Laurel Casjens . . . from page 1
Although all of the images exhibited at Finch Lane are infrared, not all of them have the distinctive look of glowing foliage and dramatic cloudscapes. "Climbing the Pyramid, Calakmul," |0| Mexico is an image that makes use of infrared to good advantage. Here, the glowing trees outshine the clouds, and what would be the blue of the sky is as deep in tone as all but the darkest shadows in the trees and pyramid.
In these new digital prints, Casjens has duplicated the colors of the unpredictable split toning which she has used in her silver gelatin prints for years. In a traditional black and white photo, the shades of gray are formed from different densities of silver. The toning process replaces part of the silver with another metal usually copper, selenium, or gold with the result that the color of the print changes. Split toning involves immersing the print in first one and then another toning bath, which results in beautiful but unpredictable and difficult to control results. Casjens says that she would usually make ten prints of an image from which, after toning, she would be pleased to keep one or two successes. With digital processing, once she has achieved the look she wants, the image is reproducible. The trade off is that the result is no longer a unique object, but for Casjens, the ability to control the process more than compensates for the loss of uniqueness. One particularly successful example of the toning effect is "Plaza and El Castillo, Chitzen Itza, Mexico."|1| Toning often affects the image contrast, and in this image, Casjens has manipulated the midtones to produce an eclipse-like light in the plaza while the brilliant sky is full of fluffy cumulus. The colors vary from print to print through different shades of copper and sepia, occasionally veering off towards blue or purple. The only toning artifact, which is not reproduced, is the iridescent metallic reflective tinge that is sometimes visible on toned silver prints viewed from a low angle.
The subject of this exhibit is really not the places portrayed in the images themselves but, rather, the act of tourism. Casjens sees tourism as a positive activity, which has the potential to be a unifying force among people of different types. On a local level, she feels that when people get to experience first hand the more scenic and out of the way places in their own country, they will be more motivated to want to preserve those sites for the future. She says she notices an increase, in countries other than the United States, of intra-country tourism Mexicans seeing Mexico, Moroccans seeing Morocco. Casjens also feels that international tourism acts to promote increased understanding of other cultures, making those who participate in it less xenophobic when they return home. She wants to communicate that no matter where we are, as people we have more things in common, drawing us together, than differences dividing us. The tourism that Casjens is talking about is a bit more off the beaten track than one might think of at first. She likens it to going to a national park, but then going off on a backcountry trail. The objective, however, is not to get totally away from people. If you look closely, there is a person or automobile in each image. With the exception of a couple of images, which include family members, these are other tourists who just happened to be there at the time. "Castle Ramparts, Prague" |2| is a wonderful example of all of these elements coming together just right. The tourists have (in a positive way) the choreographed look of a crowd scene in a film that seems to be being directed by the limbs of the trees. The infrared glowing leaves and contrast bending toning combine to create a beautiful but unearthly light which transforms what could easily seem banal and annoying (too many people spoil the view) by changing the viewer’s attitude so that the people become the view.
The results of Casjens' approach are not uniformly successful, though. When we make our own travel snaps, we say, “This one came out well,” or, “That one didn’t come out,” as if the images themselves had a role in deciding whether to reveal themselves to us. For many, a successful photograph is a result of fortuitous coincidence, and part of becoming an accomplished photographer is learning to control the processes involved so as to bring a more consistent result. Casjens' choice to proceed as a tourist has the result of consciously reintroducing this element of serendipity and some of the images just “come out” better than others. For instance, her image "Alta Kapelle, Regensburg, Germany" |3| recalls Frederick Evans' platinum prints of Gloucester Cathedral in its luminosity as light floods through the clerestory windows. The digital toning has the "wow, that just happened" look of successful split toning. By contrast, "St. Peter's Cathedral, Regensburg, Germany," though a quietly beautiful symmetric image, looks a bit drab beside its companion.|4| In this context, though we are assured by Casjens’ evident mastery of her medium, we are tempted to say that the one “came out” better than the other.
Exhibition Spotlight & Book Review
Apples & Oranges
Jean Arnold the Illustrator Comes to Town
by Ruth Lubbers
Several weeks ago, an invitation from the Utah Arts Council's Rio Gallery landed on my desk for an intriguing exhibition titled This is Our Land: Discovering America & the World Through Original Illustrations from Children's Books. And there, on the front of the postcard advertising the national travelling exhibition, was an image by local artist Jean Arnold.
I hadn't thought of Jean Arnold as a children's book illustrator in a good many years - nine to be precise. In 1999, I was searching for an illustrator to mentor a young woman in the Art Access Partners Visual Artist Mentoring Program who wanted to learn more about children's book illustration. The helpful staff at Phillips Gallery recommended Arnold as a mentor, based upon her track record of illustrating a series of highly popular books dealing with Carlos, a young Hispanic boy who gets into scrapes and adventures that will be quite familiar to boys and girls 3 to 8 years old.
The culminating activity for the Partners Program each year, is an exhibit in the Art Access Gallery where apprentice artists and mentors share their work with the public. As her offering, Arnold chose to show a series of framed original illustrations from the Carlos series. They were whimsical and folkloric in nature and quickly captured my fancy as well as that of gallery-goers.
The Jean Arnold that most of us in the arts community know, recognize her as a talented artist who received her MFA in Painting in 1999 from Johnson State College, in conjunction with The Vermont Studio Center. Since then, she has built an impressive resume, including being awarded one of the prestigious Utah Arts Council Fellowships, along with David Delthony in 2002 (see 15 Bytes article). She is nationally known for her abstract drawings and paintings based on sketches done while traveling on buses.
It might be tempting to search for common threads between Arnold's illustrative work and her fine art, which has variously been described as complex, urban/pastoral, ambiguous and semi-abstract. However, we're talking apples and oranges here.
Illustrations in children's books are considered successful if they become part and parcel of the narrative; if they are able to convey a sense of the story even without the text. If they do this, they are magical and the Carlos books are magical. Arnold reached back to her knowledge of Mexican and Latin American folk artists for inspiration in introducing Hispanic flavor into the Carlos books. She also conducted an extensive amount of research to provide Carlos with an accurate background for the unique Hispanic setting in which the stories take place.
It was also interesting to discover that Arnold never had contact with the Arizona writer, Jan Romero Stevens, in person. When Stevens submitted the text to her publisher, Northland Publishing, the publisher paired her with Arnold. Other than articulating a few key images that Stevens felt were vital to the narrative, Arnold was on her own. At the end of the process, Arnold and Stevens did communicate by phone.
Out of this successful partnership have come five Carlos stories, beginning in 1993. Sadly, Jan Romero Stevens passed away in 2000, effectively ending the series. Jean Arnold is now immersed in her fine art career and her book illustrations are a memory. How fortunate we are to be able to peer into this delightful period in an artist's past.
The five Carlos books include: Carlos and the Squash Plant; Carlos and the Corn Field; Carlos and the Skunk; Carlos and the Carnival and Carlos Digs to China. All are bilingual, with the text neatly divided in half on each page between Spanish and English. Each book also includes a simple recipe for food mentioned in the narrative, which children will enjoy cooking with an adult's help.
15 Bytes readers can see one of Arnold's illustrations hanging in the Utah Arts Council's Rio Gallery until February 28. She is one of 80 illustrators from the United States and other countries in This is Our Land: Discovering America & the World Through Original Illustrations from Children's Books. Viewers need not have small children to enjoy this imaginative traveling exhibition, which was organized by Meridian International and the Library of Congress.