Ahead of you lay a dense pine forest. The edges of each tree blur into one another as a light snow falls, and you feel you’ve seen this place before. In the middle of the group you see a figure in black, just beyond eyesight. You call out to it, fingers outstretched, but it follows a path to walk away.
Is this real, or only a dream?
In his latest photographic installment, “In a Big World Wandering,” opening Fri, Aug. 3 at the Flagstaff Photography Center, artist Bryan David Griffith challenges the viewer to slow down and imagine, or even remember.
“[Griffith] is very atmospheric about his work,” says FPC Director Jason Hasenbank. “This is something completely different.”
“The photos can be places that exist in your mind or my mind,” says Griffith. “Maybe a refuge or an imaginary place you’ve gone to as a child. Maybe it’s a leap-of-faith-type image. Maybe it is a literal memory for you, but it’s different for every viewer.”
Griffith wants each viewer to contemplate the reality, aloneness, darkness within us, and gather a deeper understanding of the human condition in a world that’s only getting bigger.
Traditionally, photographers capture an image of an event, or a flower, or two children playing in the park—something evident and unembellished. “In a Big World Wandering” is Griffith’s way of pushing the boundaries of how photography evokes emotion, and how photos are made.
Without aid of modern tools like Photoshop or digital cameras, Griffith uses a popular World War I-era process creating platinum/palladium prints. He adds a personal touch by printing on translucent, handmade Japanese tissue paper. This labor-intensive process yields only about 50 small prints a year.
To help display his work, Griffith and his wife are in the process of creating an interactive cyanotype installation using two huge pieces of silk and one of the first copying technologies known to man—blue printing.
“It’s a way of photographing using iron as the light-sensitive component, like the platinum printing uses iron as the light sensitive component,” explains Griffith. “So we’ll coat this huge piece of fabric with this chemistry.”
Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, Sat, Aug. 4 will be a particularly sunny day to make this project work.
“Tying into this theme of touch will be about the power of our hands to make handcrafted things,” says Griffith, “to work together as a community. It will involve a lot of people’s hands and figures as a subject—contact printing. Where they contacted the paper, it will be light or very light blue all the way to dark blue where it was fully exposed to the sun.”
This installation plays into this old-fashioned style of photography.
“When you look at the photo, it has the quality like it is an idea that is just on the edge of being grasped,” says Griffith. “Right before you have the ‘a-ha!’ moment.”
Although his equipment is sometimes a half-century old and jerry-rigged with duct tape, it still works as well today as it ever did.
“I think with photography in particular, people really get wrapped up in the technical aspect, to the detriment of what they’re actually trying to say with the image,” says Griffith.
With this in mind, as part of the celebration of “In a Big World Wandering,” Griffith and the FPC will be holding a workshop designed for photographers of all skill levels. Griffith will be giving tips and tricks to a small group of students on how to add a bit of liveliness to photos of all formats.
While modern photography equipment tries to eradicate lens flares and aberrations. Griffith uses these “imperfections” as an advantage. The result of such a technique is a timeless, one-of-a-kind image with deep blacks and bright whites. And it was all created inside the camera.
“It’s taking photography more into that creative realm,” says Griffith, “What our perception is, as opposed to a literal document of something going on … It is more about psychology and memory and our aspirations and dreams.”
Griffith’s own dreams spurred his photographic journey. After washing his hands of a much more lucrative job at a Chicago-based business consulting firm, he chose a much simpler life.
“This old van out here. That is now 20 years old,” he says with a chuckle as he points to the weathered blue van in the driveway, “at that time it was more like 10 years old and I bought that and was basically living out of that.”
Griffith drove the beat up van with “Explorer” stamped on the back all over the country and back again.
“It always seemed like I was from the place I was last,” says Griffith.
That van eventually broke down here in Flagstaff one October almost a decade ago, and Griffith decided to create a home base among the aspen trees and ponderosa pines.
Griffith now uses a more spacious commercial van to transport him and his wife, his photographs and installment rigs to galleries and art showcases all over the country. He also owns a stationary house just outside of town. A simple, ’60s ranch where he lives with his wife and inspiration (Tasha) tucked away in the woods.
This modest, moment-to-moment lifestyle is part of Griffith’s philosophy, adopted after leaving his job in Chicago that subsequently forced him to live on public lands.
“Something that we’re losing in our culture, more and more, for me, is the idea of slowing down and observing, and being in the present moment,” he says.
For this reason, you will not find a cell phone buzzing away in his jacket pocket, nor will you see a television in the couple’s living room. This simplicity is a running theme in Griffith’s life and work.
He adds, “It’s just something that’s important not only for the environment, but for the human soul.”
Enjoy and contemplate the work of Bryan David Griffith, “In a Big World Wandering” opening Fri, Aug. 3 at Flagstaff Photo Center, 101 N. San Francisco, Ste. 3.
Come be a part of the Flagstaff art community Fri, Aug. 10 at the artist’s FPC reception featuring a handmade cyanotype installation created by Bryan and Tasha Griffith.
An artist’s workshop will follow Sun, Aug. 19, also at FPC, and is for all levels of photographic interest, basic and advanced. www.bryandavidgriffith.com.
For information on all three events, contact the Flagstaff Photography Center at 774-2544, see www.flagstaffphotographycenter.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read recent Flag Live cover story features, see www.flaglive.com/index.cfm?section=cover.