Interview with Black and White photographer Brian Arnold

Interview with Black and White photographer Brian Arnold


I am a photographer, writer, musician and educator based out of Ithaca, NY. After completing undergraduate degrees in English and ethnomusicology from Colorado College, I spent several years teaching myself photography before enrolling in an MFA program at the Massachusetts College of Art, where I studied with Abe Morell, Doug Dubois, Laura McPhee, Frank Gohlke, and Barbara Bosworth. I have taught photography all over the world, including at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, the Beijing Film Academy, Massachusetts College of Art, Syracuse University, Cornell University, the Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence, the University of Indonesia, and the Institute of Technology in Bandung, West Java. I am currently working as a Research Fellow with the Cornell University Southeast Asia Program. My photographs have been exhibited in Paris, Florence, Beijing, New York, and Boston, and are featured in the permanent collections at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, Light Work in Syracuse, the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, the Colorado History Museum, the Society for Contemporary Music in Australia, and at the George Eastman House in Rochester. Currently, I am writing a book for Oxford University Press called Alternative Photographic Process: Technique, History, and Creative Practice, due for publication in early 2017. Additionally, I am working on a number of large projects in Indonesia, including an exhibition of contemporary photography from Java. This exhibition – called You? Me? Us?: Questions of Identity in Contemporary Javanese Photography. To the best of my knowledge, this will be the first exhibition devoted to Indonesian photography in the United States, and is currently due to open at the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University in January 2017. Additionally, I am working in collaboration with the Johnson Museum and Red and White Books in Jakarta to publish a small, bilingual book or catalog to accompany this exhibition.

As well as my work in photography, I’ve been studying and performing classical music from Bali and Java for close to twenty years, and have performed at a number of universities, museums and art centers around the United States, including the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, the Denver Art Museum, Cornell University, and he New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

Anatomy of an Eye

© Brian Arnold – Anatomy of an Eye

All of the pictures are from a series called Short Stories, a series of photographs made between 2002-2006, and all made in libraries in New York, Boston, and Montreal. All of the prints are silver gelatin prints, toned with various combinations of selenium, gold chloride, sulfur, and Lipton tea. The finished prints are various sizes, ranging from 16”x20” to 5”x7.” A complete selection of 51 prints is in the permanent collections at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, and the George Eastman House Museum in Rochester. A smaller selection from this series is in the collections at Light Work in Syracuse and the Denver Art Museum.

In photographing the books and libraries, there are several thematic threads to the pictures. Made during the height of the Iraq war, there are a series of pictures that suggest political conflict or questions. Additionally, there are a number of photographs of biographies about artists or thinkers I admire, and a number of pictures about sexuality and pornography.

Architectural Books

Architectural Books

– How and when did you become interested in photography?

I started photographing seriously about 20 years ago. After completing an undergraduate degree in English and Ethnomusicology, I taught myself the mechanics of photography. After working on my own for several years, I enrolled in an MFA program at the Massachusetts College of Art.

When I first started photographing, I had a part-time job working in the darkrooms at the Colorado History Museum. The museum holds the complete archives of William Henry Jackson and the Detroit Publishing Co. On my first day, we were asked to print several 20×24 glass plate negatives made by Jackson in the 1880’s. It took the better part of a day for three of us to print these negatives, but this was a very important afternoon in defining my life as a photographer. I felt like I shared an important experience with the photographer, an experience that transcended time and stretched out over a hundred years.

– Is there any artist/photographer who inspired your art?

Having been born and raised in Colorado in the 1970s-1980s, the photographs of Robert Adams resonant very deeply with me, reflecting so much of my own experience. While I’ve never met Adams in person, we’ve been exchanging letters for close to 20 years now. He remains a photographer, writer, and human being I admire deeply.

I’ve also been quite fortunate to study closely with a number of photographers I admire as well, most specifically Abe Morell and Laura McPhee.

– Why do you work in black and white rather than colour?

There are so many reasons I chose to work in black and white over colour photography. Inherently, just be its separation from reality, black and white seems more abstract and transcendental to me. I’ve always been interested in the “alchemy” of photography, and not only do all my own processing, but mix most of my own chemistry. And all said and done, nothing satisfies my creative impulses like the quiet, meditative time in the darkroom.

– How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph/series of photographs?

I always try to find a balance between intuitive, visual thought, and more conceptual ways of thinking about and making my photographs. With most of my projects, engage visual thinking first, and then try to sort out a framework for making the pictures based on what I see. Generally speaking, I work on a project 3-4 years before moving onto the next idea. Good ideas, in my mind, take a while to cultivate.

– Where is your photography going? What projects would you like to accomplish?

Currently, I am working on several large projects – a book I am writing on alternative process photography for Oxford University Press, a monograph of my photographs with Radius Books, as well as several projects based in Java, Indonesia (working as curator, writer, and photographer). Having worked on my own as a photographer for so many years, I am more and more interested in taking on these kinds of projects. I several series of photographs I hope to publish as books, as well as other writing projects based on both photography and my interests in contemporary and traditional Indonesian art.

Website: www.briancarnold.com

Bilingual Qu'ran

Bilingual Qu’ran

Biography - Lewis Carroll

Biography – Lewis Carroll

Biography - Ludwig Wittgenstein

Biography – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Book of Anarchy (Autobiography of Emma Goldman)

Book of Anarchy (Autobiography of Emma Goldman)

Broken Spine

Broken Spine

Childrens' Book About the United Nations

Childrens’ Book About the United Nations

Comparative Anatomy - Man and Bird

Comparative Anatomy – Man and Bird

History of Pornography

History of Pornography

Little Bird

Little Bird

Paper Scraps

Paper Scraps

Sexual Memoir

Sexual Memoir

Short Stories

Short Stories

Student Book of Poetry

Student Book of Poetry

Tibetan Scroll

Tibetan Scroll

Transparent Map of the United States

Transparent Map of the United States

Vital Signs

Vital Signs


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