Making Photographs

Aaron Diskin, now a photographer and musician, and I went to high school together. At the time, our school had a photography program, including a darkroom, led by Jack Zichitella. Mr. Z provided us with the mentorship, information and resources to develop the idea that we were artists. All of us in this group made pictures, showed them formally in class crits, and evolved our work. 

For me, a crucial process was the act of getting together with Aaron and making photographs. We’d generally meet in his basement, and we’d generally use his mother’s collection of folk art/craft from around the world, and we’d generally take turns behind the camera and in front of it. We put on costumes, but more importantly we put on internal costumes–we improvised. We went looking for monsters. I was in love with the Butoh pictures Eikoh Hosoe made of Tatsumi Hijikata in the mid ’60s, and I turned Aaron on to them; Aaron was in love with Flaming Carrot and other indie comix of the moment, and turned me onto them. In short we brought our passions into the photo pit, and danced them into life. 

I learned what a big part of what I love about portraiture there, in Aaron’s basement. Through this process of mutuality, competition, private exploration and public exposition, we found images that expressed truths of the moment. Images that held juxtapositions of shape and meaning, meat and mask, mind and soul. These were potent images to me and to Aaron; and in the context of the class and our group of art-making friends, their potency could be affirmed, and be somehow useful in defining our moment as young people of that time.

I learned another big piece about portraiture by studying the New England folk painters of the 18th century in specific, and European portraitists of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in general. Portraits served a class-affirming purpose. Primarily, painted portraits were a kind of consumable commodity that, like fine china and fine furniture, told a home’s guests and hosts who the owner was, socially and financially. 

The photographs here are first stabs at making portraits once again. Ursula Nickel and Mindy Grossberg are both Action Theater improvisers here in Albuquerque; Mindy has been working with Action Theater for many years, first as a student of Linda Rodeck, and now as a teacher and performer in her own right. Both were willing to come to my studio, put on costumes, tell stories and be photographed. The clunky, DIY vibe of my studio and “equipment” was a lot like that Aaron and I found in our basements. The raw quality of the feelings in these photos is also a lot like what Aaron and I were finding. 

My intent in making these images was to get photographs from which to draw, and to jump-start a process of working with the Action Theater crew one way or another. I’ve got my fragments; now what? 

Using Format