Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Natural Form: Inspiration and Replication"

At long last, I am able to present my finished artwork, the culmination of many long hours of hard work, the project I created for the Norway Study Abroad trip I participated in this summer. It made its debut from September 30 to October 15, 2013 in Gallery 102 of the Chase Fine Arts Center at Utah State University, along with the other incredible projects made by the rest of the student team who went to Norway. All in all, I can definitely say that this trip was a highlight of my college experience and a valuable addition to my education. I'd recommend a study abroad to anyone, art major or otherwise. Many thanks to my intrepid professor Carsten Meier, who led the trip and personally mentored me in making this project conceptually, technically, and professionally superb. And now, without further adieu, I present to you:

"Natural Form: Inspiration and Replication"

"Natural Form: Inspiration" | digital pigment prints on 16" diameter aluminum plates | 2013

"Natural Form: Replication" | digital pigment prints on 16" diameter aluminum plates | 2013

Artist Statement

          Architecture can be seen as a human extension of the landscape; cities mirror forests, skyscrapers reach to the heavens like mountains, and streets and plazas stretch out across the land as rivers and lakes. It is mankind's creative response to our natural surroundings. Two compositions compare the formal qualities of landscape and architecture that is representative of Norway. Each composition consists of nine circular photographs arranged in a grid, one featuring landscape and the other architecture. The photographs feature varying landscapes and architectural styles, expressing the diversity of Norway's countryside and cities. The individual photographs display a tightly cropped view of the subject with no sky or apparent limits to what is shown.
          The arrangement of the grids allows the viewer to fully examine one composition at a time and see how the individual photographs interact with each other. With the memory of one grid in mind, the viewer may then turn to the other grid and compare its own depiction of form with that of the first. The concise cropping of each photograph keeps the viewer's attention on the subject's form, rather than the subject itself. The circular nature of the photograph further minimizes distraction by preventing the viewer from comparing the straight lines of the usually rectangular frame with the lines found in the subject. The round shape directly references the nature of photography itself: all photographs begin as circles that are then cropped into rectangles by the camera frame.
          In recognizing these similarities in form, one can see how the landscape becomes an inspiration for architecture. Since humans cannot create the elements of nature, we replicate nature with the structures we build. Using materials and designs taken from the earth, we construct our own environment that is distinctly human, yet inescapably tied to the land from which it rose.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Adventures in Norway, parts 1 - ∞

Okay, so I didn't periodically post pictures of Norway while I was there, partially because internet access was a little hard to find and partially because I was having too much fun. But here's a link to a web album I put together featuring 150 of my favorite shots from my study abroad adventure:

Some of the architecture and landscape shots will be a part of my final project, which will be shown in an exhibition this fall at Utah State University. Of course I will let you know the details on that as they develop.

So until next time, as one might say in Norway, "Farvel!" (goodbye)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Norway Study Abroad, Part 0

Well, friends, I'm off to Norway for USU's Photography Study Abroad Extravaganza! I'll be posting updates and pictures on here from time to time, so check back now and then to see what's new!

My project will focus on architecture and how it relates to the landscape of Norway. The photographs will be presented as a series of diptychs: one image, the architectural structure; the other, the corresponding landscape. The paired images will be photographed in a similar way--same angle, same lighting, same camera settings--and will relate to each other in terms of line, shape, color, texture, and other formal qualities. The following image is an example of what I intend to accomplish:

More to come later, once I'm in Norway!


Thursday, February 14, 2013

I've Got The Blues (Valentine's Day Special)

Well, since my baby left me
For a man with all the hype
I slumped into my darkroom
And made a Cyanotype.

"Inverted Vertigo" | 5"x7" | 2012
Wipe that tear off your cheek, dear reader, 'cause I don't really have the blues. I have the cyans. More specifically, I have cyanotypes.

A cyanotype is the result of a monochrome photographic printing process from the 19th century. It's probably one of the easiest wet processes out there, or at least among the ones I'm familiar with. Because of this (and because they're so fun to make), I've written up a quick lesson for you. It doesn't go into extreme technical detail, but it should be enough for you to at least understand the process with high chances of replicating it on your own. Note: This lesson requires some special materials and may require basic experience with Photoshop.

"Delicate Arch" | 5"x7" | 2012
Step 1: Procure a negative.

As in most forms of wet-lab photography, you will need a negative with which to make your cyanotype positive. 4x5 or 8x10 negatives work beautifully, but unless you have a specific vision for tiny cyanotypes, I'd steer away from 35mm negs. Since cyanotypes are contact prints and there is no method for enlargement, a 35mm negative would just produce a 35mm positive. Cyanotype is quite a contrasty process, so try to avoid an already contrasty negative if possible.

If you aren't so much into large-format film (like 99% of the population), you can pretty easily make a "digital negative" with a photo from your digital camera. Simply:
  1. Open the image in Photoshop
  2. Convert to black & white
  3. Reduce contrast if necessary
  4. Invert the colors
  5. Choose a size to print it (4x5 or larger is recommended)
  6. Print it on a special photography-grade transparency film for inkjet printers. Or, if that's too hard to find, you could probably fudge it with some regular transparency film.
 Now that you've got your negative, it's time to move on to the chemicals.

"Sky Scraper" | 5"x7" | 2012

Step 2: Apply the chemical solution.

You will need two chemicals to make the cyanotype solution, ammonium ferric citrate and potassium ferricyanide. You will probably have to order these online. Once you have obtained some:
  1. Combine equal amounts of each chemical in a small glass cup, beaker, bowl or other container. You really don't need a lot of it, perhaps as little as 15 mL of each for one or two 5x7 prints. Once you mix the two chemicals, the solution will begin to degrade, so only mix as much as you need.
  2. Use a foam brush to paint the solution onto an absorbent paper (such as watercolor paper) that is the same size as your negative. Be sure to coat the paper evenly, applying an optional second coat if desired.
  3. Hang paper by clips to dry in a dark place, or lay it on a drying rack. The painted paper may be exposed to indoor lights, but try to limit that as much as possible. Keep it in the dark until it is completely dry. 
  4. Most people will not have a special cyanotype frame lying around, and those who do probably don't need this lesson. For the average person, though, an ordinary picture frame (with glass) would suffice.
    1. Once the paper is dry, place the negative on the painted side of the paper and place them in the frame so that the negative on top of the paper is visible through the glass.
    2. Be careful not to misalign the negative and the paper as you put the back onto the frame and secure it.
Now you are ready to expose the image.

"Old Main" | 5"x7" | 2012
Step 3: Expose the image.

Cyanotype solution is sensitive to ultraviolet light, which means (can you believe it?) all you need to expose your picture is the sun! Try going out around midday, when the sun is strongest.
  1. Before you go outside, take a book or magazine or piece of cardboard that is larger than your frame and place it on top of the frame, covering the glass side. You need to protect it from the sunlight until you are ready to expose.
  2. Take your frame and cover outside to an open, sunny place where changing shadows won't fall upon your area.
  3. This first picture will be an exposure test. Carefully reveal a 1-inch strip of the frame-negative-paper device while keeping the rest covered. Use a stopwatch to measure 3 minute intervals.
  4. After the first 3 minutes, move the cover another inch off the frame to reveal another 1-inch strip while keeping the first strip still in the sun. Keep an eye on the stopwatch and repeat these measures until all of the image is revealed. Replace the cover over the whole frame after the last strip has received its 3 minutes of exposure time.
Once you develop the print, you then can determine which exposure time was the best.

"The Gaze" | 5"x7" | 2012
Step 4: Develop the print.

Now for the fun part. I mean, it's all fun, but the developing is my favorite part.

Would you believe that something exposed in sunlight could be developed in water? Yup, just ordinary tap water will suffice. For those of you doing this at home, what I'd recommend to do is:
  1. Place two shallow trays or tubs, each larger than your paper size, in your bathtub. Fill both with lukewarm-to-cool water, but add a generous splash of hydrogen peroxide to the tray on the right. It doesn't need to be too precise.
  2. Remove the exposed paper from the frame and place it in the tray on the left containing just water.
  3. Gently agitate the tray and swirl the print around until all of the yellow disappears. (It's just like magic, right?!)
  4. Once there is no trace of yellow in the whites, place the print in the right hand tray, the one containing the spash of peroxide. Zounds! The results are stunning!
  5. It doesn't take long for the peroxide to turn the print as blue as it'll ever be. Take it out and either hang it to dry or place it on a drying rack.
So now you've got a test print with which to determine the correct exposure. Look for the strip that has the greatest tonal range, that is, the greatest variation between the darkest blue and the whitest white. Look for detail in the shadows and the highlights. If you want, you can fine-tune another test print by moving in smaller time increments.

Once you've got the exposure time you want, go for it! Just be aware that with every passing minute, the sun changes just a little bit, so prints made hours apart could come out quite different. Yes, it's a time-consuming process, but once you try it, you'll have to agree it's just so much fun!

"One Of Those Old Car Pictures That Utah People Love So Much" | 7"x5" | 2012

Disclaimer: I, Peter Wiarda, hold no responsibility for the actions of the reader and anything that may go awry when following the directions on this blog. You, the reader, are solely responsible for your own safety. Please be careful when handling chemicals and always wear sunscreen when spending prolonged time outdoors.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Six Twelves and a Twenty-Four

Today is December 12, 2012. 12/12/12. The last triple date until 01/01/2101, 88 years and 19 days in the future. If I'm not dead by then, I'll be 112 years old. Very likely this is the last triple date I'll experience in my lifetime. Quite certainly it's the last occurrence of 12/12/12 I'll ever experience in my lifetime.

It's also my birthday today. I am now 24 years old, which, incidentally, is 12 doubled. So, in honor of all these 12s, I decided to do something that I have never done before that I will never do again in my lifetime. Precisely at—you guessed it—12:12:12 pm.

This idea actually started back in 2011 for the ultimate convergence of 11s at 11:11:11 11/11/11. I actually did two things I'd never done and will never do again that day, once at 11:11 am and the other at 11:11 pm. I celebrated the am 11s by rolling down Old Main Hill with my girlfriend Jessica, and for the pm 11s, the two of us became True Aggies.

So this year, I was planning on doing something even more outrageous than rolling down the steepest hill in town. Initially, I thought about eating 12 Twinkies in 12 hours or something like that. But alas, a cruel twist of fate has denied me that opportunity. So instead, I looked to a more conceptual approach.

Photography is said to resemble death, since a photograph creates a record of the past (Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida). That doesn't necessarily give photography a negative connotation, though. Rather, I like to think of it as a way to freeze a moment in time when the moment itself has ceased to exist. So for my 12/12/12 celebration, I decided to freeze myself in time, at exactly 12:12:12.

With the help of my sister Rose (who took me out to coffee for my birthday, what a sweetie!), I arranged for the photograph to occur at precisely 12 seconds into 12:12 pm by setting my camera to burst mode. Using a clock for reference, I had Rose hold the shutter from around 10 seconds to 14 seconds, making sure at least one of the exposures occurred right at 12 seconds. She composed the photograph quite wonderfully, as you can see below.

Then, while it was still 12:12, we switched places and I photographed her within that magic minute. As an interesting side note, you can really see our height differences based on our different angles of view. Hers (the picture of me), looking up; mine (the picture of her), trying to look straight on.

12:12:12 12/12/12 is now dead. That moment has come and gone, never to come again until 2112. Even then, it won't be the same moment. However, because of photography, these moments when Rose and I stood on the Quad and posed for the camera can potentially exist forever. As photographers, we have the power to stop time, even to manipulate it. It's like being The Doctor, minus riding around in a time-traveling blue box and saving the universe every episode.

I've never before existed within that moment and I can never exist in it again. With these photographs as proof, I have achieved my goal for the last triple date I may ever see.

Sustainability, green and the concept of balance

This is the final portion of a four-part showcase of my work throughout fall semester's Color Photography I course. I encourage you to view Parts One, Two, and Three if you have not done so already.

In previous projects, our class focused on Red and Blue colors: Red as warm, positive and nostalgic; Blue as cold, negative and dystopic. This final project finds a balance between the two by employing the color Green. In the visible spectrum of light, Green is the color directly between Red and Blue. Green is neither positive nor negative, but neutral. And as we are all aware, in today's environmentally conscious society, Green symbolizes sustainability.

The genesis of my project's theme took place as I was wandering around the less-traveled places on campus as I am apt to do when searching for inspiration. I happened to be in the basement of the Biology and Natural Resources Building when I passed by an open door to a room that was filled to the brim with all kinds of taxidermied animals. There was a class in there at the moment, so I had to stifle the urge to investigate further until a more opportune time. That time came as soon as this Sustainability project was assigned. Fortunately, the people in the Biology department were very helpful and willing to allow me to photograph the stuffed animals (shout-out to Jesse Walker, the animals' caretaker).

My idea was to photograph these lifelike animalsrepresenting their living counterpartsjuxtaposed against the man-made interior of the Biology building. Drawing from previous work based on the intersection of two different times in one place, I sought to display the scene as if the unnatural environment of the building had overtaken the natural environment of the land, leaving only the latter's citizens, the animals, to remain. This idea can be seen in our world today: as human development spreads across the land, the animals are forced out of their natural homes and take to living in the humans' new domain.

While the message behind these photos may tend to weigh slightly on the negative side, the feeling of neutrality is present in the bland, generic non-places that the animals are shown inhabiting. There is nothing specific about these spaces to directly associate them with any recognizable places that may be seen as targets accused of environmental abuse. Rather, the focus of the project is to illustrate what is happening with human expansion into nature. It is then up to the viewer to decide what, if anything, should be done about it.

Two of the four photographs I made for this project make ample use of the color green, while the other two use a neutral color balance—where neither red/warm nor blue/cold is dominant. You are welcome to decide for yourself which method is the most effective.

The first two images show a bit of nature (or what passes for nature, since even that was planted by humans) seen from inside the building, where the animals remain.

The porcupine briefly took its revenge on me as I struggled to handle it without getting poked. I am convinced that there is no safe way to handle a porcupine.

These next two images remove that slice of green nature, completely isolating the animals in a neutrally-colored, far from natural environment.

Finally, we have the least natural environment of them all, populated by a lone bluebird, whose song is as silent as the empty hall engulfing it.

Dystopia, cold tones and the negative image

This is Part Three of a four-part showcase of my work throughout fall semester's Color Photography I course. I encourage you to view Parts One, Two, and Four if you have not done so already.

This project centers around the use of cool or blue tonalities and negative imagery to convey the idea of dystopia, a world in disrepair and despair. If you read the previous post about Nostalgia, the theme this project is the opposite in every way. These photographs were made using 35mm color negative film and the RA-4 color printing process, with a healthy dose of depression thrown in for good measure.

It was on a particularly gray day in November when I was in a gloomy enough mood to make a series of bleak photographs. While I'm normally quite an optimistic person, there are the occasional dour days of discontent that are perfect for projects such as this. (See what I mean? Optimistic.) So I took nothing but my coat and my camera and proceeded to wander around Logan's lonely places while imagining myself as a character in some depressing novel or movie.

What resulted was a series of photographs based on impressions of uncomfortable places—places where narratives unfolded in my head and started to alter my perception of those places...a dystopia not only of the physical world, but also of the mind.

This first impression concerns disorientation and confusion, which I portrayed using abstraction and removing as much recognizable content as possible. Here I wish you, the reader, could actually hold this photograph in your hand and turn it about, deciding for yourself which way it should be displayed. I only displayed it this way by a random choice. That's the beauty of abstraction; its interpretation is left open-ended. However, I didn't want any interpretation to stray too far from a dystopic notion, so I allowed the cool light from the overcast sky to permeate the image and lend it more of a negative feeling.

Next, I find myself returning to the alleyway, as if one semester of typology wasn't enough. This particular alley had been rejected from the typology, as it did not match a certain set of requirements. It looked different to me this time around; less mysterious in the daytime and quieter without the nearby bar being open. Yet there was still some degree of ominous foreboding lurking in this forlorn non-place. The creases and folds of the black tarp in the foreground and the translucent plastic sheet in the background especially drew me in, yet at the same time repulsed me. What lies under that snow-covered tarp? Head filled with dystopia, I thought of all kinds of unpleasant things. I never felt afraid in any of the dark alleys I visited at night, but there was a certain tension about this place that made me want to get out of there in a hurry.

The third and fourth impressions go together, though I would not call them a diptych. Rather, I think of them as two moments, one right after another. The first moment, shown above, occurred in another alleyway. The sun had set, the air was crisp, and I felt a sudden self-awareness, as if a veil had been lifted and I was seeing the world in a different way. Everything felt sharp and real; the dystopic world I had been imagining suddenly dissipated. It was like waking from a dream in which I thought I was in reality. It reminded me of Inception and The Matrix and a slew of other films that were conveniently dystopic enough for me to get back in the zone and compose the above picture based on that moment of clarity.

Having returned to my imagination, I decided to compose a picture that would represent the opposite of that moment of clarity. The light was fading fast, so I decided to implement an experimental method of exposure I had previously practiced only with digital photography. The effect is similar to a multiple exposure, but it is achieved using just one long exposure and moving the camera to different positions multiple times, taking care to prolong the transition from one position to another as to cause light streaking. (Just try it if you don't know what I'm talking about. Maybe you'll invent your own technique in the process!)

Later, during the printing process, I didn't quite like the clarity of the image, as it was a little too similar to the third photograph in this series. Since this fourth photo was supposed to be the opposite of clarity, I allowed the base to show up in the entire image in order to muddy it up. Now that this goopy gray fog has completely infused the image, the viewer may feel as if lost and confused, choking and gasping for clear air. Pollution especially comes to mind here, taking note of the dumpsters and debris littering the space. 

I don't want to leave you on a negative note, but I feel that sometimes it's necessary to see the world through smog-colored glasses only for the purpose of making it better. At the very least we can hope to avoid turning our world into the dystopia I've imagined above.