street, at random. From this matter-of-fact encounter, I’m now using the characteristics of expired color photo papers to project an image both backwards and forwards in time that resonates with what we might imagine to be the life of a material thing.

I’m thinking about objects almost as if they were people, with a lifetime or personal narrative as they pass from our homes to the curbside and beyond. I think it’s our relationships to things that animates the objects, and also suggests something about ourselves ~ our own lives and what we value ~ in the process.

“Handmade excellence” ~ yes, that’s a lot to live up to! I love the craft of darkroom work, of working with the physical materials to express just what I want to say with an image ~ and not giving up or in until I get there!

With the expired papers, I now have another range of physical attributes, as well as limitations, to work with and explore. Like the discarded objects themselves, each box of paper I’ve collected has had a lifetime of its own that’s resulted in how the paper will print today. The type and brand of paper, how old it is and how it’s been stored over the years all combine to give the paper a particular look, including color shifts, edge fogging and random markings. I work within these parameters for each paper to create an image that resonates with what I want to express about a particular object.



As an artist who works with the more traditional forms of photography, what is your perspective to happenstance with regards to the handmade?

Wow, that’s a great question, and one that really gets to an important aspect of this work. I think most artists contend with issues and choices that center on control of the materials and processes we use. Working with older papers of uncertain quality, I knew from the start happenstance would be an intrinsic aspect of the project.

Each box or packet of paper is a mystery until I begin printing with it. Unpredictable light leaks and fogging can result in markings and colorations that often vary even from sheet to sheet within the same package! Some are more expressive or appealing than others. I think of the paper itself as a found object, and try to utilize its particularities when choosing which image to print on what kind of paper.

Like happenstance, accident can also be a great teacher, and one whom I often have to remind myself to pay attention to! The darkroom ~ particularly the pitch-black-no-safelight color darkroom ~ can be a funny place where all kinds of unexpected things happen. Like accidentally printing with the focusing, white light rather than your carefully chosen color pack. Voila’, you make a deeply red-toned print regardless of color filtration or negative!

Just this sort of accident happened when I was printing a piece for the residency show, “Once Upon a Time, Fall.” After initially being annoyed with myself (rare paper wasted!), I realized I could repeat the “mistake” in a more controlled way to create a lovely autumnal, pinkish-red hue for the image. It’s a unique print that I now wouldn’t print any other way.



Over the years, have you seen any type of evolution in your relationship to display the balance of concept and craft within your work? What new directions do you feel like it is going with this particular project?

Each new project presents an opportunity for me to come up with something distinctly different, a way of presenting the work that speaks to its specific underlying ideas. The subject matter of “The After Life of Things” developed from the series, “Left Behind,” which began with 4x6 machine prints arrayed in variously sized configurations to address issues of consumption and obsolescence.

These themes are also present in the current project, yet the emphasis has shifted to highlight the papers and the printing process itself. I’m really happy to be using nearly obsolete materials to turn “the decline of the darkroom” on its head, and celebrate the wonder of traditional photography.

Next up, it looks like I’ll pursue a few different paths I’ve come upon during the residency. I’m amazed by the beauty of some of the papers when processed straight out of the box ~ no negative, no color control, nothing. Gorgeous colors and abstract markings reminiscent of all kinds of American painting from the 1950’s through ‘70’s ~ think Rothko, Olitski, Noland and others. This is all happenstance at work here, and I’m most interested to see what I can do with the imagery embedded in the papers to create something new. I’m including one piece in the residency show, “Tule,” that points toward this direction.



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 January 2013
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