I am very interested in how we see (or don’t see) what is right in front of us, and I am also keenly interested in how the camera sees, especially over time or in the dark. My photographs show more than the unassisted eye can see.
The camera can hold multiple layers of space and reflections in focus while we can only perceive one level at a time. The camera sees what we can’t see in the dark, and what we can’t hold in sight after we shift our gaze. The camera accumulates what happens over time (seconds, minutes, hours) in a single two-dimensional place: the photograph. The photographs remind us not only of memories but of memory itself, of time passing and of its mystery.
In my photography, I share my painterly fascination with time and a mindset inclined toward dissecting time and preserving what residues of memory survive the process.
I would say that my approach to making art is intuitive. I don’t plan my photographs any more than I plan my paintings. I am open to seeing and reacting to what is there.
For about twenty-five years now, I have been shooting in one setting: a 19th-century camp in the woods on a lake. One major narrative element in the photographs is the passage of time, not just the minutes or hours of a single exposure, but the decades that have elapsed. Our three children grew up here; friends and family have come and gone; and our parents and older friends and neighbors have aged and died. But the place itself remains largely as it was 125 years ago.
All of my photographs suggest a human presence, with or without figures in them. People, usually family, both inhabit and escape from the frame of the camera. The viewer can also step into this space, filling an absence as if crossing a threshold. In long exposures, the figures become ghostlike as their movements are recorded over time, while the man-made elements of home (the things we leave behind) seem fixed in time. I open the lens and walk away. Little or no attention is paid to the camera on its tripod, standing there by itself. When people stay put, their expressions grow inward as they stare into space. When they move and gesture, they become blurred and ghost-like while their surroundings appear permanent. At times, the images feel like a flash of memory, a moment held.
I use long exposures which capture the small, even insignificant or sporadic movements of a person, a shaft of light, or slow-moving waves on a lake, revealing a visible record of time passing, of memory enhanced.
I record (with low light and long exposures) unremarkable things that we might otherwise ignore: corners of rooms, recently vacated dining tables, children swimming and becoming lost in the glare of the moonlight. My images are elusive and viewers often question their perceptions of them, even as they might enjoy the subtle orchestration of tones and soft-edged shapes, the half-glimpsed, blurred figures and twining branches, the pale silhouettes, and the suggestions of things we can’t quite recognize, both man-made and natural.
My photographs are deeply rooted in the real world, filled with specifics of place and people and natural phenomena. While these subjects do not define the work, their presence gives rise to much of the emotional content that asserts its presence and insists on the viewer stopping, slowing down, spending more time before the image. The passage of time required to make the photo leaves its visible traces on the image. The camera dispassionately records movement of all kinds, making evident even movement so slow, so inconsequential, or so sporadic that it would escape not only ordinary attention but often ordinary modes of seeing, even if attention were paid.
My painter’s eye directs me in shooting, developing, and printing the photographs. Elements intrinsic to painting, like gestural line, multiple layered space, and ambiguous form and content, are all present. Some people see my photographs as abstractions, but they are deeply rooted in the real world; they are filled with specifics of place and people and natural phenomena—and their ephemeral nature.
Image at top: Claire Seidl, Studio, silver gelatin, selenium-toned photograph, 20 x 16 in., 2003.