Monday, June 3, 2013

Judy Sherrod & S. Gayle Stevens

One year ago, Judy Sherrod and S. Gayle Stevens embarked on a new adventure, a collaboration entitled Nocturnes, born of the gulf in Pass Christian Mississippi. Stevens a wet plate collodion artist and Sherrod a pinhole camera maker joined together to create something not done before mammoth plate pinhole wet plate tintypes. They have been very successful at it. Their collaboration has yielded publication in South by Southeast magazine, Lenscratch, and will be included in the next edition of Christopher James, The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes. Over the course of a year the duet shot 49, twenty by twenty inch pinhole tintypes of the gulf.

View more of their work here 

Ashley Kauschinger: Can you talk a bit about how your collaboration, and the series Nocturnes, began?

Judy Sherrod: It was a fluke. An experiment. I was too stupid to know that “it couldn’t be done” – large and ultra-large pinhole wet-plate. Gayle was making small works. It was something we agreed to try “just because.” We were elated by the initial results – 11x14 plates. We were also overwhelmed by the nature of the emulsion and how it rendered the image. So we went to 20x20s because that’s the size trays we had at the time, 20x24. My job was to make the camera. Gayle is the wet-plate collodion expert.

S. Gayle Stevens: Well I think it started over a bottle of Prosecco as most things with me and Judy start or end with a bottle of Prosecco. I shoot a lot in Pass Christian, MS. I did a series on pass after Katrina so I am drawn to the area and I have a darkroom there underneath Helen Davis house, a watercolor artist whose family lives in the pass. I am from the Chicago area, and Judy is from Texas, so Mississippi is our halfway point. Judy builds pinhole cameras and shoots film mostly. She is a great camera maker. Judy wanted to come out to shoot some wet plate. She asked what was the largest wet plate pinhole. I wasn’t sure but was pretty positive no one had shot a mammoth plate pinhole so we decided we would. I like square format so I recommended 20x20. For Nocturnes, I am drawn to the water so the first shot we did was of the gulf. We tried the land but my gut instinct was that this should be a series on the gulf. We discussed over Prosecco, and Nocturnes was born. 

AK: How is working with another photographer? Ever too many cooks in the kitchen? Is it liberating?

JS: Gayle has her expertise and I have mine. So we stay out of each other’s “stews.” But when there are problems, and there always are, we work together to figure out solutions. Any and all ideas are potential solutions, so any and all ideas are good. I find the collaboration liberating. Two heads are better than one. Four eyes are better than two. And we need all four hands.

What makes it most liberating is having two creative resources. And there’s a synergy to that, where one plus one equals three or more. We have worked hard to finish this first project – the first fifty plates. Now we have some opportunities to expand the project and try the things we’ve been adding to the to-do list. This is where we get to go a little crazy.

SGS: It’s really good and it's different. She pushes me to go in directions I might not have gone. As far as photography is concerned size is not important to me, so I might not have ventured into mammoth plates, as it does create a lot of problems. I think it strengthens me as an artist. We have play days and days when we each just work on our own, then we usually meet up for cocktails and a nice meal to discuss the plates and what we want to do next. Liberating... I never really thought about that but yeah someone to bounce things off of and someone who can share the workload so it's not all on one back, so yes.

AK: In the series statement, you speak about music as well as landscape surveying. How do you think about creating a poetic landscape?

JS: I look at the beauty that is rendered by the plate and by Gayle’s exposure. It’s not what I see when I Iook at the water. It IS like a musical composition. We have these elements, these variables. And they are assembled to create the image. There is a libretto also, somewhat. We are the libretto. We have words we use to describe the images to ourselves. Now that you have brought that to mind, I may start recording the words. Making the accompanying libretto. It is certainly expressive, and perhaps that makes it poetic.

SGS: I think the sea does that. In the waters is the beauty, the music, the poetry written in the sands, the lyrical voice of the waves, I am mesmerized. I walk, I watch pelicans glide above the waves, the sun glisten on the water, the waves breaking, and the gulls add staccato notes to the song...

Keats said it better: 

Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea; 
        Oh ye! whose ears are dinned with uproar rude, 
    Or fed too much with cloying melody--- 
        Sit ye near some old Cavern's Mouth and brood, 
Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired! 

AK: How does promoting the work differ in a collaborative team? What is this process like?

JS: Scattered like cats. It takes both of us. We both look for opportunities. We both have methods of presentation, and we have different ways of describing the project. We had to arm wrestle when writing the statement. That is why we are answering separately here. We each bring our own experiences to the collaboration and that is what makes it special. We’re not cut from the same mold. Different experiences, different traditions, different values, different gifts.

I could not be more fortunate.

We both just look at what is going on and write/text back and forth what do you think about this one ... here is a juror I’d like to see our work or here is a publication I think we should be in. Whoever is less busy at the time will take care of entries, submissions and sending out work to galleries and such… We don't have set rules. But Judy is the marketing smarts.

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