Monday, October 6, 2014

Frank Hamrick

 I have been an admirer of Frank Hamrick's photography and book arts for some time, and was inspired when I saw his work in person at the exhibition, Pathways, that just closed at the McMaster Gallery at the University of South Carolina. Below find a few insights Frank shared about his work and process.

Frank Hamrick is an associate professor at Louisiana Tech University. His work mixes photography, storytelling, handmade books and found objects. Frank received his BFA from The University of Georgia and his MFA from New Mexico State University. NPR has written about Frank’s handmade books and in 2012 Oxford American Magazine listed Frank as one of the 100 Superstars of Southern Art. His work is housed in collections including the Georgia Museum of Art and The Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans.

Ashley Kauschinger: What role does the personal play in your work?

Frank Hamrick:
I have made satisfying work of strangers and places I’ve visited, but most of my work is tied to my connection to places I have lived and people who are close to me. Photographer Christine Shank once said the most personal work is the most universal. I find that to be true as long as the work leaves an entry point for viewers to relate to the content.

AK: How did you get involved with alternative processes, and what are your thoughts about its uses in contemporary photography?

Digital photography has made things more accessible to people but also leaves many feeling removed from the process. These hands on, alternative methods being practiced can be seen as a reaction to the proliferation of digital processes, but there are also a lot of analog/digital hybrid processes being developed.

My bookmaking is a good example of blending analog and digital methods.

A few years ago one of my graduate students had been unsuccessfully trying to learn how to make tintypes. I did not know how to guide him. My solution was to start learning the process over winter break and then return to school and show him.

I usually challenge myself with learning something new each year, whether it is how to expose an image onto a leaf using its chlorophyll or how to create and document a camera obscura. Then I share that information to my students and peers.

AK: You are an accomplished book artist. Do your books inform your photographic work? Or do they communicate what can’t be said through photography alone?

People like my images on the wall but my photographs tend to resonate better with viewers when they are sequenced and presented as books, something the viewer can hold and turn its pages, rather than standing across the room looking at it on the wall in a “do not touch” situation.

If you were to think of a photograph in the same way you consider a single song, then an artists’ book is similar to an entire album of music complete with cover art and liner notes. The artists’ book allows me to combine imagery and text and incorporate materials, like handmade paper, and processes, such as staining and letterpress printing, to create unique or limited works of art.

AK: What is your editing process? How does it differ when you are sequencing a book vs. an exhibition?

When making a book I prefer to choose a photographic series that I feel is finished or at least there is a completed chapter in the series. I do not want to create a photography book of new work and then a week later make a new photograph that I wish was in that book. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the possible connections that can be made between the images on the left and right spreads in the book. I also consider the overall arch of the story the images convey in the book. My books tend to have a small selection of images. Past books have ranged between 6 – 24 images depending on the project. It is not unusual for good images to be left out of a book because it did not fit in the sequence and story told by that particular book.

Exhibitions tend to be more open. I do think about the sequence in a show like I do in a book. But I take more risks, often showing new images or ones I am curious to see how people respond. Often my exhibitions include photographs that do not make their way into my books because over time they are replaced by new, stronger images.

AK: You are also an Associate Professor at Louisiana Tech University. How do you find balance between teaching, your artist practice, and life?

It is challenging to balance being a professor, a working artist and having any sort of personal life. Teaching has changed so much in the past ten years. Students expect their professors and course material to be accessible 24/7 now that we have e-mail and online class resources like Moodle/Blackboard. There are many more tasks attached to teaching now compared to when I first started.

As far as making artwork, I photograph my garden along with my family and friends as a way to balance making artwork and maintaining relationships and activities that matter to me. I blend trips to see family and friends with visiting curators and teaching workshops.

Photographer and Educator, Eliot Dudik, said something to the effect that artists do not get to stop for weekends and holidays. He is right if you want to get anything accomplished.

When I was a teenager, one of my mentors said, “You’re fucking up if you’re watching television.” I apply the philosophy to my life, asking myself, “How does this contribute towards my goals?”

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