Richard Tuschman – Fine Art Photographer

– Hello, and welcome to
the i3 Lecture Series hosted by the Masters in
Digital Photography program at the School of Visual Arts. We are thrilled to welcome a fine artist, Richard Tuschman, as
tonight’s guest speaker. Oh, behind me. (laughs) Originally trained as a
painter and print maker, Richard began to experiment with digital imaging in the early 1990s, developing a signature style
that combined his interests in graphic design, photography,
painting, and assemblage. This digital work found a
wide audience commercially, and his work graces
the pages of magazines, annual reports, book
jackets, and catalogues. Clients include Adobe
Systems, the New York Times, Penguin, Sony Music,
Newsweek, and Random House. Among others, his work
has been recognized by American Photography,
Print, Photo District News, American Illustration, and
Prix De La Photographie, Paris. His latest exhibition, Once
Upon a Time in Kazimierz is currently on view at
the Klompching Gallery, so don’t miss out. It’s a beautiful show, and
it’s up for another week or so? – Yeah, ’till April. – April Ninth. So please help me welcome Richard Tuschman to our lecture series. (audience applauding) – Thank you, Jaime. Thank you all for coming. I’m having a show. Um, okay, so … what I do in my fine art is that I create these
fictional narratives in the form of staged
painter league photographs. And I suppose what I’ve
sort of become known for, what the, kind of the catch is, is that the sets in these images I make as miniature dioramas first. And, and then I photograph
the people later and combine them in Photoshop. And so I’ve now created two bodies of work using this technique. This is the most recent body called “Once Upon a Time in Kazimierz” which I describe as an open-ended novella, you know, told in photographs. And the first body of work was titled “Hopper Meditations” which was a photographic, a
personal photographic response to the paintings of Edward Hopper. So this is a diorama from
“Hopper Meditations,” and this is an image you know, using that diorama. Probably the most frequent question I get, or certainly one of the most
frequent questions I get is, you know, “Why?” You know, “Why do you
go to all that trouble? “Why not just … “find a location, “get the models there, “make the photograph like
a normal person,” you know? Um, and … a lot of times I’ll half jokingly say, “Well, I don’t know, “I guess I’m just a
glutton for punishment, “but on a small scale.” And, when it’s partly true. But, um, the longer answer is that this technique, is, rather
convoluted technique is something that really has evolved over many, many years. And it’s really kind of an adaptation that sort of brings together all the various skill sets that I’ve acquired over the years and it kind of plays to my own temperament and, and the way I see the world. So, I think to really kind of figure out how I arrived here, we kinda have to really
go back to the beginning. And I can actually remember, even as a small child when I was six, seven, eight, nine years old, underneath my bed I had this box. It was a little bit
bigger than a shoe box. And in the box I had all these
little objects and trinkets that for whatever reason
were very important to me. And they were like, you know, souvenirs, maybe toy soldiers, foreign coins that my grandparents might have bought me. And I really loved just kind
of going through this box and holding each object
and kinda contemplating what it meant to me. And I can even remember sitting in school, like on rainy afternoons,
just kind of looking forward to going home and having
these kind of objects to hold and that had some
emotional resonance for me, and they provided some comfort to me. And that kind of tactile comfort, you can actually hold
something in your hand, I guess it’s always
kind of stayed with me. I also want you, and here I am as a puppy. (audience laughs) I really started making
dioramas about 30 years ago. When I arrived in New
York after art school, as Jaime mentioned, I
think I studied painting and print making in art school. But when I arrived in New
York in the early ’80s, I had a small space, and to make a living I worked in an architectural design, no, an architectural supply store. And I found myself really
drawn to the model-building materials in the store, and I began making these box constructions out of balsa wood. And I painted them with this wax paint called … What’s it called? – Encaustic? – Thank you. Encaustic. (laughs) Uh, were you have to work with the … with the paint, the wax while it’s hot, and as it cools it dries. And it gives you a lot of
possibilities for textures and different kinds of surface finishes. And I loved that you could kind of make these sort of old looking textures. And a lot of people have
remarked that these boxes, and there’s actually a little
scene inside that you can see and I made these little
chairs and tables and things. And a lot of people have remarked that these look a little
bit like old cameras, and up until this time I really had somewhat of an ambivalent relationship with photography. I really always loved photographic images, but I didn’t have great
experiences in the dark room. I found it really frustrating, and so I always incorporated photography more in terms of collage,
or photo printmaking, or, here, making things that
looked like cameras, I guess. I was also doing a lot
of painting at the time, I liked to paint in oils. I’ve always been inspired by art history, so I was drawn to sort of
these older techniques, with glazing and painting
layers on layers on layers. And I liked oil painting
because it was really slow and I tend to be pretty slow. I do things pretty slowly. And I liked just reworking things … going back into them, and so I would kind of start with a very, very loose idea in mind, and kind of let the painting kind of take me wherever it would. Okay, and then, eventually
I discovered Photoshop. By around 1990 I had left the architectural supply store and moved on to a job doing graphic design for the cable station, HBO. And they were really, the
guy who ran the department was pretty forward
thinking, and he got Macs, right as soon as they came out. And so I began learning all the software, you know, Pagemaker
was the original thing, and then Adobe Illustrator,
and then in 1990 Photoshop was introduced. And I kind of dove into it right away. And for me … Photoshop was much more intuitive than the darkroom, and it was much more like
painting and printmaking for me. And so, right away I started
kind of putting together a portfolio in Photoshop
that really kind of combined what I had been doing in the
analogue fine art world … with things that I had been learning in the commercial world. And before I knew it I
had become this sort of a freelance photo illustrator. And I started, I left HBO
and for, I don’t know, the past 20-odd years I’ve been making these photo illu, illustrations,
excuse me, freelance. This was probably the first really, really big assignment that I had, and this was, I think, in 1994. It was the splash screen
and packaging image for the first version of
Photoshop with layers. – [Voiceover] Version Three. – Version Three, right, 3.0, yeah. (Richard laughs) And so, the ’90s was a great time to be a Photoshop illustrator, because it was very much in demand, and the Internet hadn’t happened yet, so there were still big budgets for photographers and illustrators. And for five or six or seven years, I had more work than I could possibly do, and so I was constantly turning down work. The interesting thing was that the more I got into Photoshop, the more it kind of led
me back into photography. And so I wanted to become
a better photographer, and especially I wanted to
start photographing people, because I wanted to have a wider range, and I especially wanted to
be able to do book covers. And so I started
photographing more people. This was actually an
outtake for a book cover, but I really like this image better than the one for the book cover. And you can see I’m still very
much into the retro thing. I can’t seem to get quite
past that mid century, the 20th Century, but I’m gettin’ there. And eventually, I began combining the photographing the
people with the dioramas. They came back into my life, in a way. In this was an illustration for … a magazine about the theme was returning veterans and how, the difficulties they have reintegrating with their families. So, I found that I could actually kind of blend these things,
and Photoshop allowed me to blend these different
scales kind of seamlessly, and this opened up a lot
of possibilities for me. And this was around, around 2007 or eight. I think, and by this time
I found myself really, I really wanted to get back into fine art. And I had really been away
from it for quite awhile. And one thing that I learned was that if I wanted to be taken
seriously as a fine artist, was that I had to have a
consistent body of work that really came from within me, and would be a number of images that held together as a series. And so, I hit upon the idea
of kind of reinterpreting Edward Hopper paintings photographically. It just seemed like it would, you know, the sets would be simple
enough that I could build them, and I knew that I could kind of convincingly photograph the people and
blend them into the scene. And so this was the first one that I did, “The Hopper Meditations,” and I always played the males in the … in them, because I don’t
have to pay myself. And I don’t really smoke. No cigarettes were actually smoked. It was done in Photoshop. And the first, I think there
are about 17 in this series, I’m not gonna show all of them tonight ’cause I wanna talk more
about the new work, of course. But the first several that I did were actually based on Hopper paintings. And I tried, you know, to
keep fairly close to the … to the content of the painting. This one is probably his most, may be his most famous
painting, “Morning Son.” Whoops. And then as I got more into the series, I felt freer to kind of
make my own compositions that were more just inspired by his work. So this one is called “Pink Bedroom”, and actually is the same diorama that I showed earlier in the lecture. I did about four of five different images using that same diorama,
and especially you could, I could turn it around and show it from different points of view and get a little more mileage out of it. ‘Cause, the dioramas are, they’re pretty time consuming to make, so I try to get as much
mileage out of them as I can. (laughs) And again, I play the male. And I still like doing
book covers when I can … and this one was adapted
into a book cover. This was done about a year ago, I think. And unfor — they wanted
to use the same model, but she was overseas, so, and as it turned out, it worked out okay because the character that
they wanted to illustrate had dark hair, anyway. So all I had to do was re-pose the model, I didn’t have to even
re-photograph the diorama. And I took off, you know,
it was a present-day novel. So … I had, they didn’t want
the guy wearing the vest. So I was able to just take
off the vest in Photoshop, so, and it made this nice book cover. So while I was working on “Hopper”, I went to visit Poland with my wife, Eva, who grew up there. And I was, and that’s actually her in the lower left, looking up. I was really struck by the
beauty of the architecture. And I was still in the
middle of the “Hopper” series when I visited, but I
always like to kinda have one project in the back of
my head while I’m working on, I like to have the next project, I’d say, in the back of my head, so I don’t end up in this kind of no-man’s
land, with not knowing, what am I gonna do next? And I find that usually,
if I just stay open to it, something will come to me, so … Knock on wood, I’m kind of lucky, I haven’t really been hit,
at least, and I’m gonna, you know, I’m not that young,
really ever with the block. So, and I knew that I
wanted to do something … with the architecture
that I saw in Poland. Now, this is the one, the first one. This is the old city which has
been beautifully renovated. But I also liked the parts
that had not been renovated, and just kinda, the
gritty sense of history that these places had. The graffiti, and just the
way time has sorta worn away at these old, old buildings. And these are the buildings
that I kind of would use as reference and as models for the project that I have just completed, you know, “Once Upon a Time in Kazimierz.” Now, this particular building
actually is not in Krakow. Kazimierz, by the way, is the historically Jewish
neighborhood in Krakow. And the project that I decided
to do, I wanted to be … Really, I wanted to really
tell more of a story than in the “Hoppers.” The “Hoppers”, I really enjoyed
working on the “Hoppers”. But all of the images
were kind of isolated, and they didn’t really connect,
other than stylistically. And so for this project
I wanted to really have an overarching narrative
that would, at least suggest that they were all part of a story. And the more that I got
into it, the more I actually thought of a more and more
kind of solid story in my head, but I really still like to
think of it as open ended, and I really like to
encourage every viewer to make their own interpretations. So I love this old building. This was actually in a town
in the south of Poland, where my wife’s parents grew up. And I was so, I loved this building, and the next time I went back they had completely renovated it, and it was all painted shiny new, and I was really disappointed. And this is actually in the
neighborhood of Kazimierz, in Krakow, and now, like
the rest of the old city, it’s all renovated and it’s filled with shops and cafes, and it’s bustling. But I wanted to do something … that took place in an older time. I’m really, I guess I’ve
always been drawn to tragedy, more so than anything else. And I’ve also been kind of, I have this strong connection
with my family history. This is my great-great-grandfather … and that’s actually not my grandmother. (laughter from audience) (laughs) It would be, I suppose, my step-great-great-grandmother. He had a, the story goes,
he had a number of wives, you know (laughing) and she
was, I think the last one, and she was much younger than he was. So I wanted to do something that kind of maybe paid a little bit
of homage to my origins, and also to my wife’s origins. So I developed this, I
came up with this idea to make this sort of novella about this family in Krakow that lived in the Jewish
section in, say, around 1930. And I wanted to place it
around 1930 because … first of all, it’s not
too far back, and so that I actually have some
connection with that time. And I didn’t want to, I
wanted to have it sort of, maybe in the shadow (coughs), excuse me, the shadow of the Holocaust,
but I didn’t wanna place it directly in the Holocaust
because I felt that was just really beyond me to
actually deal with that. So I didn’t want to actually
have soldiers or Nazis in it, but I wanted there to be kind
of a foreboding darkness, maybe, present in the photographs. So, that was my idea to start. So, when I start a project, or even when I tell students who are about to start a project,
you know, how to begin … what I like to do and suggest
is that, as much as possible, you really immerse
yourself in the subject. You kind of want to get to
the point where you’re sort of living and breathing whatever it is that you’re trying to tackle. And what I find is that way,
is that even when you’re not consciously thinking about it, the gears are still turning
in your unconscious, and that’s when you come
up with these ideas, sort of quote-unquote “in the shower”, or wherever, when you’re taking a walk, and then suddenly these ideas come up. So the first thing that I do
for a new project, or this one, is I just start gathering reference. And so, what I like to do … is make use of the
digital tools that I have. And so I just, you know, create
a folder on my hard drive, and just start throwing images into it. I create a number of folders, actually. This one was for architectural
reference, you can see. Then I’ll create another one for hair and wardrobe reference, you know, doing research about that. And this is all really fun
for me, looking this stuff up. And it is, of course,
very, very easy to do now. You don’t have to leave
the house to do it. And these I actually, I
use, I just use the browser, Adobe’s Bridge. And that’s what I use to
browse through all these and open them up in Photoshop. And I also create a folder of reference just for composition,
mood, and color, okay? And these might be any
images that catch my eye while I’m working on this project, and that I might want
to steal something from. And I don’t really worry
too much about stealing because I know it’s always
gonna kinda be filtered by my own sensibility. And I don’t mind paying
homage to somebody. I’m very comfortable with that. And so, you can see a lot of the images are history images or
vintage photography images, some of them are contemporary
photography images. And I try to always keep my eyes open for anything that just
catches my attention, and I try to either take a screen grab or save it in a folder and keep it handy. I also make sure that I have these things usually on, like, my mobile
stuff, my iPad or my phone, so that when I’m on the
subway or anywhere out, and I have a free minute,
I just go look through it, then it keeps my mind kind of turning. And I also make sure
that I have a notebook that I can write down ideas in. I find it to be really handy. So, then when I’m, when I feel really saturated and I’m ready to really start on the project, that’s when I’ll start
actually building the dioramas. And so, I have my little, my
visual reference on the top, and then I’ll actually draw the plans for, in this case, for the
building in Adobe Illustrator, and those’ll be my
quote-unquote “blueprints” … for the project. And then I’ll just start building. And I’ll use any material that really, that works, whether it’s
wood or cardboard … whatever will get the job done. That’s my assistant. He doesn’t, you know, I
don’t have to pay him, but he’s, he’s kinda short. So, those are the windows. And this is the front of the building on one of the buildings … in the construction phase. And then this is the building after I’ve, the front after I’ve
finished and painted it. And you can kinda see, if I
put the painting after it, where the things that
I liked about painting I’m still able to bring
back into this process. So even though I’m not
actually making paintings, I still get to paint. And I really just like that
part of working with my hands, and there’s something that’s really kind of therapeutic about it. And then, after I’ve, while I’m building the sets, I’m sort of casting the project. And I really like choosing the models, because it makes me feel very powerful. (audience laughing) But it really, it really is fun. And people ask me, where
do I find the models? And … different places. A lot of them I find on a
website, “Model Mayhem,” which is where, and you can
find all kinds of models, and there are thousands
and thousands of models. The only problem is that
sometimes the models … it can be hard to get in
touch with models quickly over that website. But for this kind of project
I had plenty of time. And sometimes the models
are friends of mine, and the, the main male lead in this project was a trainer at my gym. I just liked the way he
looked, and his beard, and he was into it, so that
worked out really well. And so after I’ve chosen the model … I’ll start doing sort of
these little rough photo, photo references for the photo shoot. I’ll actually schedule a
photo shoot with the model. And by this time I have a pretty good idea of what the composition is. And one thing I like is that … the process is very flexible. So a lot of the images I’ll
have in mind ahead of time, but a lot of the poses will be
improvised by the model, too, and sometimes that leads to images that I hadn’t even thought of. So you can see that,
again, it’s my wide range of paintings and
photographs, and you can see in the middle there’s a little shot of the half-finished diorama with my little assistant in there. He helps out a lot, and that’s why. He’s very good at this, actually. (audience chuckling) And this is what I’ll
actually take, you know, to the photo shoot, and
I’ll use these as reference when I’m posing the model. And, the photo shoot, is, it’s really one of my favorite aspects of
the project, because it’s … I guess by far the most social, so I’m actually working with other people. But in a way it’s also
the most stressful … because there’s a limited amount of time. I’m paying the models,
I’m paying the stylist, I’ve rented the clothes. So that, in a way it kind
of adds to sort of the high, you know, and the energy,
but I’m also kind of glad that I don’t do it every single day. That, I do it, in fact,
as I tell people … they say, “How long did it
take you to do the project?” and I’ll say, “Well,
the actual photographs “are probably about two or three weeks, “but everything else is about two years.” Which is pretty accurate. So that’s my leading lady, Zoe, and I found her on “Model Mayhem,” and she was absolutely
marvelous to work with. And that’s my hair, hair
and makeup stylist, Fallon, and I’ve worked with her
on the “Hoppers” as well, and she does, she’s simply amazing. And Zoe had like this long, wavy hair, and I had told Fallon before
that I wanted it kind of up, the way these women wore it in the ’30s. And she said, “Oh, that’s no problem.” And it really wasn’t. And she had braided, put
in all these tiny braids and then tucked it up into her hair, and you couldn’t see it at all. So it was really this
wonderful transformation. And so then I just take
a lot of photographs against a plain backdrop. And the dress is actually a, a vintage dress that I rented, and I was very fortunate to find this place in the Garment
District that rents costumes, and the woman that works
there is very knowledgeable about historical fashions, and so she was a very good guide for me, in saying, “Oh, no, no, that’s ’40s, not ’30s.” So I felt good about that. So I would take, you know … I think, I mean I probably took four- to five-hundred
photographs of Zoe that day, in a few different, a couple
different costume changes with different props and things, and that would last me
about a year, I think. And then I had one more photo
shoot about a year after that, with Zoe to finish up the rest of those. And so this, this was the actual pose that became this. And this was the first
image in the series, and the title of this one is
called, “The Tailor’s Wife.” And I imagine this family … as being in the, that the husband is the tailor. Because that was a very
common profession … for Jews, well, for a long time, but especially back then
in the ’30s in Europe. And so the this is called
“The Tailor’s Wife.” And I chose not to name
the characters because I wanted to leave it open-ended. I didn’t want people to
have associations, I guess, with certain names and things like that. So I chose not to name the characters. But I made a decision that I
wanted the first few images to function, I guess, as what we learned back in English class is
called the “exposition,” where you’re just setting
the stage for the story, so you’re introducing the
characters and the setting. And so this is the next image. Actually there’s one
missing, but never mind. And I call this one, “Working Morning.” And so this, this is really the family at the beginning
of the story as I see it. And so you’ve got the
husband who’s the tailor, and then you’ve got his wife, and, I think of the other woman as his mother. So it’s her mother-in-law. And … Most people, I guess,
unless you know a little bit about that culture and that history, you wouldn’t, you might
not be able to tell much, but if you know a little bit … as I learned, you can tell from his,
sorry, from his dress that he’s pretty
religious and traditional. And you can tell by her dress and her mother-in-law’s dress, because, first of all because
their elbows are showing, which, a traditional,
religious Jewish woman wouldn’t allow her elbows to be showing. And, also, they’re wearing makeup, which, another thing that
a religious Jewish woman, especially at that time,
would not have done. Most likely would not have done. So I wanted to suggest
this sort of tension in the family, in a very,
but in a very subtle way. And also, you can see on the right, you can’t really tell,
but that’s a picture of a, one of the historical … Jewish rabbis, who, you know. So, my thinking is that this
guy is still very religious … but there’s something going on because his mother and his wife have sort of strayed a little bit, but we don’t really know why. The other thing that I wanted to mention is that the neighborhood
that I placed the story in, Kazimierz, also is kind of a metaphor, itself, for loss and decay, in that it had once been a
really vibrant cultural center, but by this time in the
1930s, it had really fallen kind of into dec — a very, kind of low point, and so that the only people
that still lived there were considered very
poor and ultra-religious. And so this sort of
continues the exposition. And this is their simple dinner. And, the challenging thing about this, doing this particular image … was that I wanted to have
the food on the table … and I wanted it to blend
with the miniature set. But I couldn’t use mini
food, because it didn’t, it looked like mini food. (laughs) I wanted it to look like real food. So, the only thing that’s,
so the people are full size and the food is full size, but
everything else is miniature, the table and the chairs,
and everything, so … to get that to blend was, for me … was probably the most time-consuming
montage in the series. Also, it was a bit tricky because … for almost all of the images
except I think for this one … the main light is actually a, like a … an artificial like a
speed light or a strobe coming in off camera. But in this image it’s actually being, the interior except for the people, is actually being lit by
that little dollhouse light, that’s actually functioning as a light. So, that was a little tricky
getting that to blend right. And because its digital, there was some noise I had to deal
with, so, and that was tricky. And this one, again, this
one is absolutely based on this painting by van Gogh, which is called “The Potato Eaters”. I gave it the same title,
so I’m not, like, I’m, I’m acknowledging the theft, at least. – [Voiceover] Can you go
back to the previous slide? I’m just noticing the wife’s gesture, the way she holds her fork,
it’s right in the center, is that intentional in some way, or? – (laughing) Oh, it’s
so funny you ask that. Because … This was like the last … scene that I shot that day, and we ran really, really late, because my usually punctual hairstylist was like an hour and a half late. So, we were, everybody
was tired and cranky, and we were rushing, and … I forgot to tell them how
to hold the silverware. (audience laughing) And, my wife, who is my European advisor on this, you know, she goes, “Oh, you blew it. (Richard and audience laughing) “They’re not holding
the silverware right.” And so, I did the best I could, but, he, you know, she’s okay and he’s okay, it’s really Zoe, that,
she should be holding it a little bit differently. So, but at least she’s not, like, eating with her right hand, like that. Because they would spear it with the left hand and go like that. You know? Cut it like
this and spear it, so. Good eye, yeah. (laughter from audience) This is probably the happiest
picture I’ve ever done. Probably the only happy
picture I’ve ever done. And it’s a flashback, really. And that’s how I mean it
to function in the story. In the story, the couple
at one time had a son, and the son is no longer present. We assume he died. We don’t know how. So this goes back, this
flashes back to a happier time. And so the title I, this one,
I call this Once Upon a Time, which sort of plays on both the fact that he’s reading a book, but it also is thinking of a happier time. And in this one, unlike the other ones, the wife, you can see, is
dressed much more modestly. She has her hair covered
and her elbows are covered, so, at this point, she was
still more, she was traditional. Now, you wouldn’t really know it, probably, unless I told you, but the idea for this
photograph actually came from this photograph by Duane Michals, who, I’ve always been a
big fan of Duane Michals. And he … was kind of a pioneer in this sort of staged storytelling work. And he would also, a lot of times, would add writing to it, so, and when you look at
this you just see this, this photograph of this happy couple, and you think, “Oh, what a nice, “that’s a nice, happy couple.” And then you read the little caption, and, the caption says, “This
photograph is my proof “that there was that afternoon “when things were still good between us, “and she embraced me,
and we were so happy. “It did happen. “She did love me. “Look, see for yourself.” So, you know, then it kind of transforms the way you see the photograph,
so it really becomes about loss, and not
about happiness, per se. So this is the next photograph, and this is what I kind of wanted to, maybe this is a little heavy-handed, but I wanted to get across the idea that they were grieving
for this son, so … I have the photograph of
the son in the background, and then, there’s a tear
coming from her eye. And the title of this one
is called “Shacharis,” and “shacharis” is the Hebrew word for “morning prayers” in the, in Hebrew ritual. If you’re a Orthodox Jew, you’re … you’re required to pray three times a day: morning, afternoon, and evening. And the morning is called Shacharis. And … So, my thinking in this image is that he’s kind of
dealing with his grief by, in religion and tradition, and for her, it just
kind of isn’t working. And so she’s kind of gone away from that. And so she’s got, there’s the, she’s kind of crying against the bed, and the picture of the
son is on the floor. And so it kind of illustrates
the kind of schism in the marriage. This one I like to think of
as sort of a dream image … where he sort of returns to
visit his mother in a dream. Because that’s kind of, she kind of can’t, she thinks about him all day, she dreams about him at night … and I don’t actually have it, but I actually made a family photograph. You can see it on the
wall in the background. I think it’s on my website. But, and it’s actually in the, if you get a chance to go to
the exhibition at Klompching, it’s actually framed there. And a lot of people actually thought it was actually my family, but it’s the actors, you know, dressed up. So it was a prop for this. Okay, so … and this is one of the
images that I did, really, that I wanted to try to
push the story along, in terms of the narrative. And so I’m kind of
introducing this, sort of, this kind of dark character … played by me … who is a customer of the tailor’s, and the idea is that he’s being measured for pants or whatever, and the title of it is called “Measuring.” But, the idea is that he’s sort of, he’s eyeing the wife who’s
working at the table, and then, so he’s sort of measuring her, and then, sort of this image of the rabbi, old rabbi, is kind of
watching down at her, as well. So she’s kind of stuck in the middle. And, this particular image, whenever I kind of, in
the images that I have this sort of dark character in, who I kind of wanted to sort of embody kind of evil, or this
coming menace, whatever … I used … I try a lot to look at, sort of … Film Noir images. I never got it quite as shadowy
as I was hoping to, but, but I got the idea across. And I also changed the lens in my camera to a wide-angle lens, so the space is a little
bit more distorted. And so, you’ll see in all
these images with him in it, the space is, it’s a
much wider angle lens. And so the idea is that
she begins this sort of, or maybe it’s a one-time thing, this illicit affair, in
her grief or whatever, she kind of … (laughs) (audience laughing) (laughing) exhibits this sort
of self-destructive behavior. And, but I wanted to
have it sort of show her, her little journey, and along the way, I wanted to have some kind of little street scene in the neighborhood. So, this, say, is maybe
not quite where she lives, but it’s another neighboring street where she’s not quite as well known, so the little girl is kind of eyeing her as she’s going into
the apartment building, and these are just kind of two local guys, kind of posing for the camera, and this older guy
watching the little girl. That’s me, actually, too, by the way. I play that guy. And this was actually, this was one of the more
difficult ones to … for me to get it to
blend, to get the figures to blend in the scene, because, and I think because the lighting in this is a little bit different. In most of the other ones,
the lighting is more direct, it’s fairly hard lighting, and in this one it’s
almost like a cloudy day. The lighting is very diffuse, and I find it much more of a challenge to actually blend the figures in this one. Okay, so then she enters
the apartment building, and this one … I call “Ascending”, because
she’s ascending the stairs. And then you can see, also, the little girl has followed her in. And she’s just kind of curious by this, what’s this woman doing here? And so she’s going up
to this guy’s apartment. And the title, “Ascending” … in one sense I think it seems
kind of counter-intuitive, because in a way she’s really kind of lowering herself, going down into kind of a dark place. But I kind of like that it was a little bit counter-intuitive. And then … I just learned something this
past week that I didn’t know, that made it, gave it
another layer for me, that in ancient Jewish ritual, like when, 2000 years ago, when there was a temple and all the Jews went to this one temple
in Jerusalem to pray and they would make animal
sacrifices at the temple, and there was a sacrifice. It was called “the burnt offering,” where an animal would be
entirely burned on the alter, and the idea was that it was
complete submission to God, because the animal would
be completely incinerated, and all the smoke would go up to God. And that offering was called “the olah.” And a lot of people think that
“olah” means burnt offering, but what it actually means is “ascension,” because the smoke is
going up to God. (laughs) And that was just very
weird when I learned that. I didn’t know that when I titled it. But I was actually very, this was one of the
more difficult dioramas with the stairway. I was very proud of that. And this image is actually
not in the exhibition, this is another one that I kind of did just to sorta push the narrative along. And this was another one that was really inspired by Film Noir, and I wanted to kind of make sure you knew who the guy was, I suppose. Maybe it’s a little heavy-handed, but … And then this one, which is
kind of, her, afterwards. And she feels just kind of as low as a person can possibly feel. And I remember when I
was photographing … Zoe for this, I told her
what I wanted to portray, and I had her lit, this kind of, this light in a certain way, and I thought, “Oh, that’s
perfect, that’s perfect,” and I took the picture, and then, of course, the great thing
about digital photography is that it’s instant gratification. You can see exactly
what you get right away. And so I thought, “That’s perfect.” And then I looked at the photograph, and it looked exactly like
the opposite of what I want. It was like, “Oh, that was great!” You know? (laughs) (audience laughing) So we had to keep working, and eventually we got there. So this one was definitely inspired by photographs by Bill Brandt, who was … a German-born photographer who worked mostly in
Britain around World War II. And so I was really inspired
by both of these photographs. It’s almost a combination of the two. So he used this very wide-angle lens, too, and this really … up-close image of the
silhouette of the woman. So, that’s what inspired that image. And so then, this image was about sort of, I suppose … the disillusion, I’d
say, of the relationship. And you can see there’s a, there’s somebody, maybe a mother-in-law in the window up above. And the interesting thing is that some people tell me that they think that the husband is kicking her out, you know? But, in my mind … the husband actually would forgive her, but it’s like she can’t forgive herself, and so that’s why, it’s
more her choice to leave than that he’s kicking her out. – [Voiceover] What’s the poster? – Oh, the poster. I’ll show you more. That’s actually, there are
more posters in the next image. That was another fun part, was finding these old
Yiddish posters online that might have been
on the buildings then. You know, Yiddish was the
language that European Jews used until, well, until there
were no more European Jews. And some of the Orthodox Jews
in America still speak it. It’s a form of, I guess, mostly old German mixed with a little bit of Hebrew, and the characters, though,
are all Hebrew characters. So, those are old Yiddish, and sometimes Yiddish and Polish
posters, because of course they spoke Polish, too. So a lot of times the posters
were in both languages. But I think that the poster, um … with the face on it is a theater poster. There was a lot of
Yiddish theater in Krakow. Krakow’s always been a
cultural center, even then. So, this is another one, and this one I call, “The Intervention.” And so, you can see that
there are more posters there, that are both in Polish and Yiddish. And I like to think of this one … as the mother trying to
convince, just, this is just me, and I don’t wanna spoil anybody
else’s thoughts, you know. In my mind she’s trying to
convince the wife not to leave. I like to think of that there’s a bond between these two women, even though they don’t share blood. I like that idea. But I left it kind of open ended, so, and there’s the husband that
feels somewhat powerless, still in the background. I would also add, oh, sorry, that probably the single longest, the single longest element it took to make was the cobblestone street,
’cause I actually had to make all the cobblestones (laughs) so. – [Voiceover] What’d you make ’em out of? – I made them out of foam
core (laughs), actually. These little pieces of
foam core that I would cut and then crush with my fingers, at night, watching television. (laughs) (audience laughing) This isn’t my image, actually, okay? This is a famous painting by the Italian surrealist,
Giorgio de Chirico. And I always loved this image. And I think I knew not long
after I started the project that I wanted to kind of take a crack at this image, and that it would be the
last image in the series. and I confess, I still like his painting better than my image, but … I still love his painting. So this is the image that
was based on his painting … and I gave it the same title. I love the title, too, “The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street.” You know, it’s so poetic. And so in this image, there’s a, this kind of surreal, almost
like a dreamy landscape. And the boy is sort of walking
or running down this street and there’s a shadow coming. And so I think of this as very much a sort of a dream or otherworldly image, and again, I can’t kind of help myself from making up stories about it, and I see him as sort of running towards, there’s a shadow coming and
I think of it as his mother. And this kind of otherworldly, or spiritual reunion with his mother. You know, that’s kind
of how I think of it. But again, it’s very dreamy. And I try to kind of mimic the sense of distortion from the surrealist painting and that the buildings are shot kinda with two different angle lenses. So, the building on the left is a … more of a wide-angle lens
than the one on the right, to kind of help kind of
bend the space a little bit. And that is how the story ends. (audience applauds) – [Voiceover] When you’re compositing your photographs with the dioramas, how do you get the scale of the photographic elements to fit into the scale of the diorama? Is there some formula, or
is that just judgement? – Judgement. (laughs) There’s no formula. In fact, I always worry that
somebody’s gonna figure out that the scale doesn’t
match, from, you know, “How come he’s taller in this
one than that one,” you know? And I try, I mean I try
to keep it consistent, but I basically … I just do it by eye and what feels right. And sometimes I go, I was just working on one
the other day, and … I worked on it for a couple hours, left for about an hour,
came back, and I like, “Ugh! He’s too big!” You know? So … It’s more judgement. – So I kind of have a
follow-up question to that, in terms of the scale of lighting. So, I recently actually
worked on a project with small paper things, and I realized very quickly that even the biggest, softest
lights would end up casting very hard shadows,
and totally kind of distort the classic
ideas that I understood of how light should work, you know? Is that hard to put together that way? – That’s so fu … Somebody just asked me that — you didn’t email me, did you? – No. (laughs)
– Okay. (laughs) Um … No, I just use whatever modifiers I need. I mean, a lot of times for, I’ll have to aim the
light, so I’ll use either, I mean, I find that for the dioramas I use mostly speed lights, so I’ll either … have a grid that I’ll attach to the light, or I’ll make a snoot out of either a modifier or a Cinefoil … and so I can get a really
pretty good pinpoint. And then for, if I want it soft … I mean, I have a small
space, and I’ll usually … Sometimes I’ll use an
umbrella, but a lot of times I’ll just bounce it off
a ceiling or a wall. – Do you find yourself using
also those tiny little, you mentioned using a
model light in one of them, like the actual — – You know, I don’t
because the problem is that I can’t get enough light out
of them, even for, like … Where is this? This one. A lot of the light is
coming from overhead, but what I did was I found this little kind of plastic half-globe, almost, so I used that as a fixture,
and then I cut a hole in the ceiling and put
a speed light on top, and triggered it that way. But the problem that I
found with the model lights was that I couldn’t get enough light, so that I couldn’t, I
ended up having to use too wide an aperture, and then … I didn’t have enough depth of field, so. – [Voiceover] Hi, sir. Thanks for coming to this lecture. I really love your work. And now, before my question, I would like to say, so Hopper and Chirico, they
are my favorite artists. So, the first painting for the Hopper is “A Room by the Sea.” (indestinguishable) – Um, I didn’t understand
the question, sorry. – [Voiceover] My favorite
out of a Hopper painting, that in the first time see his
work is “A Room by the Sea.” – Ah, okay. Yeah, I didn’t do that one. (laughs) – [Voiceover] Oh, yeah, I
mean, so my question is … So, I have two questions. The first question is, how do you balance the sharpness,
because it is compositing, but when you do the miniature shot and you do the people behind, so I can see that,
sometimes that really hard to control the sharpness
and the depth of field. – Yeah, um, well, especially
when I did the “Hoppers,” a lot of them have a very
shallow depth of field, so I had to, often had to blur the figure or part of the figure to get it to match. I mean … I know that there’s this
really common desire to have like these super,
super sharp images. Fortunately, I don’t have
that (laughs) hangup. So to me it’s more important
that things are balanced. So you can get away with something being not razor sharp if it’s next to something
that’s not as sharp as it. (laughs) So for, usually, almost every
time when I put the figure in, the figure’s too sharp. So I’ll have to soften the
figure, almost invariably, to match the backgrou —
to match the miniatures. And in a way, I almost don’t want the set to be super, super sharp, because then every little
flaw shows up in it. So it’s really, it’s
kind of a balancing act in terms of what you can get away with and what you can’t, in
terms of being miniature. And some things you think are gonna work and they don’t work, and other things you’re surprised that they work as well as they do, so. I mean, I was surprised that
when I did the “Hoppers” that there were people that didn’t know that they were miniatures. I thought for sure you
would know right away. But, a lot of people don’t. – [Voiceover] My second question is, I’m kind of curious
’cause we talk about your (indistinguishable) this
project, so I’m curious, ’cause I really love Hopper’s work, so my question is, why give the title it’s a meditation to the Hopper’s work? – Why give the title
“Hopper’s Meditations”? Uh, because it was sort of … my meditations on Hopper, I suppose. And they’re very quiet, I think
of them as very meditative, I tend to be very
meditative, so it seems like, I mean, what I love
about Hopper’s paintings is sort of the stillness in them. And not just the stillness, but kind of, the drama that he’s able
to find in the stillness. And somehow I just, I liked the
title, “Hopper Meditations.” – [Voiceover] You had a very
successful Kickstarter action and I’m sure people would be interested to know how you did it,
what it entailed, and … what do you think about that now? – Yeah, I did a Kickstarter
campaign to fund the … in terms of preparing for the exhibition. And I was really nervous at first, because I had some friends that had had successful Kickstarter campaigns. And, I had three friends that
had successful campaigns, and two of them said, “It’s too much work. “Don’t even bother. “It’s just so much work.” And then, the third friend said, “It’s a lot of work, but you should do it. “You should do it.” You know. And I’m really glad I did it. It was a really, I mean, I’m
grateful it was successful. But it was really, really
fun for me to do it. It was a great experience. I do think that … it’s important that, if you’re gonna do a Kickstarter, that you have a pretty … a pretty good presence on social media, because that was by far and away how most of my funds were raised. One of my friends,
actually it was my cousin, who ran a successful Kickstarter and he didn’t have a big
social media presence, and he was able to do it successfully because he had so many other connections that were people that did have a presence. And he did fundraisers, he
really worked his tail off. You know, for me … it was mostly social media. But also family and friends,
a lot, I mean, I got really generous contributions
from family and friends, from people that I knew. Maybe 30 or 40 percent
of the contributions, maybe 30 percent were
from people that I knew. And it is a lot of work. But I think you have to be careful. I was very lucky, ’cause my … galleries, Daren Ching, who’s in the back, was very helpful to me in terms
of designing rewards for it. I don’t think it would have
been nearly as successful if I hadn’t had, you know,
Daren’s input in that. So, and I think it’s important to do it in a very mindful way,
and talk to as many people as you can before you jump
into it, if you’re gonna do it. But I’m really thrilled
with how it worked out. And it was a fair amount of
work doing the fulfillment, and getting all the rewards out. But it wasn’t, I mean, it wasn’t that bad. (audience and Richard laughing) Yes. – I’m curious about … the personal … and very site-specific … story about Poland. It’s, it’s … it’s not really commercial. – (laughs) No, I’m finding that out, yes. – So where do you think, just from your own philosophy, this was a personal … story. Do you think it has any commercial value? Now today, in today’s
world, it appears to me that it is very timely. How do you think this can
get out into the world? – The question is, “This
project, Kazimierz, “seems to be a very personal project, “and not very commercially minded. “How do you think it can
get out into the world “given that sensibility?” Is that correct? – It is correct. And, the fact that we’re at a time in the political
world, right now, it seems timely to me, because of prejudice, of all kinds of … survival. – Yeah, no, I think it is timely, and I think the themes
really are timeless. I mean, when I was, I mean, first of all, it’s important, I think, as an artist you have limited choices
in terms of what you’re, you have to do something
that you feel strongly about. Because I think every
artist’s kind of goal is to make an emotional
connection with the viewer, or at least that’s my goal. And so, in order to do that, you have to do something that you feel
emotionally connected to. So this was a story that I wanted to tell, and I didn’t, even now I think, obviously if you, if you
have an origin that’s similar to what the story, the
content of the story, that is one way into it. But I did want, I didn’t
want to limit it to that, so I tried to choose themes
that I thought are universal, such as love and loss and grief. And that’s what I hope
will speak to people. In terms of … you know I … I guess I don’t … I like to, I wanna make things
that are beautiful, still. And hopefully that will
find a way, you know, I can understand why it’s not, you know,
something that everyone might want over their couch. But I want, I see, still,
to me, I still get comfort so far as looking at some
of these types of images. And that’s kind of what I’m hoping for. – They have an edge to them. They’re wonderful. – Thank you. – They’re magnificent, I mean,
just absolutely magnificent so that without the story part … I think that they have their own strength. Each image has its own strength. – Well, that was my hope. – Thank you. Yeah, no, that’s good. – And I think, I mean honestly,
some of the images … were almost … I did almost use vehicles
to push the narrative along. So, they might be a little, I can see where they would be a little more difficult to read if you didn’t know the rest of the story. But I’ve still, I, I never really made an image that I thought couldn’t stand on its own. – Okay. Thank you. – Okay. – [Voiceover] Just one more question? So, in respect to your
dioramas and your props, I would assume that they’re
very sensitive and fragile. Was there ever a time that
either something broke, and, if so, did you incorporate
that into something? Did you keep, like, a break,
or did you just go back and fix it so it was back to normal? – Oh, the question is,
“These things are fragile, “the little diorama and the
prop things are fragile. “Do I ever, do they
break, and if they break, “do I repair them or do I kind of “let it be a happy accident?” How does that sound? Yeah? Well, they are fragile, and … I can get very frustrated at times when things break, as … you know, a lot of times
it’s not a pretty process (laughs) because I can get
very, I’m very into it, and, you know, my wife
will tell you that I … I can get very frustrated. You know. (chuckling from audience) That’s a good question. I think that happens more … I’m able, I think, to hold
things together enough. They only have to stay together long enough for me to take
the photograph. (laughs) So I’m usually able to do that. I think the accidents almost happen more when I’m painting things
and they don’t turn out the way I thought they
were gonna turn out. Or even when I was doing the cobblestones. I wasn’t sure how they
were gonna turn out. I’d never done it before. So I kinda just go with it and see what happens when I photograph it. You never, it’s almost like
it’s hard to tell sometimes until you actually photograph
it, what it’s gonna look like. And the lighting changes everything, too. And a lot of times I’ll spend time … on one little detail of this window and then it doesn’t even
show, you know, (laughs) in the final photograph,
so you just never know. But I try to think of it, “Oh, it’s all part of
the process.” (laughs) I don’t know if that
answers the question, but. – [Voiceover] You
mentioned that when you’re working on a project in
the back of your mind you are looking ahead at the next project. Do you wanna give us a teaser, like a world preview, here? (laughs) (audience laughs) – Oh, yeah, well, I’ll just say, I haven’t started it yet, but I do have a, a project in the back of my mind, and … One thing that I’ve
found is that the older, as I’ve gotten older, my
work has tended to become more and more personal. And so the next project is probably even (laughs) more personal. So, I’ll say that about it. (laughs) (audience murmuring indiscriminately) – Yeah. – [Voiceover] Thank you very much. – Thank you very much. (audience applauds)

Comments 9

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *