The advent of the digital age has forever changed the way we capture images of our world. Between self-indulgent Instagramming and manipulative Photoshopping, it’s almost too easy to rag on amateur photography in the modern era. There are certainly positives to the user-friendly ubiquity of camera phones and their ability to capture moments that otherwise would never have been documented, but the element missed most in the modern age happens to be the specialty of Seattle photographer Daniel Carrillo: physicality.
Carrillo is an artists’ artist: For his 2012 exhibition at Greg Kucera Gallery, he took ambrotype portraits of local artists. He continues that journey with new show Studio Visit. This time he creates daguerreotypes—a photographic process where iodine helps create images on silver-coated copper plates—to capture images of objects found in Seattle creators’ studios, like wood chips from sculptor Dan Webb and Troy Gua’s handcrafted Prince doll. Studio Visit opens at Greg Kucera Gallery this Thursday, April 6, and runs through May 27.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Carrillo about the daguerreotype process, bridging the physical and photographic world, and the value of not duplicating art.
What’s the unifying theme behind Studio Visit?
I’m still focusing on artists, but this time around I’m focusing on objects in their studios or sort of just like mementos or some of their work. I’m just collecting little tidbits from their studio and photographing them, as sort of another way to reference them. I’m just trying to find interesting ways to photograph items that belong to them or are a part of their art making. So like for Dan Webb, I went over there and collected some wood chips from his sculptures and photographed them. This is something I’ve been doing for a little while as an aside to the actual portraits. I already had a few images ready to go, and then just kept on going with the idea to make it a full-on show.
What’s your favorite aspect about this collection of items?
It’s sort of like taking a portrait in a way. It’s the same sort of rewarding an aspect of getting to talk to the artists and hang out with them and see what they’re doing. That’s probably the most fun part of it to me.
What do you enjoy about daguerreotypes in terms of aesthetics and the process of actually making them?
I really love the fact that it’s a shiny object and that the pieces are unique, so they’re sort of like a painting. They’re a one-off piece of art. I don’t ever make copies of them. I don’t do digital copies. I just stick to the idea that the piece that I make that night is what it is.
I also like the fact that when you overexpose the daguerreotype metal sort of looks like metal. The properties of the daguerreotype lends itself well to shiny objects, and things that will sort of like overexposure. It does interesting things with different types of lighting. It’s a very unique look as well as just a unique piece of art.
The process is really integral for me. I was a printmaker before this, so it’s really similar. It’s like I’m doing a print as opposed to a photograph in a way. There really is a lot of preparation and sort of a lot of work that goes into it, but I find that completely rewarding. I don’t think of it as anything that’s a negative. I think it’s part of the art.
The difficulty that’s involved results in just that much more of a payoff at the end when I get something that I want. There’s sort of a high failure rate with it, but that’s kind of the fun in it too. It sort of eats you up a little bit. It kind of fights back, in a way. You know what I’m saying?
Yeah, for sure. You generally don’t feel a great sense of fulfillment if things come super easily.
I find a lot of pleasure in just the exploration and the amount of experimentation that goes along with the process. The process is susceptible to a lot of failure, and sometimes that’s just part of the art. You never know what’s gonna happen. It’s always a surprise, and it’s always like Christmastime when something happens that went your way and you got something that you feel is really sort of magical.
There’re not a lot of people doing daguerreotypes either. I don’t think a lot of people have ever seen one, so whenever they see one and they’re not familiar with it, they’re not sure what they’re looking at. That oh, what is this? Sometimes they’re hard to see in the wrong lighting, but I think that’s part of the fun too—sort of throwing people off as far as what a photograph can be.
Speaking to that, how do you think photography has changed with the advent of digital things where it brings the accessibility of everyone can be their own photographer now but also speaking to the amount of effort that you have to put into each one of these pieces?
In the beginning, photography was very difficult and not everybody did it. It was a very technical process. The people that were doing them were extremely proficient. It was a scientific affair—a marriage of science and art. And not even so much art in the beginning; it was more of a scientific discovery. So the people that were doing it were very meticulous and they did the best they could.
Photography has just gotten easier and more accessible, which is not a bad thing, it just means that more people are doing it. Snapshot photography or even camera phones just mean you get a lot more images of something that would never have been photographed.
I feel like these images [in Studio Visit] are crafted and meant to live on for a few hundred years. I intentionally do this daguerreotype process because I know it will survive that long. There are still daguerreotypes around that look like they were taken yesterday. I love that aspect of it.
The part of it that’s most magic to me is the viewing experience. The plate itself sort of changes at each angle you look at it if it’s lit well. You have to be in front of it in order to experience daguerreotype. You can’t really experience it just by looking at a reproduction. And that’s why I only make one of it. I feel like there’s an experience there that has been kind of lost in a way.
Another thing is that plate is the piece of art that resulted from the light bouncing off whatever was being photographed. It’s captured onto that plate itself. There was this close-knit relationship from the subject to the actual photograph.
There’s a sense of the physical world about it.
Right, exactly. It’s a physical object that—in a way it’s recording—the moment in time, and a really faithful one if you do it right. There’s a depth to them that’s really incredible.
How do you feel Seattle has influenced your artwork?
Well, I’ve worked at the same frame shop for about 17 years now. I never took art super seriously until I started working at the frame shop. This is why my work is based on these artists that I’ve met over the years, it’s really just kind of what I know. It’s just these people that I’ve framed artwork for and talked to and sort of gotten to know. So the Seattle art community has been a really familiar thing to me. That’s definitely shaped what I’m making now as far as the subject matter, and I feel like that’s why I’m interested in portraits and artists themselves.
There are some artists running around here that don’t get probably as much appreciation as they should, but they’re just as hard working and their art is just as relevant. I feel like it’s a good way to get their face or recognition about their work out there.
Daniel Carrillo: Studio Visit
Apr 6–May 27, Greg Kucera Gallery, Free