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Fractured: Mini Interviews | William Lesch and Charles Anselmo


photo-eye Gallery Fractured: Mini Interviews William Lesch and Charles Anselmo Welcome back to our mini-interview series! In the last 8 weeks, the artists we've spoken with have enlightened us on the role photographers play in observing, documenting, and healing the fractured landscapes around and within us all. This week we conclude our series with the amazing artists William Lesch and Charles Anselmo.

Exhibition view of Fractured

Welcome back to our mini-interview series! In the last 8 weeks, the artists we've spoken with have enlightened us on the role photographers play in observing, documenting, and healing the fractured landscapes around and within us all. This week we conclude our series with the amazing artists William Lesch and Charles Anselmo.

It takes a moment to orient oneself to the bright, earthy colors and gritty textures of William Lesch’s Earth Remains #45. Lesch's brilliant aerial photomontage of mines and prickly pear cactus pads examines the impact of rampant human development on natural landscapes, and, further, how this unrestrained process has affected our relationship to the environment. Ironically mounted on a byproduct of these mines, a copper plate, his unique perspective makes one pay attention to these important issues.

Working exclusively with a large format camera, Charles Anselmo’s compelling photographs of urban landscapes address the role of memory in man-made environments. In his captivating image, Teatro Campoamor #13, a tropical landscape occupies the center stage of an abandoned theatre. This image offers a powerful metaphor for how memory frames our landscapes and question our ecological notions of wilderness.

Enjoy!

WILLIAM LESCH | Earth Remains


William Lesch, Earth Remains #45, 2020, mixed media mono print, copper sheet, 23 x 23 inches, ready to hang, $1780

What is your process like?
The process for this particular work and others in the same series starts with what to me are an interrelated series of aerial views. By that, I mean views with little to no perspective — views of surfaces, not necessarily views from the air. It could be a view looking down at a one-foot section of desert or a one-inch square of cactus pad, the planet’s surface to the surface of a bug’s wing. What I look for are pieces of a puzzle that has no solution yet. I used to build stonewalls for a living, and the most interesting walls are built by having a lot of stones of various sizes and shapes, all laid out on the ground. You start with one and if you have enough material to choose from, it builds itself by intuition and some sweat. As you transition from a novice to an actual stonemason, the more you are able to look at a jumble of stones and know which one goes where — your mind disconnects as your eyes and body take over.

I try to do the same sort of thing in the computer with photographs, thinking of various pieces like stones in a wall, waiting for that moment when they click into place. There is usually a structure, like a background made up of aerial photographs of mines, but even those are often pieced together from many different photos. For instance, in Earth Remains #45, I fit together photographs of the surfaces of prickly pear cactus pads and skeletal remains of desert plants. They have not only a visual affinity but a physical and an environmental connection.

Print Process
Earth Remains #45 is printed on a thin sheet of 28 gauge copper. I first prepare the copper by grinding, sanding, and polishing. Then I treat it with various poured, painted, and dipped chemical patinas. The result is a random, organic pattern of metallic markings, similar in spirit to what chemicals achieve on aged film or photographic paper. I then pre-treat and coat the metal panel with Ink-Aid White Matte Precoat paint, an acrylic white paint made specifically for printing with pigment printers. I often use several thin coats interspersed with drying the piece in the hot desert sun which causes the paint to contract and create surface cracks and fissures that expose veins of copper below the paint. Next, I run this painted copper sheet through my Epson 9800 with it set to the widest platen setting. After the print has dried, I attach the thin copper panel to a sheet of dibond, form and bend the edges and corners around the dibond. I fasten hanging hardware to the back and half a dozen coats of water-based varnish to the front for a finished piece that hangs on the wall with no need for a plexiglass or any other kind of glass barrier. This is very important to me as I want the immediacy of the physical object, the texture of the paint and the feel of the copper, as opposed to a hermetically sealed print under glass as photography has traditionally been presented. I want a living, breathing object you can see and touch, not a museum piece like a butterfly preserved under glass.

What inspired this image?
One of the earliest inspirations for this series were the Medical Collage pieces Frederick Sommer made late in his career from pieces cut out of medical textbooks. I spent a month, early in my career, working and living with him in Prescott, and since then his work and life have had a great influence on my approach to art and to developing a spirit of continual curiosity. I also came in contact with Emmet Gowin at this time, and, of course, his aerial work of Mt. St Helen’s and later some of the same mines I now photograph in Arizona have both been very important to me. My inspiration, if you could call it that, for this series is the destruction humanity and our appetites have unleashed on the planet. I feel as if our dominant culture has lost what it means to actually live in a place. We no longer have a relationship to the earth and to its non-human beings, the trees, cactus, stones, and clouds that is of the same depth and love as the relationships we have to our spouses or to our children. All of my work is an attempt to re-imagine and re-establish those severed relationships, the fracture between humanity and our wider self, the world of which we are but a small, relatively insignificant part.


Behind-the-scene video of William Lesch shooting from a plane

Bio:
William Lesch lives and works in an adobe home and studio he built by hand, himself, in downtown Tucson. He has lived in the desert southwest for over forty years; putting down roots, raising a family, living in place much as his barrio neighbors have done for generations. He has learned the names of the plants, the animals, the stones and the watersheds of his homeland; has studied the light and the changing seasons. His art is not his “career path”, it is an inextricable part of his life and work, an affirmation of what it means to actually live in one place on earth. In his case, that is the Sonoran Desert Bioregion. Our dominant culture has forgotten how to talk to the trees, how to sing to stones and saguaros. Lesch has spent a good part of his life walking the desert, listening to those forgotten songs, learning to sing the non-human songs of his region. The songs he hears as he walks are increasingly ones of anguish —of drought, fire, and extinction intertwined with the sounds and images of new life and celebration. Lesch believes there are stories to tell that are not about humanity at all, that there are far older, greater stories all around us. His life has been devoted to making art that tells those stories.

CHARLES ANSELMO | Havana Portfolio


Charles Anselmo, Teatro Campoamor #13, 2017, archival pigment print, 16 x 22 inches, edition of 9, $875 framed

Can you tell us about your artistic process?
Sometimes social-documentary projects emerge from purely visual ideas that aren’t yet obvious but actually stem from my fascination with color, line and the internal geometry of forms. This is particularly true when working with the unique historical/architectural richness of Havana, Cuba. Ultimately the photographic narrative will emerge, leading the way to the developed portfolio; working with large and medium format film, this cumulative process is very slow, such that it requires years to coalesce images into ongoing groups of large format prints. Overall, my process involves a kind of visual seduction, in that the vibrancy and color of deconstructed surfaces will hopefully draw the viewer closer to enticingly abstracted forms, which a moment later yield the realities of the narrative, the story. Strange dissonances ultimately tend to coalesce within the complexity of these urban landscapes, which basically are chosen for their ability to find and interpret the place where memory intersects with social context.

What inspired this image?
Within the fabric of populous urban environments there persist abandoned places that exist tenuously as inconvenient symbols of an earlier time, and which prompt complex questions concerning design, intention and waste. These architectural ghosts seem to lead to the uniquely dualistic status of urban visual culture, so an insistently human presence tends to prevail at derelict sites to yield scenes saturated with disquieting contradictions. Images of peaceful disconnection are instilled with a pervasive sense of human activity and grand design, but also reveal a textured, deconstructed landscape of historical fragments and skeletal details that reference the way in which memory changes perception as we reconsider the past. This image, of the abandoned Teatro Campoamor, was inspired not only by the textural splendor of nature overtaking a grand performance space, but also by its central place in a series of images that prompt a dialog about buildings that have been repurposed by the natural world, a dialog about inner, constructed spaces that are transformed into roofless “outer” spaces.

Can you share an interesting story about your subject matter or the making of your image?
Nestled behind the extraordinary baroque beauty of Havana’s restored Gran Teatro is the smaller, derelict Teatro Campoamor. For fifteen years I had walked by this remarkable fragment, unable to enter due to its barricades and boarded doors. One oppressively humid day in July, 2017 a friend suggested he might know of someone with a key. I was inside minutes later, and met the caretaker who had lived in this relic for twenty-four years in what had been a coat-check room. I was captured by the beauty of this place so beautifully overtaken by vines and lichen, its wooden stage turned into soil by roof debris and seasons of rain. Fifteen-foot tropical palms had been gifted to this interior by seeds driven by the hurricane winds of previous years, the gold gilt peeling from ornate plasterwork. A gracious host always, Reynaldo allowed me to spend entire afternoons there while he swept the then-seatless orchestra seating area and proudly kept his “house.” I visited many times over the next two years, studying the light, photographing endlessly, and ultimately returning to film a documentary about the theater, which is now closed again until the indeterminate date of its restoration into a regional art center for the people of Cuba. The site will always be an expression of the way in which visually inherent architectural narratives remain in some way connected to their original identities, even as they are changed by the warm palette of decay.

Bio:
Working exclusively with photographic film, Anselmo has developed extensive portfolios on abandoned military bases, post-Katrina New Orleans and the peripheral urban spaces of California. Beginning in 2000, he has worked photographically in Cuba more than seventy times, developing collaborative relationships with numerous Cuban arts organizations such as the Museo de Bellas Artes and the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes San Alejandro, Cuba’s oldest art school. Starting in 2012, he has presented solo exhibits at the Fototeca Nacional de Cuba, the Universidad de la Habana, the Instituto Internacional de Periodismo, as well as other state art gallery venues. Anselmo also curates US shows of work by established Cuban analog photographers and conducts photography field workshops to Havana several times each year. He is owner of Avenue 25 Gallery in San Mateo, California, and also operates Anselmo Image Works, a photographic art digital printing studio. Exploring a variety of ongoing projects, Anselmo continues to photographically explore urban sites that compellingly demonstrate the nascent beauty of forgotten places.




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