What's your earliest memory of art making? How did your art career progress from there?
When I was in high school, I remember finding my dad's old Canon AE1 35mm film camera in the closet and from that moment on it was an extension of my body. I would take it everywhere with me, learning the possibilities of photography on my own terms. From there I started using photography as a conceptual tool to express ideas but I always had a need to tinker with the medium. Discovering and experimenting were paramount to my early years with photography.
Are you still driven by that desire to experiment? Which of your explorations are your favorites?
Yes, definitely. Even though photography is an automatic process there are still opportunities specific to the medium to experiment with. For example, the rainbow forms created at the caves can be said to be photographic objects, meaning the only way your eye can experience this specific object is by looking at a photograph. I still think the wildest experiment I ever did was to put unexposed film under my eyelid in a darkroom and walk out into the sun. The result was a pinkish red streak of color where the sun filtered through my eyelid.
The Light Through My Eyelids, 2008
Rad. What led you to this long-exposure style?
Well, one of the first projects I produced while in college was made on a refrigerator sized pinhole camera. The back would be lined with a grid of about 50 sheets of polaroid film. The exposure time for those early pieces were 5-10 minutes. I like the idea of an image slowly appearing over time. Especially with the polaroid film, the all 50 sheets would be exposed at the same time, and were then processed through a polaroid camera, then reassembled into a grid.
It seems that much of your work is focused on capturing changes over time, from that early project to this Bronson Cave series.
I have been returning to this issue of time. I think the camera is perfect for recording time, whether it is 1/1000 of a second or a year. Think of Nicholas Nixon's portraits of the Brown sisters over 25 years and how present the existence of time is in those photographs. I see time as a central issue within photographic production.
The cave series is both very similar and very different from your other work, at least in tone. Could you speak a bit about the vision and the inspiration?
Yes, I have always been attracted to the properties of light, and pushing that envelope in relation to photography has always been a concern of mine. Those interests are the foundation for the caves series. When I began the series and started experimenting with various movements and forms for the colored paper in relation to the architecture of the caves and I got the first few negatives back I knew I had something pretty special. It started a year long project of shooting there, exploring all the potential of that place.
What's the importance of place in the cave series? They're a famous location, but why is that relevant to the images you're creating?
The Bronson Caves are located in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park and are famous as a filming location to countless motion pictures and television shows. The caves were actually created during the early 1900's by man and were used as outlet tunnels for a rock quarry whose material laid the streets of an expanding Los Angeles. Early after its creation movie studios began renting the site for filming, in these early silent films the excavation machinery from the quarry can be seen. The caves’ cinematic history begins here and continues for almost a hundred years up to the present. Over the course of this history, the caves are documented through a variety of film stocks as an unchanging landscape amidst a chaotic specter of fictional realities. Cinema has imaged events from explosions and gunfights to the creation of cave paintings and alien abductions at the Bronson Caves. With each different event, the landscape’s existence morphs and adapts to new realities, an asteroid colony one event, a vampire lair the next, this elasticity gives the Bronson Caves the distinction of an anyplace. The site is a truly unique and relatively unknown American landscape.
Here I would like to amend Robert Smithson's original proposal, "Towards the Development of a Cinema Cavern", that was first introduced in his essay "A Cinematic Atopia", 1971. In the proposal Smithson writes he wants to build a cinema in a cave or an abandoned mine, carving back the rock to create a screen and fixing boulders as seats. Combining this proposal with Smithson's idea of "the ultimate film goer," the audience sitting on the boulders would be perpetually captive, constantly in the cinema where "his or her perceptions would take on a kind of sluggishness. Films would follow films, until the action of each one would drown in a vast reservoir of pure perception. He or she would not be able to distinguish between good films and bad films, all would be swallowed up into an endless blur. He or she would not be watching films, but rather experiencing blurs of many shades. Between blurs he or she might even fall asleep, but that wouldn’t matter…This dozing consciousness would bring about a tepid abstraction."
I amend that the Cinema Cavern Smithson writes about be set at the Bronson Caves and "the ultimate film goer" would be captive on a boulder not watching a screen endlessly but observing endlessly all the fictional realities dancing before them, films following films, performed throughout the history of the Bronson Caves.
That seems like a perfectly obsessive kind of nostalgia. Do you find yourself drawn to specific places repeatedly? Or maybe to the stories of places?
Depending on where I am living I tend to be drawn to all these different places. When I was living in San Francisco, it was Earthquake epicenters, light houses, and parking garages. Now here in Los Angeles it has been the Bronson Caves. There is so much meaning trapped within a place and I admit words are better than photographs in bringing these histories out, but that is where the challenge lies.
New Orleans Grave, archival inkjet print, 2009
Just for fun, a list of favorites. It doesn't have to be your all-time favorite, but maybe your favorite right now, or the first one that popped into your head:
Favorite flavour of ice cream: Strawberry
Favorite season: Spring
Favorite city: New Orleans
Favorite color: Orange
Favorite mode of transportation: Car
Favorite number: 14
What can we look forward to next?
Well I've been working on this book for about a year now. It is technically an app designed for the iPad. I am so close to publishing it but I am so anxious that Apple will reject it. Anyway, the book is titled Bronson Caves Stills & Sequences and it chronicles the cinematic history of the Bronson Caves through film stills and short sequences. Loosely chronological, the book follows the passage of time at the site through various eras and genres in filmmaking. Pulled from a comprehensive archive the images are reflections of eras, the possibilities of fantasies, conflicts, and identity, as well as the limits of fear.
To see Bronson's other work, visit his site.