Interview with Master Printer Chuck Kelton
Chuck Kelton has been teaching workshops on Silver Gelatin Printing at Project Basho for four years and will also be teaching a workshop during this year’s ONWARD Summit. We recently talked to Chuck about why he ended up becoming so fascinated by the silver gelatin process.
Read on to find out what it is about the medium that motivates him to create these unique and complicated images as well as how he finds the balance between being a printer, photographer, and instructor.
- What drew you photography? How did you start your career?
I’ve been photographing since I was 10 years old. Influenced by Life Magazine and a constant fascination with cameras, I became the “official” family photographer.
- What draws you to working with the silver gelatin print?
Gelatin and silver are the materials which are used specifically within traditional photography. When I became professionally involved in photography these materials became the focus of my artistic expression. Photographic emulsions incorporate these materials and provide an enormous palette of tones and colors in producing a visual expression or print. My passion for these materials has had a major influence in determining the path of my professional life.
- What is “good print” to you?
“Good Print”…simply stated that is an image/print which accomplishes your objectives. It must represent your visual voice and the story you are trying to tell. When we make prints in the darkroom we are constantly making decisions, these decisions tell our story. A good print has control of all those options in creating a deliberate visual narrative.
- What is the future of printing in darkroom?
The darkroom experience has always had a magical place in my life. Though the materials change the thrill of the darkroom drama remains the same. The process has been going on for more that 150 years and every time you make a print you are tied into that history. This will never change.
- How did you make the transition from artist/printer to artist/printer/educator?
My life is a continuous embodiment of the skills I possess and practice; they all inform, support and fuel each other.
My artworks are supported and driven by my experience with the materials and the works which I execute for other artists. In a very practical way my work as a printer is always informed by my personal use of the materials. I constantly push the limits of my materials. My work as an educator is empowered by, as well as informed by, my interaction and relationships with artists, curators, gallery directors, and other practitioners in this industry.
- Tell us about a memorable moment from one of your past workshops at ICP or Project Basho.
I’ve worked with many of students/artists over the past 25 years.
What inspires me is being intensely involved with artists, to watch and assist in the development of ideas leading ultimately to the visual production of the photographic artwork. I have “students” whom are having exhibitions all over the world, reaching an audience that years earlier
perhaps never seemed possible, this is exciting to me! This takes time and a tremendous commitment, these become the memorable moments. At the same time I really must say that I love teaching photography and art; helping someone to understand how to accomplish the building of a unique and personal visual language.
- Tell us about a memorable moment from your work with other photographers.
My work with photographers is very complicated! When you get involved with artists there is tremendous pressure to provide a perfect act of representation for their expression. Over the past 25 years I’ve had the most intense relationships with some the greatest photographers in the world. The act of completing an exhibition or book is something I take very seriously and am very relieved when things are completed. I am constantly learning to manipulate the materials and find ways to seamlessly blend materials, technique and emotional intent into a compelling visual photographic print.
-Can you talk a little about the idea/concept/process behind your own projects, such as ‘Night after Night’ and ‘Forest’?
My personal work has always been informed and conceived by the need to visually express emotional experience. In the series “Night after Night” the motivating experience was watching, over a two year period, the death of my father the slow reduction of this enormously complex soul. This work developed very slowly. The representation of pictorial space, to an abstract two dimensional space was new to me, as well as the addition of colors based on early photographic techniques, gold toning, iron toning are thrilling to explore and master.
- How does printing other photographers’ work affect your personal work? Do they inform each other?
Both my professional and artistic works informs each other. I don’t believe there is an act I do which doesn’t affect the next thing. Some of my more recent work is using the gelatin silver materials in its most basic relationship with simple exposure to light and chemistry, not negative based imagery; this is a response which is directly relatable to the beauty and function of silver photographic materials.
This work initially began as a reaction to the complex nature of some of the printing I do for various artists and the need to remind myself that emotional and artistic expression is not based on its complexity but rather its accessibility to creating an image structure that is at once comprehendible and visually stimulating to a viewer.
- What advice do you have for photographers working with silver gelatin prints?
The potential of these materials is truly limitless. Learn experiment and push these materials to a place which embodies your own personal artistic intellect and emotional experience. Use what you have seen in conjunction with the conceptual ideas of your personal frontier to create images which are unique to you. It is a very exciting time in photography and new ways of creating images are constantly being redefined.
Want to learn more from Chuck himself? Take his Silver Gelatin Printing workshop during ONWARD Summit! Sign up for the mailing list to be the first to know more.