My vision has typically been organized around the concept of the found photograph. My work mostly consists of non-staged or modeled arrangements, or pictures as encountered. The elements of any scene as encountered tend to arrange themselves in one's mind, so that the scene seems to say to the viewer what it wants. The photographer in this scenario needs to be ready to receive this message. Of course, each individual may receive a different message, but the role of the photographer is to try to convey his own understanding to his audience.
The artist must approach the potential view in a manner that is open and receptive. This may involve certain uncommon viewpoints, or an emphasis on specific details. In some cases, the elements of a scene may take precedence over a strictly pictorial representation. Indeed, when the scene, as encountered, is viewed in a situation that is conducive to photography and vision, these elements can themselves become the subjects, despite their seeming lack of real world significance. In particular, I sometimes find the elements of line, light, and texture to be interesting and compelling, overshadowing simple subject content.
However, this tendency toward formalism must still be presented within the whole of an overall meaningful structure. I like to work within the intersection of formalism, representation, and conceptualism. While formal elements are generally chosen to present an interesting, or aesthetic, image, representation can never be wholly avoided with photography. Indeed, the object represented in the image is often crucial to the meaning being attempted. Nevertheless, there should be some underlying idea, or concept, that attempts to unify the series or collection of images. Although these concepts must of course be, as all art must be, personal, they should also connect to universal or widely experienced concerns and issues.
These structures that I present increasingly consist of photo series; or “Sonatas” when accompanied by prose or verse. The images in one of these series are generally photographed first, reflecting a particular location, printed, then ordered to a natural flow based on “feeling”, or a general story idea, not a set narrative. The text is then written, based on the picture sequence, in order to try to convey that feeling experienced when looking through the sequence and communicate the message thereby engendered.
In music, words and lyrics are often written separately. Either can be first. Words, or a story, can be written, and a suitable melody can be searched for. Conversely, a story can be written that reflects, or is inspired by, the feelings evoked by the melody. This would be similar to what I am trying to achieve here.
While the found photograph has always been the foundation of my practice, current projects are moving in the direction of more directorial works. In particular, the "Sonatas" series concept will inevitably require a more active hand in image design.
I prefer a fairly literal representation of reality when printing the negative, and tend to eschew overt dramatization. Hence, my prints suffer from only minimal manipulation. Addition and subtraction of elements, while possible in the darkroom (albeit not easily) is also absent. Tone and contrast controls such as burning and dodging are present, but minimized. I feel that a presentation that is not fairly realistic is somehow not "proper", at least for me. No black skies at noon and perpetual brooding storms! Reality should be brought out to view, not embellished!
Most of these photographs were taken with 35 mm cameras. Earlier photos were with a Ricoh Singlex TLS, which was replaced in the late '90s with a Nikon FTn Photomic. Lenses were either a 55 mm or a 50 mm, with the occasional use of a 135 mm telephoto. Zooms were never used. The film used was mainly Kodak Plus-X Pan, Panatomic-X, or Tri-X Pan. Some travel photos were taken on whatever Kodacolor was available at the time.
The Nikon and the Ricoh have been replaced in recent years with a variety of Minoltas, mainly the XD-11 and X-570. Lenses are the 28, 35, 50, 135, and 200 mm primes, with a very small use of zooms, mainly the 50-135 mm. Film is Ilford FP4+.
The last couple of years have seen a movement to medium format, specifically the Pentax 6x7 with the 45, 105, and 200 mm lenses. The future will see the introduction of large format, as a Sinar F1 4"x5" view camera has been added to the arsenal.
All prints are optical enlargements on silver gelatin paper. No digital steps whatsoever were involved in the process. Unlike most photographs these days, these prints were not ordered from an internet printing service, but were hand developed by the photographer himself. Although modern inkjet prints can perhaps be as visually fine as the older technology, there still is, to some, a certain dimension to the silver gelatin prints lacking in the digital prints. It is with this in mind that we still prefer the art of the darkroom, and hope that you might feel the same way also. In addition, the long term stability of these prints, especially the fiber based ones, is well established in a way that is still open for the inkjets.
Enlargements from B&W were made mainly on Agfa and Ilford Multigrade fiber based double weight papers, with some earlier prints on Kodak Fine Art Elite or New Oriental Seagull FB graded papers. Enlargements from color negatives were on Kodak Panalure single weight FB or Panalure Select MW resin coated papers. As Panalure is no longer available, these photos can no longer be printed in B&W in this manner.
Dr. Brendan Quirk is a photographer, chemist, and medical researcher currently living and working in Wisconsin. He earned BS and MS degrees from DePaul University (Chicago) in 1978 and 1989, and a PhD from the University of Virginia (Charlottesville) in 1995. Besides Wisconsin, he has also lived and worked in Riverdale IL, Chicago IL, Charlotte NC, Lisle IL, Charlottesville VA, and Durham NC. Although science has been his life; art, and specifically photography, is a strong and essential avocation for him that complements nicely the creativity of his principle daily work. Having maintained a traditional darkroom since the early 1970’s, he would like to remind the public that there is still room for and much life in the traditional photographic print!
Medical College of Wisconsin