Takacs talks tintypes and other throwback techniques of image making, including his Photofinishing project that explores how the demise of Kodachrome film affected small U.S. communities and artists.
Technique Talk is a weekly online Alive feature that spotlights the process of a Columbus artist. Know someone we should talk to? Send tips to email@example.com.
If you've been to 400 West Rich's biweekly Farmers Market, you may already know photographer Stephen Takacs. In fact, you may have already been the subject of his photographs. The OSU Department of Art lecturer shoots tintype portraits at the market; the tintype series is just one of his artistic projects. Read Takacs' thoughtful answers below about his interest in the photographic process, how those techniques keeps him grounded and why it inspired a project called Photofinishing that has social, historic and artistic implications. See more of his artwork here, here and, of course, at 400.
What kind of art do you make and why?
I enjoy working with a variety of media including wood and metal, although much of my art practice somehow centers on the photographic. I'm really interested in history and the ways in which the camera has shaped, and continues to shape, our perception of the world. I've been working on a project for a while now, called Photofinishing, that focuses on the death of Kodachrome film and will incorporate printed photographs, bronze sculptures, and slide projections into the final installation.
That being said I'm really a process geek and love tactile work that involves the hand rather than the computer. The physical process of making can be quite grounding in a world that seems to move faster every week.
When do you make art and why?
I tend to keep late hours. Usually, the creative juices don't really start flowing 'till evening. I think it may be because there tends to be fewer distractions later in the day. Or, maybe it has something to do with the moon…
How often do you make art?
I'm in and out of the studio four to six days a week. How much of that time is actually spent making "art" is more difficult to say. If tinkering with old gear and, moving around boxes while drinking coffee in the studio is making art, then I do a lot of it!
Where do you make art and why?
Where the art is produced depends upon the project; art can happen in a studio or out in the world. Sometimes I make photographs on location, other times I photograph in a studio, other times I make objects. It really depends on what the idea calls for.
I was a graduate student in the OSU Department of Art until I graduated this past summer (2012). Knowing that I would soon have to give up my workspace at the university, I began seeking out a new workspace last spring. Currently, I share a great studio and darkroom with my friend and former OSU studio mate Kristen Spickard at 400 West Rich Street. We've now been here for about six months and it's been great being a part of this community. Lately, I've been shooting tintypes portraits at the biweekly Farmers Market at 400 West Rich, which has been a lot of fun.
What has been inspiring your work lately?
People frequently get rid of lots of interesting (albeit obsolete) technology that I seem to have a knack for finding and collecting. I've found in the past that a found object can spawn a whole new body of work.
I typically have several projects in the works at once and now is no exception. One of the projects - titled Photofinishing - is inspired by the demise of the Kodachrome film after 80 years of existence. Photofinshing documents people and places affected by changes in the photographic industry from analog to digital. The project began not long after Kodachrome was discontinued and I was given more than 30 rolls of Kodachrome slide film. At that time there was one place in the entire world left that had a working K-14 [Kodachrome] processing machine and chemistry - Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas. Before Dwayne's retired its processor in 2011, I began frantically conducting interviews and photographing at a variety of photography-related business - camera shops, camera repair stores, and film processors. The shooting process of the project ended in late 2010 when I drove to Dwayne's in Kansas. I was there on the final day that they accepted film for processing and was able to personally turn in my final rolls that I'd shot for the project.
Photofinishing attempts to tell the stories of these disappearing places and the people who occupy, or occupied, them. Recently, I've gotten in touch with several other like-minded artists I met on the trip to Kansas and we are working to put together a traveling group exhibition showcasing the work from respective projects involving the death of this iconic film. Currently, there are a few images from my project on display at the Shot Tower Gallery on Fort Hayes campus as part of ImageOhio13, an exhibition organized by Roy G Biv gallery that was curated by Bill Horrigan from the Wexner Center.
Additionally, as I previously mentioned, I've also been shooting a series of tintype portraits -photographs shot directly onto sensitized metal plates. Originally, tintypes were very popular in the late 19th century as a cheap and ubiquitous form of portraiture. Unlike many 19th century practitioners who used the wet plate collodian process, I use a less toxic, dry plate process for my images. I coat every tintype plate by hand in the darkroom which can lend a unique aesthetic to the images. In my mind, bubbles and other anomalies from the hand-coating process, which might be considered "incorrect" by traditional standards, can actually add to the image.
What advice that you've found invaluable would you give a new artist?
Making art is kinda like working out… it's easier to motivate yourself to do when you integrate making it into part of your day-to-day life. Also, like an exercise regimen, an art practice is easy to blow off and you can easily get "out of shape." When you are out of shape it's twice as hard to start up again. An art practice requires (as the name suggests) practice, and lots of it.
What do you do while you work?
I rarely watch TV when I'm making - unless I'm working on an object that requires some kind of very repetitive action and little active thought - but music is often present at various stages of creation. As I type this response, I'm currently listening to The Streets' album Everything is Borrowed. Lately in the darkroom I've been listening to Wilco, Stornoway, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on my old CD boom box. In "lightroom" I've had Big Boi's Sir Lucious Left Foot Son of Chico Dusty, Billy Bragg and Wilco's Mermaid Ave albums and the Fleet Foxes on heavy rotation.
Do you ever experience artists' block? If so, what do you do to combat it?
Sure, I think everyone struggles with artist block at some point. Sometimes it simply is a matter of changing ones surroundings, stepping outside and going for a long walk. Bringing a notepad and a camera with you can be helpful…
I always find traveling to be inspiring. It can be really helpful to step back from one's life sometimes to assess what you are doing and gain some perspective.
Three artists, living or dead, that you would invite to a dinner party.
Those guys came to mind first…a visual artist, a writer and a musician. Strangely, none of them are photographers.