Welcome to #4 in our new series Poignant Pics where I’ve asked photo curators, collectors and makers to write about a photograph or two that, in one way or another, has significantly impacted their cerebral cortex. Diffusion alum’ Ross Faircloth finds Joel Peter-Witkin, connects him to Baudelaire and reflects on the Sublime.
Joel-Peter Witkin // Penitente, New Mexico // 1982 // gelatin silver print
…should I be enjoying this, should I even be seeing this?
I have often debated internally what draws one to the work of Joel-Peter Witkin, as I’m sure many before me have as well. The image above, Penitente, New Mexico, was the first Witkin image I remember seeing. It was presented harmlessly enough, in a slideshow during an undergraduate darkroom class, however, there is only so much ‘harmlessness’ that comes with first witnessing a Witkin image. I was not taken aback or gasping at the sight, as some were compelled to do; I simply took it in and let it wash over my mind. Needless to say, my mind had a few thoughts of it’s own: How could someone make such a beautiful scene out of traditionally taboo objects? What are they trying to say? How much was intentional? How much was real? Why have I never seen this work before? I was assured that what I was seeing was indeed real, and that Witkin worked on film, and that was all I needed.
The composition of the image was beautiful, strong and stable, but the figures were frail and writhing. The marks along the edges of the frame seemed to seep into physical space, yet they were only present on the film, a psychological manifestation from the subjects per chance. The subject matter was clearly a loaded gun waiting to go off, yet when observing the image as a whole I couldn’t help but connect it with a poet, Charles Baudelaire. Both artists often included the grotesque or anomalies of life within their work as a way to bring down or humble their audience. It was a stiff slap in the face on a bitingly cold day saying “This is life, not always beautiful or perfect but it is only through the pain and torment that we can appreciate the good and therefore the bad is necessary and even beautiful.” The image was full of contradiction and I loved every minute of it, despite an ever-present nagging question; should I be enjoying this, should I even be seeing this? It led me to the idea of the Sublime and began the internal questioning of what makes a photograph transcend the medium, what makes it more than just a recording?
Ross Faircloth is a Fine Art Photographer living and working in Dallas. He graduated in 2012 from Texas Woman’s University with an MFA in Studio Arts with a concentration in photography and in 2009 from the University of Texas at Arlington with a BFA in Photography. Ross grew up in Kaufman, Tx, a small rural town about 35 miles east of Dallas, he considers this beautiful, wide open and inviting landscape as a major influence in his overall aesthetic and growth as an artist. He works simultaneously with both traditional and experimental darkroom techniques, and new forms of digital media. His work focuses on using conventional photographic elements and processes in new and experimental ways, working with only light, photo paper, and photo-chemistry to create his images.
Ross currently works at Collin College on the Spring Creek campus as the Assistant Coordinator of the photography lab and as an adjunct professor throughout Dallas. His most recent solo show “Dark Grandeur” was on display at the Lillian Bradshaw Gallery at the Dallas Public Library in August. His work has been featured multiple times in both print and online publications such as Diffusion, The Hand, LensCulture.com (featured artist), Light Leaked.com, Ticka-Arts and Oranbeg Press. He was recently awarded the 1st place prize in Photography Re-Imagined V: “The Atist’s Hand” in Scottsdale, Az., juried by Holly Roberts.