Tony Caltabiano | Creator Wave Vol. 41
It’s hard sometimes to realize how far technology has pushed so many fields of the arts in just the last 200 years. The advent of recording materials in sequences and in frames has brought expression to new frontiers and connecting points around the globe. Photography is one of those mediums that everyone is connected to on either the most basic or complex ways. From scientific discoveries, documentation of new geological finds, the capturing essence of performance culture in, nature, all the way down to the capturing of your favorite personal moments, it has a position in all of our lives that is unlike any other art form.
The scope of photography unfolds into some of the most deepest labyrinths of techniques, tool variety and visionary approaches and is one of the most honest reflections of modern art. With our online art gallery Creator Wave, we have been slowly releasing a different variety in art types and photography is one field that we are looking to expand on in the coming year in a heavy way.
We are very proud to present Tony Caltabiano in our Creator Wave series as Volume 41. Tony is a visionary type of photographer who we feel rises above many contemporaries out there and caught our attention from a recent gallery showing he has in Riverside, CA at Division 9 gallery. We have been working with Division 9 since 2010 and are always intrigued by the curations they bring to the city of Riverside. If you are in Southern, CA, it’s a spot we highly recommend checking out. Tony’s photographic works are all constructed in the analog realm and his knowledge and vision have come to a beautiful apex in creating some phenomenal captures of the world we live in. His photography caught my eye very quickly and is now someone I will surely be checking back with from time to time.
Exclusive Q&A with Tony Caltabiano
SCV: I became really interested in your works from seeing the promo stuff Cosme has had put for your show at his gallery Division 9. How would you best describe your approach to photography and what has the medium allowed you to achieve?
I came to photography late in the game. My undergraduate degree was in painting. I was mentored in 4×5 photography in my early 30s. I have come to love painting and photography, and in the last several years have been layering them. Photography allows me to express a certain literalness in the image, while painting allows me to break that literalness and express the intangible. This is a fuzzy distinction at times, but it generally works. Photography reminds us of place, while the painting speaks to placelessness.
SCV: I recently got a documentary in about the Photo League of New York. It is probably one of the most fascinating pieces I have ever seen on photography and opened my eyes up to an entire world in the evolution of photography that I never knew existed. The importance Paul Strand had in evolving the artform of photography is unquestionable and this film goes into great detail the reasons why. Do you study Strand and a lot of the other prolific photographers? Any favorites?
There are a few periods of photo history that really resonate with me. A very early photographer, Eugène Cuvelier was photographing the forest of Fontainebleau in the 1850’s. His landscapes possessed a stark and lonely quality that, while are a product of what was an emerging French aesthetic of the time, seems that would translate very easily to Southern California wilderness.
Landscape photography is a tricky business. We live with the baggage of Pictorialism and the f64 group. Each movement had many talented photographers such as Steichen, Cunningham, Weston, etc, who taught us polar opposite ways of interpreting our natural heritage. They all influence me aesthetically and technically, but in the end, the starkness of Cuvelier, and the dark, almost abstract Civil War battlefield images from Sally Mann are what leaves the lasting impression on me. Some of Robert Adams work on exhibit at LACMA captured some of the responses to wilderness that I felt.
SCV: How much studying and practice time you dedicate to your week for gaining more of the techniques and skills that will make you better than you were before?
I fall into seasonal rhythms. I shoot in the fall and winter and spend the rest of the year working with the material. “Better” is an interesting word. Some seasons it means looking, searching, shooting, while other seasons it means printing, painting, and varnishing with new colors, shades, materials, and other times it is reading, researching, and writing. There are always new techniques to master, always rabbit holes, worlds open up to more worlds that demand new techniques and nuances. Daily this is the truth, weekly, seasonally, yearly. It is never far from my thoughts. Part of me is always in the studio.
SCV: When you take photos, do you feel like an outside observer or do you feel like you become a part of the landscapes you shoot?
The wilderness I capture in my imagery is often a reflection of how I interpret tensions and oppositions. Often these tensions are internal, historical, societal, geographical or theological. So the landscape, while being the object of my camera, is really just a index, a placeholder or record. When you look through a window, if the light is just right, you see the world beyond you while seeing your own reflection superimposed in it. But in reality, you are looking at a piece of glass. The landscape is the glass of the window. I’m seeing myself and something else. My images are large, wall size pieces. Some people are engaged and feel immersed, while others feel foreboding and afraid. That is what they see though the window.
SCV: From what I have seen of your works, I have yet to see any man made structures or even any type of life outside of natural landscapes. What inspired you to go down this avenue of photography?
Humankind’s footprint tends to lock down a time and place. My work is about many things that have little to do with the ambitions of our race. Themes in my work for the past two decades have a component of being outside of any one time. Place is different. Much of my work is local, and locals would recognize the species of trees and grass, and the natural landmarks. I am fascinated with the Southern California terrain before it was settled by humans. The areas I photograph haven’t changed in millennia. I try to limit myself to shooting only subject matter that is within an hour or so driving time from my home in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, and any place that is not immediately recognizable in your average coffee table book on landscape photography.
SCV: Are you into digital or analog cameras? Both?
I teach digital photography at Azusa Pacific University, yet I cannot bear to use it in my own work. I should clarify that I am not opposed to digital cameras; I do not like 35mm at all. I shoot with a 4×5 field camera and an old Nazi era Zeiss Ikon Nettar medium format camera. That camera just barely functions, and I love that . There is a humbleness and a beautiful human quality to using machines that are old, and force the user to work within a machine’s gradual slippage into inoperation.
With that said, I drum scan my negatives and print them via an old Epson inkjet printer onto mylar. It is part of my process. I have never been able to make a darkroom work for me. Yet, I can take a photo with the Zeiss, scan it, and have a dialogue with 96% black and 97% black and again force the printer to try to articulate the difference between the two shades. The Epson was not designed to do it, and all of my tools regularly rebel against me. This to me is beautiful, and most people will never see nor understand these private worlds of earnest silence that I (or any artist) work in. All of those dialogues are present in my finished images, one way or another.
SCV: How much time did it take before you felt comfortable enough to present your photos in a public forum?
It was only a couple years after I learned photography that I started showing my work. Technique was ahead of substance, and that developed over time. About 8 years into showing I hit a ceiling. I realized I had to go back to school to get an MFA to really understand art history, contemporary art, philosophy, and on and on. Critique is essential. I graduated with my MFA in 2011and am still in the process of figuring out what that journey meant.
SCV: Photography is something that I have wanted to do for easily over a decade but have been heavily into so many other fields of activity that I have yet to gather enough resources to get a camera and try some things out, maybe take some classes and so forth. What type of advice could you give to someone like myself who is trying to figure out where to go with it once I obtain my first camera.
A decent camera does not cost much money, however one good lens is preferable to a couple cheaper ones. Take a class or a workshop on camera RAW. Understanding the power of the RAW is essential to digital photography. Next is Photoshop and (if the budget is there) Adobe Lightroom.
I teach digital photography with my ancient six megapixel Canon 10D. It is almost a laughable dinosaur. Yet I have one very sharp lens. On the first day of class I describe to my students how I approach the medium by showing a clip from The Matrix. It is the scene where Neo sees the Matrix as it really is – streams of data. Once the students know how to visualize the world as numbers, and learn how to manipulate those numbers, all that is left is creativity and aesthetics.
Creator Wave Volume 41: Tony Caltabiano (2002-2011) | http://www.higherplacestudio.com/
June 7th – 30th 2012 @ Division 9
Opening Reception during Riverside Artwalk, Thursday June 7th 6-8pm
Closing Reception Friday, June 29th 6-8pm
Division 9 Gallery
3850 Lemon Street
Riverside, CA 92501