I watched in horror as the Trump Administration lifted the protected status of designated national monuments in order to lease the land for coal and uranium mining and oil drilling. Starting in the spring of 2017, I set out to explore, commune with, and photograph these lesser-known, wild, and hard-to-reach places. Spending months alone in these threatened sanctuaries, I became increasingly motivated to protect them, in part by engaging the tradition of photographic preservation. Photographers’ efforts to use their images to advocate for the protection of lands began in the 19th century with the U.S. Geological Survey, and are inextricably bound up with the United States’ complicated mission of simultaneously wresting lands from Indigenous peoples and preserving that land for future generations of Americans.
Like many of my forebears, I use an 8x10 large-format film camera, which allows for an unrivaled level of detail. However, when printing, I’m not interested in depicting the way the subject appears in reality, but rather its potential for emotional resonance between viewer and subject. Color is a conduit for me to make those feelings visible.
Aside from referencing the monuments themselves, the title also refers to the many bodies of historical photographic work that proudly documented the “free and open” American West at a time before human-induced climate change was recognized as an existential threat to our species and all life on Earth. The project consists of large scale (70x90inch) c-prints made in the analog color darkroom that are projections of large format (8x10) color negatives and printed in monochromatic hues.
Interconnectedness between queer identity and the Earth has infused this series, which I consider a call for liberation from the patriarchal power structure that has controlled and abused our public lands, as well as our queer bodies, for generations. I rely on my art practice to help me better understand our physical and spiritual connection with our planet. The saturated image demands a second look, which may in turn help the viewer to re-visualize these familiar, even iconic terrains, and make more apparent our natural and sacred connections to them. Color can also indicate the presence of something unsettling below the surface. The pictures themselves become records of places that may soon be destroyed, as well as a means of grappling with the loss of the last remaining wilderness in our country.
I believe my pictures may help others navigate this age of climate crisis by providing an empathetic and sublime view of the natural world, and reminding us that these wild places are essential to human existence. And while these photographs may grapple with grim political circumstances, they can paradoxically exude optimism, through a bold use of color, form, and scale to ultimately represent independence, resistance, and self-determination— American qualities that we supposedly hold dear, but which are currently as imperiled as the land itself.
Since photograms do not require the use of a camera, these newest works are advancing even further into the alchemical heart of photography. Unlike black-and-white photograms, which allow for the use of a minimal amount of light in the darkroom, these color versions require complete darkness. While working blindly, the years of printing my own work have give me the familiarity and the ability to move through a pitch black room as I adjusts my props––cardboard stencils, my body, sheets of printed acetate, my dog Wizard––before exposing the paper to the light of the enlarger.
My photograms can be divided into two basic types: precise geometric abstractions and freer, improvisational compositions in which my body appears as subject.
To create the geometric works, I make hand-cut cardboard templates that I expose on the paper to light, in highly controlled intervals. I use the enlarger in an unconventional fashion, intentionally misadjusting ratios of cyan, magenta, and yellow to produce extremely vivid colors. The photograms are printed on paper with a deep matte finish, allowing for levels of saturation that often make the surfaces feel more like paintings.
Photography is a tool for connecting the entire body to its surroundings. In the new photograms in which my body appears, this intimacy is given literal expression as I put myself in direct contact with the paper, posing on the enlarger table itself. Each of my movements require both planning and a willingness to surrender to the unpredictable choreography of the moment. I make use of specially prepared sheets of acetate that incorporate visual patterning drawn from an array of digital sources. Their presence reaffirms the links between technological image production and human physicality.
Most of the figurative photograms are dense, multi-layered compositions, but Pink Genesis (Self portrait with Mars), 140C0M25Y, 2017 depicts the entire uninterrupted length of my body in stark silhouette. The background surrounds me in a deep shade of pink; on a radiant white rectangle, which appears to be held between my hands, are graffiti-like textures sourced from images taken during a NASA satellite expedition to Mars. Though photography allows us to see things far beyond the reach of our own eyes, I have made a group of works that celebrate––and are dependent upon––the limitless expanses of touch.
Paradise Fire is an ongoing project that presents a more realist view of the American West, monochrome colors aside. With this work, I continue to use an 8 x 10 field camera – a solitary process that is as taxing as it is meditative. The exhibition’s title refers to a wildfire that burned roughly 2800 acres of Washington State’s rainforest in 2015, an event indicating the severity of our changing climate, and a natural disaster named by pairing two seemingly contradictory words. Antithetical language can reach to articulate the unimaginable, and my pictures endeavor to visualize an enigmatic landscape – a paradise on fire.
After returning to many of the same parks and sites depicted in previous work, my experience of these locations changed; I captured a different perspective, truer in coloration and more candid in composition. My titles list places and dates, and in some instances they disclose a subtext, as in Near the Future Sight of Portal Preserve, a Housing Development, Lone Pine, California, July 2015, a representation of Mount Whitney, or Wildfire in Glacier National Park, St. Mary, Montana, August 2015, an image of a rainbow-hued cloud.
Paradise Fire contrasts nature’s perfection against reality’s flaws through photographs that document settings such as: tourists taking selfies at Yellowstone; landscapes with encroaching forest fires; or, a desert floor scarred by dirt bike tracks. For me, a connection to the people I encounter, along with the associated trappings of technology and terrestrial decline, combine with my continued affinity for the environment --- I arrived at images that consider inevitable change, which simultaneously frame a binary experience, one that is alluring, yet ominous.
My interest lies in the changing American landscape, and this ongoing series reflects my unease. Our land is a direct reflection of human existence – our past, our contemporary lives, and ultimately our impact. I continue to explore, with empathy, these facets of society and the environment, looking to capture surreal moments, in order to better understand the complexities of our existence.
Climate Vortex Sutra is a project that explores the canonical genres of historical photography, such as landscape, portraiture, still life, the nude, collage and darkroom photograms. I use the historic 8x10 large-format film camera, which allows for an unrivaled level of detail. However, when printing, I’m not always interested in depicting the way the subject appears in reality, but rather its potential for emotional resonance between viewer and subject. Color is a conduit for me to make those feelings visible. I often draw inspiration from the landscape in determining the final print color. My printing process uses the color film base as a starting point, but by adding or subtracting specific levels of cyan, magenta and yellow filtration, I can adjust the color of my prints and push them to a chromatic extreme. I discovered that this monochrome color adds a voice and energy to the landscape I’m depicting, something akin to my experience of traveling through these majestic places and witnessing the beauty firsthand.
Feeling intrigued by the drastic changes I had witnessed in the US landscapes I’ve been documenting, I spent a year planning, researching, and driving around the Western states photographing effects of climate change. I supplemented this landscape work with nude portraiture and still life photographs, with the intentions of portraying the body as a landscape that is intertwined with the Earth as well as exploring ideas of queer ecology and ecofeminism. With this sequence of pictures, I was influenced by the formalist style of my f/64 predecessors, such as Edward Weston and Minor White but interested in subverting the F/64 context to create my own queer universe where formalist and historical tropes collide.
I created an installation with this work that exuded the psychological tension of our current “image culture” epoch and was interested in the idea of “floating screens” or “open windows” on a computer and attempted to attain this psychological space within the gallery. Many of the works are multi-layered references, such as the nod to T.S Elliot’s in Wilderness of Mirrors, Idaho 2014 or Time Past and Time Future, 2014. The title Climate Vortex Sutra itself is also a reference to Allen Ginsberg's famous poem Wichita Vortex Sutra. There are ideas of surveillance I’m interested in portraying as well, by taking a photograph of my own camera and installing it high above the gallery space, I hoped for it’s presence to feel uneasy, that the camera is always watching us (Out of My Love For You I Will Give You Back To Yourself, Los Angeles, 2014).
Interconnectedness between queer identity and the Earth has infused this series, I rely on my art practice to help me better understand our physical and spiritual connection with our planet. The formal, saturated image demands a second look, which may in turn help the viewer to re-visualize these familiar, even iconic terrains, and make more apparent our natural and sacred connections to them. Color can also indicate the presence of something unsettling below the surface. The pictures themselves become records of places that may soon be destroyed, as well as a means of grappling with the loss of the last remaining wilderness in our country. The acid-toned pictures are critical of the close human relationship to recent climate change. They explore our current “anthropocene” or geology and the ecosphere as it has been impacted by human activity.
APRIL 18 2013 THRU MAY 17 2013
LOS ANGELES, CA – OHWOW is pleased to announce David Benjamin Sherry’s second solo exhibition with the gallery, Wonderful Land, on view from April 18 through May 17, 2013. With this exhibition, Sherry presents a new series of photographs taken over the course of several months while he travelled through the Western and Southwestern states, recording scenes of the American landscape, in exceptional detail. Through a painstaking darkroom process, Sherry transformed these photographs of national parks, monuments, and familiar panoramas into impossibly chromatic and passionate renditions of the country.
Sherry traversed these feral regions equipped with a large format, handmade, wooden camera. Using an f/64 aperture, he was able to capture photographs that were evenly sharp from foreground to background. This exposure setting was an aperture used by Group f/64, a group comprised of seven 20th century photographers, including Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, whose pictures were characterized by carefully framed images captured in sharp focus – often of the American West. The result of Sherry’s technical process, photographing parallel subject matter, delivers prints that are hyper-real in their detail, exposing an infinite depth. His images inhabit an unfamiliar, strange space, as we recognize the physical inability of our own eyes to gauge such extreme levels of visual information. His attention to process relays his personal conviction, but it also insists on reflection, appreciation, and preservation of his muse.
Brilliant colors are achieved during Sherry’s darkroom, analog printing process, as he seeks new tones, values and hues, which evoke an emotional state, as a result. His use of 8 x 10 negatives enables him to attain variations similar to ranges typically associated with black and white printing. Through technique, Wonderful Land innovates natural phenomena by visually communicating the intensity of firsthand experience. These photographs depict scenes so precise and carefully framed that the composition of elements feels staged. It is as if, like arranging a portrait, the subject and composer experience a simultaneous recognition of significance. True, these are images of landscapes not people; for Sherry, however, his relationship to the natural world is as intimate as any human equivalent.
Sherry’s approach to the medium challenges categorical ideologies and the question of photographic truth. It could be argued that no photograph can be completely detached or objective, but the distinction concerning a photographer’s intent seems to divide directives: aesthetic or objective. With this collection of “truthful” images, presented in exaggerated colors, the artist marries opposing categorizations, or the division implied therein. Wonderful Land reminds us, through photography, of the inherent value that exists in any natural resource – what it offers, what it represents, and ultimately, its ability to connect us to a broader experience. "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike... This natural beauty - hunger is made manifest ... in our magnificent National Parks ... Nature's sublime wonderlands, the admiration and joy of the world." - John Muir