Monday, November 10, 2014

Brenton Hamilton

Brenton Hamilton is a artist working in Maine and leading courses at Maine Media Workshops where he has taught for over two decades. Brenton is a photography historian and a practicing artist in several media. He was educated at Savannah College of Art and Design, MFA 1992.

Hamilton has led classes at Maine Media Workshops for 22 years and his specialty areas include the history of photography, B&W darkroom craft and the historic processes. Brenton lectures widely both in Maine and nationally about contemporary issues in photography, its history and other subject area interests within the medium and contemporary trends. He is also on the adjunct faculty at The Center of Alternative Processes in New York City. Brenton is a contributing writer and president of Obscura, founded in 2009, a non profit organization devoted to the progress of youth education in photography and books.

His work is represented at TILT Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona and in Maine at Susan Maasch Fine Art. Hamilton’s photographs are held in permanent collections at the Farnsworth Museum of Art, Portland Museum of Art, University of New England Permanent Collection and many significant private collections nationally. His first monograph was published by Obscura Press in 2010: The Blue Poet Dreams.


Drawn to concepts of time and invention - Brenton builds small meta worlds to contemplate and experience. Via still life and collage; intimate spaces where time is suspended and rearranged is the manner in which Hamilton re jiggers the world and makes a private space for his viewers. Employing often the strange deep blue depth of the cyanotype or recently the odd spectrum of collodion on black glass. Hamilton's new and old worlds collide inviting the viewer to new possibilities.

Ashley Kauschinger: Let’s begin by having you tell us a bit about yourself, and your passions.

Brenton Hamilton: I am a Maine artist and now live and work here - I also grew up here spending alot of my early boyhood on an island with my parents. Which was influential - and a particular way to grow up. Without phones, electricity only for certain times of the day, we had rythems of movement - we didn't have a car for a long time for example. The horizon - which any island person would agree is a destination, everything was always: "over there". So, the horizon line was something that I looked at in early work that I did with the large camera in Georgia.

My own interests are a deep study of history which is a large influence upon my work so I may be drawn to books and archives - o.k. full disclosure I am !! American and European cultural history and of course art & photography have great stories that sustain me.......I have a large collection of primarily 18th C. Spanish antiques and I photograph the objects among other things. I find the objects magical and full of animation and and mysterious gesture. Many of those images are here in our interview. The antiques and my creative work merge. Fencing is also a passion - that's sword work. I fence foil & sabre. Ive studied the history of the practice of dueling with some depth.

How does a body of work come together for you, from start to finish?

The research that I do about culture and the objects that I'm drawn to have a wonderful rapport together. I get ideas from the research - I want to respond and invent that atmosphere. So, via collage and cyanotype or lately still life practice and these small set ups that I build, I make these things for the camera. Its a fantasy of course, an invention. I build something - and photograph it.

What environment do you create for yourself in your studio?

The rooms that I work in are a ramshackle tumble of books and papers, notes with ideas and things that I want to remember and also light. The room has great light. The objects are on pedestals, stacks of carpets and lean against one another. Creating moments of chance and interesting configurations. I also know that I don't work constantly. Things build up and then I have to make them and do my camera practice and printmaking.

How do you think about marrying form and content in your work?

I have always been drawn to the expressive potential of the 19th C historic processes - because of patina (paper surface) and the physical work involved in the making of the images. The black glass ambrotytpes and the collodion process has the physicality to it that I enjoy and feel "involved" in when doing it. The black ground of glass support is for the image to rise out of and is also exhilarating. That's actually similar to my years with cyanotype - a deep blue ground was a 'space' for my story to be told - and the image or figure would rise out of the deep still gets me every time.

Who are your Photo Heroes?

Oh, that's a tough one for a historian, Ashley......Wm. Talbot and the French calotypists, Anna Atkins - But I also respond to and admire so much contemporary work right now such as Alison Rossiter, Matthew Brandt and especially Mariah Robertson. The materiality of photographs - and things that are light sensitive.

How does participating in sharing your knowledge through teaching contribute to your work? 

I love the classroom - its dynamic and its often challenging. Its a huge influence - and I get to talk about others work but its reciprocal because were doing the same thing/the same mission. That is: moving work and ideas forward.

Do you feel it inspires you? 

It really does......

Tell us about your participation with Obscura, a non-profit organization that
supports the arts and arts education through publishing, scholarships, and grants.

This is a great small org. - with a terrific mission. To assist youth with creative experiences in the medium, to publish good work in book form or in essay form on our web site. So, we work on raising funds via book sales and direct reach, give scholarships or materials support.

What initiatives are you working on? What is the best way for the photo community to help?

Our aim this year is another student scholarship for a short workshop experience in photography. It is a non profit - so we need to build the treasury to help these kids out. So, get in touch, donate if you can - everything matters even a little. The book purchases go directly to the work we do. But we also love good work and like to publish serious essays on the medium on our site. We published "Black Apple" by Thatcher Cook a while back and its doing well. We are all very proud of the book and our work.

How do you find balance between your artist practice, teaching and being the
president of Obscura?

Good question - its all the same though - participating in photography in a myriad of ways gets me to work everyday ! Helping young students, sustaining my own art practice and gallery work and the energy of the classroom all make a difference in my life.

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