Jenny Sampson from Berkeley, CA
Skateboarder Tintype Portrait Series
To view a gallery of the Exhibit.
I was initially drawn to photograph skateboarders sixteen years ago when I rode my
bicycle past a makeshift skate park on 5th Avenue in Seattle on my way to and from work.
My attraction to skaters grew from my interest in looking at people in general, and more
specifically of skateboarders as a faction of youth but that defied the boundaries of age.
I began working with wet plate collodion almost three years ago making tintypes, or alumitypes. Out of this process grew a revived fieriness in me. Wet plate collodion delivered the ultimate magical process that is photography. I built a dark box which allows me to travel and work in the field –I am no longer leashed to a darkroom be it proper or jury-rigged out of whatever space has been offered to me. Working with my
hand-made dark box, I wander and make my hand-made, unique tintypes.
Since I began this project, particular elements have emerged that I either was not expecting, or simply hadn’t occurred to me. Some of these aspects present themselves throughout the process of making the plates; others surface at the moment the viewer engages with the plates. Regardless, the results captivate.
My experience going to skate parks, setting up my 4x5 camera and dark box, meeting skateboarders and making plates has been an experience I have grown keen on. There are times when I feel intimidated –approaching a group of strangers who are intent on doing their thing, skeptical at times of onlookers-- however I approach and introduce myself, or
someone sees my camera and the box and there sparks a reciprocal interest. In fact, many of the skaters I’ve met have never seen anything but a digital camera. When I make their
portrait, they can watch their ghostly face unveil magically on the metal plate as the blue bromides dissipate in the potassium cyanide. My equipment is “old school;” the plates I
The nature of wet plate collodion calls for long exposure times; my subjects must remain perfectly still for about 10 seconds which is easier to do without smiling. Most people’s
learned reflex when sitting in front of a camera is to smile, portraying some sort of artificial moment of photographic happiness. When I ask my subjects to not smile, there is often a sense of surprise and relief, even the with the subversive skater. Combine his or her expression with posture and pose and the passive viewer may interpret the portrait to be of the rebellion, the intimidating stereotype. However, rather than this conventional depiction of skaters, the rendered portrait offers a glimpse into their core beings: pensive, tough, anxious, distracted, innocent, playful. Following my very first shoot at a skate park with my wet plate dark box, I realized the serendipity of this project: the juxtaposition of merging a 160 year-old photographic process with contemporary culture. My Skateboarder Portrait Series was finally born. Currently, I make tintypes at skate parks in California, Oregon and Washington.
Jean Laughton from Interior, SD
My Ranching Life
To view a gallery of the Exhibit.
Since 2003, I have been cowboying and photographing ranch work from horseback on the Quarter Circle XL Ranch - My Ranching Life series of panoramic photographs.
In 2003, I moved from my home of sixteen years, New York City, to the tiny Badlands town of Interior, South Dakota (pop. 69) - to pursue my personal photography projects. It was my photo-based travels West over several summers (1996-2002), photographing my previous “Go West” series, which led me to the area. At the time, I was traveling back to my home state of Iowa and beyond to Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana - with my painted scenic backdrops - setting up my makeshift studio behind the scenes at rodeos - documenting the participants in their performance ‘costume’. My travels unearthed many discoveries - creating a window to the past and finding connections to old time bronc riders through found family photographs. Feeding my desire to ‘time travel’ with the help of photography. During this time, I also photographed women rough stock riders. When photographing 60 year old bareback rider, Jan Youren, and her granddaughters - something clicked. In looking at them I saw something in me and wanted to be ‘in it’ - to go beyond being just a spectator. This, the difficulty returning East each summer and the desire to continue my commitment to document the West prompted my move to the Badlands of South Dakota and back to reality.
My life and photography changed drastically that year when I started working as a novice ranch hand on Lyle O’Bryan’s Quarter Circle XL Ranch while beginning my long-term photography series “My Ranching Life”. Lyle (75) is an old-time cowboy and my cowboy mentor. His ranch was once home to Earl Thode – first world champion bronc rider of 1929. It is quite a thrill riding across the same land and the same White River as the cowboys from the past. As I began riding and learning to cowboy I felt as if I had stepped ‘inside the photograph’ - beyond the brush strokes of the backdrops from my previous “Go West” series, riding around and photographing in a what felt like a diorama of the West. The area south of Belvidere, South Dakota is rich with history and western heritage - with all cattle work done on horseback. This creates quite the historical visual against the backdrop of the land and cyclorama sky. I shoot these scenes from horseback (when I am able) while working, with a Noblex 120 swing lens panoramic camera – giving me a medium format negative suitable for large-scale printing. The panoramic format lends a cinematic quality while also giving me a better chance of capturing the drama unfolding against the vast landscape. I am now, and have been, part of the crew - no longer just a spectator. This is evidenced by my horse’s ears intentionally appearing in some of the photographs – announcing my presence.
This series is a diary of what I see while cowboying and working with the neighboring ranchers - preserving this time in family ranching. While also depicting the present as historical from my specific daydream perspective and through my use of B&W printing. I hope to convey the timelessness of the cowboying to the viewer by providing an inside view of ranch life – showing that it still exists and perhaps allowing them to time travel visually. With photographs that, at first glance, could have been taken during another time - depicting a profession that has changed little over the past century. The land, as backdrop, has a permanence all its own but the cast of characters are bound to change and I hope to one day give a glimpse back to this time of cowboying and family ranching