After photographing abandoned grain elevators and ore docks in Superior Wisconsin, Denny Defibaugh, Don Clark, Glen Gross, Dean Roland Miller and I did the only natural thing, head to the Viking Bar for some alcohol and gun play! Don was the true marksman followed by Roland then Glen and Denny. I think I may have only hit one buck.
The idea for my Autographics project came about from wanting to relay stories that had been told to me by characters that I met during my travels photographing along the blue highways and backwoods of North Florida. The problem was that I wanted to present the stories as part of the image. Including a narrative on or with an image had been popularized by Eastman Kodak through their Autographic cameras of the early 20th Century. I had always been fond of looking at my grandparents snapshots taken with an Autographic. The notations seemed to anchor the contents of the photographs. Often the notations were more interesting than the photograph, which wasn't a bad thing.
I had never been attracted to the imagery that I had viewed from the 1960's and 1970's that had a written narrative included. We were all taught that the image should "stand on it's own", and that by introducing a narrative you were taking away for the "subjective experience" of the viewer. For me, these were a couple of large hurdles to jump.
Around the time that I was working through this problem George Carter asked if I would be a member of his MFA committee. George had been raised in South Georgia and had decided to document sites from the region that were important to his upbringing. I had the great fortune to ride along with George on many occasions and revisit these places. As we approached a site George would tell me a story or the history of the place. Both of us new that these stories had to be included with the images. Along with the other committee members it was decided to include the written narrative below the photograph on the same paper. So George inkjet printed his color images on a white background above his handwritten narrative. In my opinion the project was much more important than a personal document and was extremely well executed. It must be noted that this was done in the early days of photo inkjet printing.
All through my career as a photography instructor I have loved looking at students contact or proof sheets. Not so much the individual images but the patterns created by the strips of exposures, the sprocket holes, exposure numbers, and black spaces on the sheets. I also enjoyed taking a peek at the goldenrod sheets with images that my colleague Vincent Blyden would be producing for burning plates in the offset printing process. Again it was the overall layout that interested me. Being hit with these situations on almost a daily basis I decided that I could use more than one image and wrap my narrative around them in the sprocket wholes and blank black spaces created during exposure.
Mark Francis solved one of my main technical problems by commanding me to buy a Navy surplus 8X10 Durst enlarger from Warren Thompson. This enabled me make enlarged proof sheets. My plan was to write the narrative on an overlay and place it on top of the negatives on the 8X10 glass negative carrier. This didn't work well. After a frustrating printing session I came out of the darkroom and sat down in the family room with my daughters and their friends. There was a bunch of middle school and elementary school girls in front of me drawing with various gel pens. I asked them if they came in white to which they grabbed and threw one at me. So I started drawing on a black sheet of construction paper and they started teasing me about my bad drawings. This solved my technical text problem, however, every print now would be an original or monoprint.
My current Autographics basically evolved from the following input. Hours of forcing Joan and the girls to look at wet prints. Mark Francis pushed me to produce more work with large format cameras which resulted in images with multiple formats used. Roland Miller and Denis Defibaugh wanted to see all the black spaces utilized which resulted in more text, postcards and color images being placed on the work. Don Clark suggested more "bad" drawings in both the black spaces and images. David Wharton insisted on more image production, which he and I have done through much of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. As David says "having negatives is like having money in the bank, you can never have too much".
Earlier this summer I made the mistake of showing Dominick Gheesling (Professor of Photography at Valdosta State University) the Econfina River above the Cabbage Grove Road. Normally this part of the river is shallow and dry in the summer. This summer we found the river somewhat high and passable with a canoe. So, with heat indexes over 100, we canoed the upper stretches of the Econfina three different times. Dominick did some outstanding B&W work on the river. What follows is my documentation of one of the outings captured with a cheap Russian panorama camera and Hungarian B&W film. Thank God for Gatorade!!!