Monday, September 10, 2007

Interview with John Schuh, CoCA Premier, Belltown Show 9/7/07

John, let me first tell you how much I enjoyed your show in Belltown last night. I heard comments which ranged from “This is fucking amazing” to “Is this something you can’t help?", which of course got a few laughs. What you’ve done is put together some images which are quite transfixing, even hypnotizing. Your fractal photo collages are especially impressive when you notice after first viewing them at a distance that the elements used to compose the larger image is composed of the same type of smaller image. So let me ask you some questions about your work:

Interviewer Question: The idea for fractals is normally associated with mathematics. What gave you the inspiration to utilize it with art/photography? (I am thinking here of the painter in the short story you talked about at the opening.)

John Schuh: The fractal analogy was suggested by Ray Freeman, the curator of the CoCA Belltown Gallery. I think it's a helpful and compelling way to explain the work to people who haven't seen it in person. My original inspiration came from this passage from a short story by Jorge Luis Borge called "The Zahir": " . . . the governor showed him a cell whose floor, walls and vaulted ceiling were covered by a drawing . . . of an infinite tiger. It was a tiger composed of many tigers, in the most dizzying of ways; it was crisscrossed with tigers, striped with tigers, and contained seas and Himalayas and armies that resembled other tigers."

Interviewer Question: You had a phrase you used in your talk last night at the opening; you didn’t call it a fractal but instead . . . ? Does this phrase/word describe your concept better?

John Schuh: "Self-similar"? I'm not sure which phrase you're remembering. It was probably something off the top of my head. I usually describe my work by talking about the individual pieces. I tell people that I made a collage of a car out of photos of cars, a flower out of flowers, etc. But people often say they didn't really understand what I meant until they saw the work in person.

Interviewer Question: How do you decide what you want to photograph?

John Schuh: Once I've decided to work with a particular subject, the motivation for the photography is to create the widest possible variety of images of that subject. For
example, when I decided to do The Flower, I photographed flowers over the course of an entire year so I could capture all the types that bloom during the different seasons. As for choosing subjects, I simply photograph what I find interesting. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, which is a great city, but it doesn't have a skyline of tall office buildings like Seattle. So even though I've lived in Seattle for 12 years, I still get a thrill looking at the tall buildings. I've always enjoyed attending sporting events, so it was a natural progression for me to start photographing them and use them in a piece like Ring Of Honor. Subjects like flowers, water and seascapes are universal and timeless. Cars, on the other hand, are interesting because their appearance evolves from year to year.

Interviewer Question: Do you compose photos with a plan or end in mind? In other words,when you go out to take photos do you wait for inspiration to hit or do you have more specific goals?

John Schuh: I don't necessarily wait for inspiration to hit. The goal is generally to create material for the collages, so I approach the photography from the standpoint of technical execution. For instance, I'll go to a classic car show and just start photographing the cars. I'm thinking about the composition of the shot and getting the image in sharp focus, but I'm
not worrying about whether each picture will stand on its own as a great photograph. Of course, some of the photos turn out to be beautiful works of art in their own right, and I always try to
incorporate the best material into the collages if possible. In the end though, the photo has to serve the collage, and sometimes I have to leave great photos out because they just don't fit into the larger context of the piece.

Interviewer Question:
Which piece was the first one you put together? What were the “problems” or “challenges” you had with this first one?

John Schuh: My first collage was a human face based on a photo of the jazz singer Betty Carter. The important lesson I learned from that piece was the importance of contrast. If the images that go into a collage are too similar in shade and tone, the viewer won't be able to distinguish the larger image that the material is composing. You need lighter and darker images to represent light and shadow, which helps the viewer to imagine the image in three dimensions. With the Betty Carter piece, I went back and exaggerated the shadows around her mouth and nose to make those features pop out more clearly.

Interviewer Question: Do you have formal art training or education? If so, where did you study?

John Schuh: I have no formal art training or education. I guess that's why I needed to learn the above lesson about light and shadow at age 28! I'm 39 now, by the way.

Interviewer Question:
I notice that most of your photos use “industrial” elements, with just the stadium collage including people. Is there a message in your selection of topics? Do you feel your chosen topics match up better with your specific technique than other images, say from nature,etc.?

John Schuh: People find a lot of messages in my work, which I am always interested to hear about. It doesn't matter whether I intended the message or not. The CoCA Belltown show features my urban work, but I have used natural subjects also, such as flowers, beaches, clouds and water. The urban subjects like cars and buildings provide a lot of strong, straight lines which can be used in a visually striking way,whereas the natural subjects provide a lot of color. My urban work reflects the time and place in which I am working.

Interviewer Question:
Do you start with photos? If so, are you using film? Or are these created with digital images using Photoshop?

John Schuh: All of the collages I have exhibited to date are composed of film prints. I have started using a digital camera to take photos to use as collage material in the future, but I still plan on printing the photos and assembling the collages from prints.

Interviewer Question:
What steps do you take to create your collages? What is your process?

John Schuh: The process begins with photography. For some pieces, I try to photograph a wide variety of examples of a particular subject,such as flowers or cars. For other work, I photograph a single subject from a wide variety of angles. For example, the background
of The Flag is composed of about 150 photos of the downtown Seattle Public Library. The next step is to determine the overall design of the collage. For The Car, I used a single photo as a template for the entire piece. I usually make a pencil drawing and lay the collage material over it. For Italian Car Show, I made a detailed drawing of a Ferrari parked on a pier in front of the Seattle skyline. On the other hand, for Office Building I only drew a single large circle and improvised all of the other elements of the piece. I use a glue called Mod Podge to glue the prints onto the collage, then put another layer of the same glue over the top of the entire piece to complete the process. I sometimes use paintbrushes to create patterns in the top layer of glue. In fact, some people have thought on first glance that my collages were actually paintings.

Interviewer Question:
What is the main idea or feeling you want the public to take away
after viewing your pictures?

John Schuh: I simply want people to enjoy the experience of viewing my work. It's a thrill for me if someone says that they've never seen anything quite like it before.

Interviewer Question
Where will you be showing your collages next?

John Schuh: I don't have any future exhibitions scheduled at the moment, but I plan on continuing to show the work.

Interviewer Question:
Do you have a website where people can get more information?

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