Friday, January 30, 2009

Howard Finster

"I took the pieces you threw away and put them together by night and day,
washed by rain and dried by sun a million pieces all in one."

In December of 1987 my friend Ethan and I embarked on a two-week road trip to New Orleans. One of the places we visited along the way was Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens located in Summerville, Georgia. As most folks know, Howard Finster (1916-2001) was a retired Baptist minister who had a vision in 1976 to paint sacred art:

And one day I was workin' on a patch job on a bicycle, and I was rubbin' some white paint on that patch with this finger here, and I looked at the round tip o' my finger, and there was a human face on it... then a warm feelin' come over my body, and a voice spoke to me and said, 'Paint sacred art.'
Over the next 25 years Howard Finster created tens of thousands of works of art, each with the intended purpose of spreading the Gospel. In the early 1960's he began work the Plant Farm Museum on a 4-acre tract of swamp land that he had recently purchased. After draining the swamp he populated the property with various sculptural forms and buildings to house his artwork and objects donated by others. This environment came to be known as Paradise Garden.
Ethan and I were able to spend several hours visiting Paradise Garden where I shot several rolls of black & white film. I also shot a roll of color slide film which I had forgotten about until I came across the slides a few days ago.

A sculpture made of concrete, doll parts, and an old television.

This is a detail of the Machine Gun Nest. It is made up of welded bicycle parts.

The Pump House, made of glass bottles and concrete.

Two of Rev. Finster's dogs, and rusting appliances. He'd faded a bit but I'm pretty sure that the dog on the right had a cameo in REM's video for Radio Free Europe (see below @ 1:33 min.).

His paintings were displayed throughout the Garden, both indoors and outside. As the paintings would deteriorate he would replace them with new ones.

R.E.M. filmed the video for "Radio Free Europe" at Paradise Gardens, and Howard collaborated with Michael Stipe for the front cover of "Reckoning". When Rev. Finster gave Ethan and me a tour of his studio he pointed out a drawing that Michael had done during an earlier visit to his studio. According to Howard, "The REMs are good boys."

Sadly, much of the Garden as Ethan and I saw it is now gone. Many of the larger concrete sculptures were acquired by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, where they are currently on display. Unfortunately it's just not the same to see these pieces in a sterile museum environment, although I understand the need to preserve them. Howard Finster's daughter, Beverly, recently donated and signed over Paradise Gardens to a non-profit organization whose goal is to preserve and restore the property.

Howard Finster on the Johnny Carson Show, 1983:

REM - Radio Free Europe:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

(Another) New Camera - Update

Here are some test pictures I took with my new Foto-Flex camera. As I mentioned yesterday this camera has a plain frosted glass viewfinder that reflects a minimum amount of light.

First up are some indoor shots - they're of a metal horse silhouetted in front of a desk lamp, positioned about 2-1/2 feet in front of the camera. For the second shot I placed a piece of red tissue paper in front of the lamp:

Here are some outdoor shots I took in the back yard. One thing that is apparent is how grainy the pictures look. I figured out this is because the digital camera is focusing on the frosted surface of the viewfinder. Not that that's a bad thing - just something to be aware of. Secondly, you get a bright spot in the center of the viewfinder, probably because the viewfinder is just a flat piece of glass instead of having a convex surface to diffuse the light. The first two photos are slightly out of focus:

The last two photos have an Albert Pinkham Ryder vibe that I really like, and also reminds me of this:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

(Another) New Camera

So last week I picked up another old twin-lens reflex camera. This one is a Foto-Flex c.mid-1950's, manufactured by Hadd's Mfg. Co., for Photo-Flex Corp. of Chicago. Some folks might call this camera ugly; I prefer "utilitarian". Whatever. This thing's pretty weird looking. The main body of the camera is made of black enameled steel, and the front face is stainless steel. The back of the camera is made of heavy-duty plastic, as is the front lens holder and the viewfinder hood (which I've already removed), and weighs as much as a medium bag of potatoes. There are two metal clips that hold the front and back of the camera together. The camera has two shutter speed settings, "Instant" and "Time". With the "Time" setting the lens stays open as long as you hold down the shutter release. The viewfinder is a square piece of frosted glass. Pretty basic.

Here's the back of the camera, also showing the viewfinder:

Alright, let's crack this puppy open:

The picture above shows the back of the stainless steel faceplate, viewfinder, and the shutter mechanism, which is held in place by two screws (the whole camera comes apart by taking out four screws)

This is the main body of the camera with the lens/faceplate removed. There's a corroded chunk of mirror glued to the inside of the camera which reflects up onto the frosted glass viewfinder.

Tomorrow I'll make an adapter for my digital camera so that I can try shooting through the viewfinder. I've already noticed that the camera has to be pointed at a really, really strong light source for anything to show up in the viewfinder. According to the original manual:
(The) Foto-Flex is scientifically engineered embodying streamlined features and cerium polished lenses insuring the most critically sharp pictures in either color or black and white.
Honestly though, I can't imagine how anybody originally took pictures with this thing (although I bet you could beat a rabid badger to death with it.)

Stay tuned..

Lloyd Cole & the Commotions - Perfect Skin

Monday, January 19, 2009

A New Camera; A Field Trip

In my continued obsession with viewfinder photography I've picked up another old TLR camera, a Brownie Starflex. The Starflex was manufactured by Kodak from 1957-1964 and originally cost around $10.00 (flash attachment included). It's tiny and weighs about as much as a size medium t-shirt (6.5 oz) and is almost entirely made of plastic, including the optics. Earlier this weekend I made an adapter out of foam-core to hold my digital camera and did some indoor test shots. The compactness of the design of the camera in relation to the dimensions of the plastic viewfinder produces a fisheye lens effect (not unlike a pinhole camera) when shooting digitally through the viewfinder.

So today, with new camera in hand, Kym & I took a 15 min. drive over to Tybee Island to try it out (temp. in the upper 50's today - not too bad for mid-January in Savannah). I also brought along my Brownie Reflex. Anyway, here's some results - these were all shot from the Tybee pier:

water, water everywhere:

This is my lo-fi attempt at a Hiroshi Sugimoto:

The sun behind clouds:

The verdict? Well, the photos themselves are no great shakes (kinda Photo 101 in terms of subject matter and composition) but I'm pleased with the results. I need to remember to keep the digital camera on it's macro setting, since the camera is actually focusing on the surface of the viewfinder - only about a third of my shots were in focus . Also, all of the images were overexposed a bit so I had to tweak the levels in Photoshop, although I didn't make any color/hue adjustments.

And now, some music:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Time - An Exhibition

Kym and I have a two-person exhibition up at Georgia Perimeter College. This is the first time that we've shown our work together, and I'm proud to say that the show looks really good. The title and theme of the exhibition is Time, and for my part I've chosen to show a selection of Timepiece drawings (see below). Special thanks to Don Dougan (Sculptor, GPC Gallery Director & Fine Arts Instructor) for all of his assistance with the gallery installation, labels and signage, designing the exhibition cards, and all of the other things that make for a successful exhibition!

Here's the details:

Time: Works by Artists Kym Hepworth and Robin Miller
The Learning Resource Center Galleries at Georgia Perimeter College - Dunwoody Campus, Building N-LRC, 2101 Womack Road, Dunwoody, GA 30338-4497

Now through February 4, 2009. (Monday-Thursday: 8 am - 10 pm; Friday: 8 am - 4:30 pm; Saturday: 10 am - 3 pm; Sunday: 2-4 pm)

Closing Reception: Wednesday, February 4, 5-7 pm.

What are these Timepiece drawings? Well, it's a series of 8-1/2 x 8-1/2" crayon-on-vellum drawings that I worked on at the beginning of 2007. The drawings began as a series of layered clock faces, as shown in the first three images below. As the drawings progressed the numbered hours became obscured through a combination of overlapping circular marks and erasing; Eventually the numbers went away altogether. Also, the process became more defined - using a circular template (the bottom of a 5-gallon paint can) I would first draw on the reverse side of the vellum, then flip the drawing over and draw the interlocking circular forms on the front. A drawing was usually complete after five or six revolutions.

So, what's it all about, Alfie? Well, they're a meditation on Time, and by extension, Death (and the flip-side: the Infinite). There's certainly a biographical element to the theme of these drawings, but I'll not comment more on that - hopefully the drawings say enough.

Also, it's really fun to draw circles.

The drawings:

Sunday, January 4, 2009

More Viewfinder Photography

As I related in an earlier post, I've gotten interested in viewfinder photography. Last week I picked up a Kodak Brownie Reflex camera & bashed together an adapter for my digital camera. I also built a box frame so I can try my hand at shooting some still life setups within a dedicated space where I can control the lighting, change the backdrop, hang various elements, etc.

Next I raided Kym's vintage doll head collection & had a go at shooting under various lighting conditions:

Using a timer on the camera I was able to move around with a hand-held desk lamp to try out different lighting conditions. The last two images were shot with the lamp held further back from the dolls.

I also played around with setting up more elaborate still lifes, with mixed results; I'd like to be able to control the contrast better. In both images I used a hand-held mirror to reflect back into the setup (and to hide the camera):

Finally, I used a small lightbox to illuminate the objects from below, in addition to the hand-held lamp. The last two images were shot with only the bottom-lit lightbox on:

A couple of observations - first, the whole process is not an exact science. I've found that two images shot with the exact same camera settings and under identical lighting conditions can (usually) look vastly different. This may have mostly to do with my clumsiness of understanding the settings on my digital camera. This leads to unpredictable results which is, as Martha Stewart would say, a good thing. I like mistakes, and I can sure make alot of them. Also, what you get is a mirror image (not a big deal; you can always flip it around in Photoshop. duh), and you get a somewhat blurry (sometimes double-visiony) image, so if you want to incorporate text it needs to be big.

I think this has some potential - I'm looking forward to exploring the possibilities, this time giving some thought to the images (it's a no-brainer to be able to take freaky pictures with dolls' heads). Stay tuned...