John Dugdale // Mourning Tulips // Morton Street, N.Y.C. // 1999 // Cyanotype Print

Welcome to #8 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. The next few weeks we are proud to feature the Poignant Pics of several photographers and Diffusion alum participating in a group exhibition “A Cartography of Dreams” at Dimbola Museum Galleries produced by Reclaim Photography Festival.

Jonah talks about the first two times he saw a cyanotype print. The first time didn’t catch on, but the second time it did.

The Two Times That I Saw A Cyanotype

The first time I saw a cyanotype print, I didn’t think much of it. “It’s too blue,” I said. “Why would anyone want to do that?”

I had just started my MFA at Academy of Art University, and during that summer semester of 2010, a classmate talked passionately about how poignant and emotionally charged John Dugdale’s work was. His still lifes and portraits of family and friends were created by sensing shapes—the only thing he could see after losing most of his vision to AIDS-related complications in 1993. His work was a perfect fusing of subject and artist. One mirrored the other and could not be separated. I wanted to be a commercial food photographer then, wanting to shoot for magazines and stock photography. I decided that this fine art stuff was for other people. I went on my way and forgot about John Dugdale’s work for the rest of the year.

But deep inside, this encounter must have made a big impression on me because the second time I saw a cyanotype print, I cried.

John Dugdale// Self-Portrait in Summer Haze // Lockwood Farm, New York// 1999 // Cyanotype Print

This was a year later, and it was just a simple portrait of John Dugdale with his eyes closed. It reflected what I felt at that time. I was doing a leap of faith into the unknown. I’m an accountant studying art. What the hell was I doing? Where was I going?

That’s how I use photographs. They are tools for remembering hopes, fears, and dreams.

Photographs are deceptive. While they show us scenes from the physical world, for me, they are really scenes of the interior world. I was at that time searching for something. I didn’t know what. “Is there all there is? Is there something more?” and so when I looked at that John Dugdale photograph, those questions bubbled up to the surface and I was overcome. Years later, a photoNOLA portfolio reviewer would say to me that photographs are “tools for remembering.” That’s how I use photographs. They are tools for remembering hopes, fears, and dreams.

I fell in love with John Dugdale’s work. I love how quiet it is and how introspective. He was facing death at the time, and it was honest work. It was personal, but universal. That’s what great art is about. It is simultaneously specific and general.

That’s how I ended up doing cyanotype and becoming a fine art photographer. It’s because of John Dugdale’s cyanotypes. The first time didn’t catch on, but the second time it did. I will be continuing in cyanotype for a long, long time.

– Jonah Calinawan

Jonah Calinawan, BMath, CPA, MFA is an accountant-turned-artist who’s passionate about helping number crunchers think like an artist at work, enriching job satisfaction and performance. You don’t have to be an artist to think like one. Follow Jonah at where he shares his artwork, creative inspiration, and what he’s learning in his journey from the boardroom to the artist studio.

Jonah’s work is currently in a UK group exhibition, “A Cartography of Dreams” at Dimbola Museum & Galleries with the works of artists Fran Forman, Tami Bone, and Paul Biddle. The exhibition was produced by Reclaim Photography Festival in association with Dimbola Museum & Galleries. Don’t miss this show that runs to January 1, 2017!

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