Christine Baczek started photographing when she was thirteen and living in South America. After her family moved back to Salt Lake City, she studied photography at the University of Utah. She is now education coordinator at the Kimball Art Center and collections photographer for the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. Her work is the subject of two recent exhibits: Contact, which was on display during December and January at the Main Library in downtown Salt Lake, and Vertical Landscapes, which is at the Finch Lane Gallery through February 23.
Jim: You’ve got two exhibits which on the surface look very different. Do you see them as being dissimilar or do you see them as being connected?
Chris: They’re connected by the use of multiple images. Most of my work deals with the idea of needing a lot more information than just one photograph to have an experience. The big color collage work in Contact is more about thought processes – about how do you actually observe something? How do you deconstruct it and then reconstruct it again, not only to make sense out of it but to convey the experience of seeing something. I’m trying to give the viewer an idea of how I observe things. With the black and white vertical landscapes, it’s more about creating a space that you walk into that’s more intimate than the overwhelming landscape. What I’m trying to do there is to present a space that is enormous in a very small scale and in a way that you feel you are actually looking up and down and you’re in the space.
Jim: The vertical landscape ones are about four inches wide by 20 to 30 inches tall; so you’d have to stand very close to look up and down.
Chris: When I started making those pieces about two years ago I was trying to create an intimate space for people; because the frustrating thing for me with landscape photography is how to separate it from the pretty postcard picture into something that you can actually feel like you’re in the place. A place is more than just the color of the leaves or the shape of the mountains. A place is about an experience and not really the forms.
Jim: When people want to create a space that the viewer feels a part of, one of the first things they often do is make the image large. Is that something you purposefully didn’t do?
Chris: Yes. When I look at artwork, I like to walk up close to it and have my personal moment with that piece. When a piece of artwork is as large as a wall, you have to step back to really see it all. You can go in and look at the details, but as you’re stepping back, you share that space with about five people and it’s not a very intimate experience. So by making it small, it forces the viewer to really walk up to it and to be alone with it, and not have the five other people surrounding it.
Jim: And the fragmentation of it has to do with focusing its attention on that particular part?
Chris: The fragmentation is to draw attention to how you view something. When you’re looking up and down, you might stop for a second before you move to the next section of the landscape.
Jim: In taking photographs like that, there is a certain amount of overlap, so you see the bottom of something or the top of something in one picture, and then you see a little bit of that same thing in the next picture.
Chris: I am very aware of creating tension with the overlapping. When I create that little piece of sky, [speaking about Jones Hole |2|] and then that big expanse of sky, without showing the land connecting, you’re really made aware of those two forms. That is really important to make the viewer aware of that tension and that this is a progression, not just perfect, ideal movement from tone to tone.
Jim: Another thing that’s happening which seems to reference a scientific kind of photography, is you purposefully don’t match the tones between the prints. |3-4| These are silver gelatin prints – if you’re doing this in the dark room, do you have rules against burning or dodging?
Chris: No, not at all. This body of work is not about representing what was really there accurately. Burning and dodging in the darkroom lets me use tones to create movement to direct the viewer’s eye and try to help them feel a connection with the place. One of the things I love to do is to put my feet at the bottom because I think that helps a person connect with the place and think, “I really am standing there.” |5| I love being in a place. I love the details and everything but I don’t want to just see a reproduction of great leaves on a fall day. It’s more about everything surrounding you and that’s what interests me. I think that’s why people like landscapes, and photographers often don’t try to recreate that experience. They try to make something beautiful, but I don’t think they really try to make the experience. And that’s what I’m more interested in.
Jim: Now going to the Contact series. When you have all of the little numbers and sprocket holds and bar codes and stuff like that, to me that says, this is done with film – why did you put all that stuff in there?
Chris: For a couple of reasons. One is I prefer working with film and I think people automatically assume that everything is digital these days. I like to kind of throw it back out and say, you can still do a lot with film and there is still a lot of film being used. That’s one reason. Another reason is the idea of evidence. I want people to know that I did shoot those in that order. And that is really important for people to realize I started here and I got here and I put this piece here for a reason. I want them to realize that it’s well thought out; it’s coming out of my head and my use of the camera rather than Photoshop. I also like to do things as low tech as I can which is why I wanted to make it out of a contact sheet. You don’t need to enlarge it – you just take your film, you put it on the paper and expose it.
Jim: You had mentioned that in that particular work there was the idea of it being like a person who keeps a journal. In the landscape things you’re also talking about the viewer having a personal experience. That strikes me as something that might be similar between the two bodies of work. It’s the personal experience.
Chris: I would agree with that. The landscape is more trying to put somebody in a space and part of that is seeing things through my eyes. But I think it’s more about them being in the space. The color work I would say is emphasizing how I see things and trying to put somebody kind of behind my eyes more than it is trying to put them in the space.
Jim: The subject matter in Contact is varied and ordinary, compared to the Vertical Landscapes.
Chris: The idea behind those images is to take things that are pretty much routine in my life and observe them and deconstruct them and reconstruct them for the viewer. So most of the interiors are from my house and most of the outside shots are from things I walk by daily.|6-7| It’s about presenting the things that I see daily to people.
Jim: How do the individual frames relate to the whole?
Chris: I start out with the idea of the whole image that I want. And I’ll try to make it a nice composition just as a whole. And as I’m trying to establish what that whole piece will be, I’ll look at the details that interest me within the whole. After that, I’ll just take my camera to my eye. I won’t do a whole lot of preplanning. But I’ll know where I want to start and I’ll know where I’ll want to be by frame 15. And I’ll know where I’ll want to be by frame 24. And I’ll try and line things up as I’m looking through the camera.
Jim: To what extent are you composing each frame? Are you interested in some of them more than others?
Chris: Definitely. When I’m actually looking through the camera, I’ll try to make each frame composed in an interesting way. So I’m moving things around and I’m not trying to line it up perfectly because that’s not always the best option. So to an extent, I’m composing each piece to be its own individual photograph, but I want the whole to be greater than its parts. So I’ll make a couple of frames boring if that’s better for the whole composition.
Chris: I like the near/far idea for the color pieces. I want them to come up and look at everything and see how things change over time and what the little details and the little moments are. But I also want them to step back and really see the piece as a whole and think about the thought process. And think about how you go from A to B and everything in between.
Jim: Well what would you say is the thoughts that you want people to think about as they look at the color ones? Do they have to do with the subject matter or the process of doing it?
Chris: It’s more about the process I think. If I was more interested in subject matter, I’d think it would be more appropriate to do just one image that defines that thing. But with doing the multiple images especially with leaving the film base in, with all the numbers, I’m trying to emphasize the thought process. And how to experience things you do daily in an interesting way.
Christine doesn’t have another exhibit planned at the moment; after these two she feels she would like to have a bit of a break from photography. In addition to her other studies, she has completed an internship in platinum/palladium printing under Richard Sullivan of Bostick & Sullivan. This is an exacting Nineteenth Century photographic process which requires that the artist hand coat the sensitized paper and has been the subject of much renewed interest in the last twenty to thirty years. Future plans may include extending her multiple image work into that medium.||
Christine Baczek’s series of Vertical Landscapes is on exhibit at the Salt Lake Arts Council’s Finch Lane Gallery through February 23rd. She shares the space with painter Brian Kubarycz and photographer Momoko Fritz.
Jim Frazer, originally from Atlanta, is a Salt Lake City-based artist.