Wednesday, June 13, 2007
John Paul Caponigro - Caponigro On Caponigro
The renowned fine-art photographer and digital technology master goes one-on-one with himself in an exclusive DPP interview
JPC: It's invisible. How can you make images of the invisible? We use traces in the material world to tell us about things that are there that we can't see. Take energy, for example. We know it's all around us, in us, even, yet until we see it interact with the material world, we have difficulty acknowledging, apprehending or interacting with it. Take waves, the largest unifying element that runs throughout my work. Buckminster Fuller wrote, “The wave is not the water. The water merely told us about the wave passing by.” Sounds like a photograph. Sounds like a life lived.
JPC: The vast majority of photographs are records of light reflected off of surfaces found in the material world. Classically, photographs render objects in space. A few photographs are about space rather than the materials that occupy, mark or enclose it. Still fewer are about light itself. The theme of light is very significant in my work. Metaphorically, it can be seen as a manifestation of spirit.
JPC: I'm fascinated and troubled by time in photographs. On one hand, the photograph is able to arrest time, enabling us to consider and reconsider at length fleeting and ephemeral phenomena. The photograph extends our perceptual faculties, allowing us to see and experience (secondhand) more. On the other hand, there's a temptation to think that art immortalizes a subject and that by making records we can hold on to things; permanence is illusory. Then there's memory, the primary container of our experience. It's fallible and becomes more so with the passage of time. Many times, we're tempted to defer to the documents we create, which always distort rather than direct the experiences we have. That applies to memory, which changes, and documents seek to fix memory; again, permanence is illusory.
JPC: Space, light, time—the things your work is about. Aren't they all the things that are missing from the final product, the print? The artifacts you create seem to be, in part, defined by conspicuous absence.
JPC: Why all these big words and big ideas? Aren't images supposed to be seen and not heard?
JPC: The images come first; the words follow. I think it's important to do the work first and then step back and think about what has happened.
I don't plan my next art assault with a series of calculated deconstructions designed to titillate a specific segment of the art market and go out and execute that battle plan. When I make images, I'm looking for revelation.
I want to be changed by my work. We talk a lot about how our lives influence what we create. I don't think we talk enough about how what we create influences our lives. While our work is a reflection of us, doing the work also changes who we are. The first stance treats work as a symptom of a condition. The second stance suggests we have a choice in what we do and what we become. I want to open my eyes again and again. I want to consider issues that matter deeply to me. I'm a human being, so it's likely that the issues that matter to me will matter to other people. I'm as surprised by my work as anybody. After I make it, I spend a lot of time trying to understand it. Words help. They help me and they help others understand more. There's the temptation to think that once you've said or read the words, you understand all that the work has to offer. That's not quite true. Images have dimensions that words cannot describe, just as the world has dimensions our images cannot describe. Still, we value both images and words. Understanding my work and contributing to other people's understanding of my work is important to me. I'm responsible for my work. So writing actually has become a part of my creative process now. I find the creative process fascinating, don't you?
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