While studying photography with two very untraditional photographers, Edmund Teske and Robert Heinecken at UCLA (1966-1970), I was also shooting rock-and-roll bands on the Sunset Strip and spending long hours in the traditional "wet" darkroom experimenting with many forms of non-traditional printmaking. At the time, I was working mostly in black-and-white. When I added color it was usually by painting or dyeing it in.
Then, someone gave me the Eliot Porter book, In Wildness is the Preservation of the World, and in Eliot's images I saw a unique vision defined by the photographer's use of color. A few years passed and I acquired another Porter book, The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon on the Colorado, which was the first time I ever considered pictures of the landscape having political purpose because there was a very critical environmental essay / commentary included.
Sometime shortly thereafter, I had my own personal epiphany with regard to the work I was doing. I was bored with the rock-centric/self-centric, urban world of which I had become a part and I wanted to use my photographs in a more meaningful way. After graduation from UCLA (1970), I moved to a town in Idaho my father frequented for hunting and fishing, and where I had local friends. It was in their company that I began to hike, climb, winter camp, and ski in the backcountry. Those experiences also allowed me to create my first important landscape images, made during our winter adventuring. 24 of these photographs became my first published portfolio: WINTERS: 1970-1980.
I featured this entire portfolio in a previous mailing, but if you missed it, it can now be found on my blog: "WINTERS: 1970-1980" by Robert Glenn Ketchum
The WINTERS images were all made with a 35mm camera. They were specifically about the nature of that small camera - the way its sees, and the way in which it allows the user to deal with extreme circumstances and fleeting moments. However, in the early 70's, having communicated with Eliot Porter by letter, I was also shooting with a view camera and beginning to use color. The more I worked with the 4x5 camera and transparency film, the more I viewed the landscape as a an abstraction, or a metaphor, but certainly NOT the site-specific, scientifically annotated subject it had been to Porter.
Between UCLA, and an MFA at California Institute of the Arts, I pursued an MS from Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, primarily to learn to use the view camera, print better black & white, and shoot and print color. At Brooks, I found myself unimpressed with color-negative papers and color negative film, feeling they offered up a "grey", lifeless color spectrum compared to what I saw in Eliot Porter's prints. Porter was working with positive / transparency / slide film and printing using a complicated process known as dye transfer to achieve what I perceived to be a more true-to-life rendering of the natural world.
For some of my first gallery exhibitions, I also created dye transfer prints, but found working with them extremely frustrating, especially as I began to print in larger scale (30"x 40"). Because a dye transfer is created using multiple layers of film, one atop another, at increased scale maintaining sharpness and the exact registration of each image through those layers was virtually impossible.
So, when Cibachrome color printing material entered the market in the 70's, I was immediately attracted to it. It was "permanent" color, like dye transfer, but because of the way the print was made, it described dimensional space like no other printing material. It was very 3-D. Many have commented that viewing a Cibachrome print was "like looking through a window." Cibachrome was also a reversal paper - you made a positive print from positive / transparency / slide film. The paper had a "true-black" base and coupled with its vibrant rendering of the color spectrum, working with the paper was very much like looking at transparency film for me.
Positive film and Cibachrome paper are both contrast-rich, so printing from one to the other created substantial contrast problems. For technical advice, I first began to work with Master Printer, Ted Staidle, but eventually met Michael Wilder, who became a good friend and served as my master printer for ALL of the Cibachrome work in my career. Much of the research Michael did to accomplish contrast-masking was adopted by the manufacturer when advising how to print the material to best effect.
I had begun making my B/W winter images with a 35mm during the early 70's. It was also at that time I began to work with the view camera, considering its' application in the same way I had the smaller camera: how did it "see"; what did the larger camera add, the smaller one did not; how did the view camera "see" differently from the 35mm, etc. One thing was certain, the view camera's description of line and detail is intense - describing information is the ESSENCE of a view camera image. The larger film size allowed for enlarged print size as well, and I wanted to explore a larger scale of printmaking than was ongoing at the time.
Between winter seasons, on hikes in the mountains and valleys of Idaho, I brought the view camera with me instead of the 35mm. Although Porter's sense of color was influencing how I saw, so were abstract-expressionists and color-field painters. One reason for this is that the view camera image seen by the photographer on the glass at the back of the camera IS UP-SIDE-DOWN AND REVERSED IN DIRECTION. This takes some getting used to even when working with a sky / horizon landscape. In deep foliage however it takes on - quite literally - completely other dimensions. Jules Olitski, a color field painter, Jackson Pollack and Al Held's ideas all played out on my ground glass. Of the many things I discovered, one that has forever lingered in my work is using the 4x5's intense description of detail in environments that were detail-rich - linear elements with subtle tones could actually create blocks of color - if there were enough of them. These Idaho images were some of the first Michael Wilder and I printed on Cibachrome and the dimensionality apparent in the paper drew me to subjects in the field where I could envision exploiting that later in the printmaking.
Ten to twelve of these relatively abstract, detail-rich images were printed through the mid-70's, all made in western environments. I liked them, and galleries sold them, but in retrospect I understand how I was using them to fine-tune my understanding of color, my view camera skills, and to do the same with the prints Wilder and I were producing.
THEN in 1978, while doing research for what would become the exhibition and book, "American Photographers and the National Parks," I visited with Eliot Porter at his ranch in Tesuque, New Mexico. I was on my way to live in Washington, DC, as Curator of Photography for the National Park Foundation, and that day with Eliot, followed by the long drive east, gave me the time to reflect on the direction of my view camera work.
I was using the 35mm camera, and the B/W winter work to express how the evolution of visioning technology also changes the way we "see." I felt I was honoring the landscape tradition - Carleton Watkins, William Henry Jackson, Ansel Adams, etc. - by continuing to practice it, BUT I was rejecting their technology parameters in favor of newer ones. I was also rejecting their concept of a specific location/subject in favor of a more ethereal event or experience of conditions, and my titles quite specifically reflected that. Lastly, my B/W print work clearly rejected Ansel's concepts regarding tonal breadth - some subjects in certain environments simply don't have much of it.
Eliot's observations about light and color were immensely instructive, but looking at his prints as in his books, he mixed his descriptive shots with the abstract indiscriminately and always titled everything by location and species. For me, his best images were his abstracts, and although he often did close-up abstractions, it was his sense of the abstract in the larger landscape that really appealed to me. However, Eliot did not see his abstractions as a more sophisticated part of his vision and he drew no distinctions between those images and the more illustrative and obviously descriptive. Viewing his prints that day, I also realized a great portion of his richest color imagery had been done in Eastern woodlands, and I could see what was missing in my western series, ...BUT now I was going to live among those same forests!
Within the first few months of moving to DC, I made two VERY important images. The 1st, entitled "Transition," marked my moment of arrival in Eliot's color-field and a way to use those colors to bend perceived visual space like Al Held did in his paintings. It also confirmed for me that I was going to drop defining horizons for the sake of abstraction BUT I was always going to imply large areas and deep space, nothing would be represented on a single, flat plane, or a detail / close-up. "Transition" and two from my western work, "Jedediah, After the Rain" and "Gambel Oak, Mesa Verde", were included in the exhibit / book "American Photographers and the National Parks" and published in portfolio at 24"x 30". The 3 prints from that portfolio were recently displayed in the large exhibit of painters, sculptors and photographers at the Orange County Museum of Art, "California Landscape into Abstraction."
The 2nd image is entitled "La Couleur de mon amour"" and it marked the beginning of my newly focused direction with the 4x5 camera eventually producing a series that I entitled, ORDER FROM CHAOS: 18 - 30"x 40" Cibachrome prints published in two portfolios. The series title is "borrowed" from a media quote by abstract expressionist painter, Jackson Pollock who, when asked by a flippant critic how he knew when his drip / splash paintings were finished, simply replied that it was obvious because a certain rhythm, an order arose from the chaos. And so it was for me, upside-down and backwards on the ground glass in the heart of the forest - inside the rectangle of the viewfinder it was a chaos of lines, forms and colors until camera placement, movement, and choice of lens "found" the precise visual rhythm within the frame of reference and "order" appeared.
It was also within the ORDER FROM CHAOS portfolios that I began to address what became for me a career-long concern about titles. As I said previously, I found Eliot's scientifically-specific / location-specific titles a kind of redundancy, telling me what I was already looking at. ORDER FROM CHAOS was a title borrowed from a painter, so I began to consider how painters titled their work. Often it was in preposterous fun or reflected something personal about the artist, so I decided to use the titles in this series of photographs similarly, and each one is a reference to art, music, literature, or history. "La Couleur de mon amour" is a painting title that has been used by several artists on many different paintings over the years. Also, the hot / cold colors of the forest in this image I see as symbolic of love.
"Window in the Forest" is a hunter / artist's / photographer's term for a vantage point that offers a view in a dense wood.
I drove a van that I had custom designed to keep film in cold storage, accommodate large prints, flat - under the bed, hide cameras in wheel wells, and give ladder access to a camera platform / roof rack. This was essential in eliminating the horizon and a ground-based point-of-view in the ORDER FROM CHAOS series. Interacting with the forest from further up in the trees lent to greater abstraction.
One early morning in southern Appalachia, I was on the van platform working with the flowering dogwood depicted in "Good Dog Constellation". The white flowers, luminous against the darker background of the forest is what attracted me, but a steady, light breeze kept all the blossoms moving and made the shot difficult. Many minutes went by as both Carey (my 1st wife) and I waited patiently. Then suddenly, the forest went dead-still. The dogwood flowers stopped bobbing on the breeze, and a single stream of light suddenly appeared hitting ONLY the dogwood tree, lighting up the flowers like stars - a constellation of stars. Under her breath, Carey muttered something she often said to our black lab, "Good Dog"!
For 2-years, I worked on a commission in the Hudson River Valley during which time I created several ORDER FROM CHAOS images. The more I traveled around the valley, the more I realized that virtually EVERY historic inn "claimed" that "George Washington slept here." Given the realities of the dense woodlands and the Revolutionary War, it seemed more likely to me that "George Washington Slept Here."
By using titles in this way, I thought people would ask their meaning as people often asked painters about the reasons behind the naming of their paintings, BUT in the 30+years since this work was created, NO ONE HAS EVER ASKED. Without talking to me, a critic for the Los Angeles Times once commented that my images were "interesting" but my titles were "pitifully romantic and calendar-like." WHAT??? So, given insightful commentary like that, I am explaining each of these titles now as I would like everyone to realize they were intended to suggest somewhat deeper ideas and reference other people/artists in whom I hoped to stimulate viewer interest.
"Altar / Apparition in Blue" is a natural structure of broken branches I found in the forest after a long rain. The sky is clear, and there is sun in the background, but in the shade of the trees the wet, pale branches are reflecting the blue light from the sky above giving them an unearthly bluish hue. That gave the "structure" an eerie glow, and I also saw the convoluted interweaving of the limbs as a combination Escher etching and an Al Held painting.
In Dante's "Inferno," The Dark Wood of Error had to be passed through in order to reach the River Styx and the Gates of Hades. On a wet, very cold, dark day in the woods, "The Dark Wood of Error" seemed disturbingly bright and visually enticing, but NOT someplace you would want to go. In think there was something going on in my mind about the flaming sumac leaves and the fires of Hell, as well, especially upside-down on my ground glass.
Warp and weft are terms used in textile weaving to define the direction of thread on the loom. "Autumnal Warp" is an image that is stunningly tactile and would make a beautiful textile (were it not so complex), so the titling is obvious. Perhaps less obvious, but actually part of the point in making this image was to defy the "rules" of composition as they were being taught at the time. In pursuit of a Design / Photography degree at UCLA, I was given a book written by an industrial designer that explained "the rules" of "proper" composition. One of the most important, apparently, is to NEVER divide the picture plane in a distracting way, and NEVER place an object in the middle, ESPECIALLY if it divides the composition.
SORRY!!! Art has no such rules, and certainly nature does not; nor did the color-field painters and abstract expressionists. So, in "Autumnal Warp," and many others within this series, I have intentionally placed an object - in this case a tree trunk - in the middle of the frame - feel divided?
"Things Have A Life Of Their Own" is a line from the book "100 Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which I was reading at the time I made this image. These branches in the late evening light did have life of their own. They were also the compositional antithesis of "La Couleur de mon amour," which to me involves a more traditional point of view, and a classically beautiful subject. "Things Have A Life Of Their Own" is more jarring, more edgily imperfect, and quite clearly about nothing.
As you can see from the design layout of this mailer, I am presenting the ORDER FROM CHAOS images as pairs. Traditionally, I always showed them this way, separating the pairs with blocks of small B/W prints from WINTERS: 1970-1980. I paired ORDER FROM CHAOS images specifically to play them off of one another. "Autumnal Warp" and "Things Have A Life Of Their Own" are pairs in my mind because of the similar ways in which they deal with the use of dimensional space. They appear flat, but become much "deeper" as you study the image. Both photographs also "violate" design rules because I have "split" the composition.
Another author I was reading around the time of doing this work was Lyall Watson. His books "Supernature" and "Gifts of Unknown Things" were controversial at the time because Watson presented "personnel" accounts of "suspension-of-belief" events he claimed to have witnessed, even though he was a widely acknowledged as a creditable scientist. Watson also holds a remarkable view of how the universe works. In an explanation of life forms he stated that all cells start the same, from the same DNA, but as they grow some become eyes, some become arms, AND THEY DO THIS AS A COOPERATIVE EFFORT. Watson refers to these many cells developing diversely to suit their "owners" needs in evolution as "...a sympathy of things." This image for me is a quintessential shot of the woodlands of the Northeast, clearly showing their astounding diversity and density, so this was the visual evidence of Lyall Watson's concept of "A Sympathy of Things."
In printing this series, Michael Wilder and I were showing off not only the range of color in my vision, but they way it could be translated onto Cibachrome materials. Often accused of being garish and oversaturated, Cibachrome could be subtly controlled like any other printing material if you put the time in to master it. Wilder's masking techniques were phenomenal and in "Have You Ever Listened To The Forest Breathe" we are displaying the "discreet" end of the Cibachrome color spectrum.
To make this series of photographs required a lot of patience because these forests were almost always breezy, and to get such highly detailed exposures without motion blur, I often waited some considerable expanses of time. On this icy-cold winter day there were regular gust of freezing air traveling through the barren forest, making all the branches rattle and click. It meant I could hear the wind coming towards me through the woods - I could hear the forest breathing. Yes, there is also a tree trunk in the middle of this one as well. John Szarkowski acquired this print for the Museum of Modern Art in New York when he was Curator of Photography.
If you seriously read the Carlos Castaneda books about the "teachings of Don Juan" you would know that they tell of the author being introduced to alternative realities by a Yaqui sorcerer through the use of hallucinogenic drugs. The conversations between the two men often focused on the meaning of specific words as Carlos struggled to grasp and control his visions and what Don Juan was trying to teach him. For me, many of the things Don Juan referenced were ways of "seeing" I experienced as a photographer. Don Juan stressed it was important to take control of your dreaming to control your life and move between realities, and when Carlos asked how he would know if and when he had control, Don Juan responded he would see ALL things in the world with crystal clarity and understand their interconnectedness. For me, "Dreaming" does exactly that. And yes, there is a tree right in the middle of the frame.
Thomas Cole was one of the most prominent of the Hudson River School of painters. Late in his career, he overheard a client say he painted magnificent landscapes but could not paint people, so with the intent of proving that statement incorrect, Cole embarked on a huge painting called "The Voyage of Life," depicting a man's journey from birth to death. The painting was NOT as well received as his landscapes. So, "The Voyage of Life / Homage to Thomas Cole" is my version of expressing the same concept but by USING the landscape instead of turning to something else - the dried up beech leaves near the center of the image are the last to fall off from the previous winter. Next to them is a blooming dogwood, the first to flower in spring - clearly this is the cycle of life expressed as a visual metaphor. And yes, there is another tree in the middle of this image.
"The Yellow Brook Road" is an incredibly layered image that falls into my love of how Al Held envisioned special relations. The title is a riff on The Wizard of OZ because the hike on this day was one of the most spectacular trails I ever followed and it paralleled Yellow Brook.
The pale, leafless branches of "Dielectric for the Eye / Homage to Jackie Priestman" look like lightning strikes - they have a kind of electrical energy to them. While making / naming this print, I read a story in the news that a woman in England, Jackie Priestman, had a unique biological condition that caused her to "blow-up" most electronic things she touched - not that they literally exploded, they would just cease to work. The article referred to this rare condition as being dielectric hence my title pays Ms. Priestman some acknowledgement. Amazingly, while composing this mailer I was contacted through Facebook by a Jackie Priestman from England telling me that she is the one with the condition and that the newspaper was writing about her. She had JUST discovered my photograph on the net.
"Trying To Stop The World" is another reference to Carlos Castaneda and his series of books about the teachings of Don Juan. Don Juan advised Carlos that if he wanted to "see" he had to "stop the world." When Carlos asked how he would know if he had stopped the world, Don Juan replied that he would literally see the "lifeline" of ALL things connecting themselves to each other AND him. Standing in the middle of this thicket in the stillness of a spring morning, I pretty much felt that connection and my camera clearly did see the world stop.
"And Gravity Lets You Down" looks into a hollow through the branches of a tree from the roof rack of my van. The elevated position is very apparent. At the time, one of my favorite songs was by The Talking Heads and in the lyrics, David Byrne sings of being "somewhere in a hotel room in South Carolina, and gravity has let me down." As this location also involved South Carolina, I felt certain that morning gravity had let me down as well.
At last we come to what, as a printmaking photographer I believe is the ultimate pairing of images - the Boogie Woogie's. Again, referencing painting, and in this case Piet Mondrian's famous series numbered and entitled as Broadway Boogie Woogie. Mondrian stated those paintings represented the vibrancy of life he saw outside the window of his apartment in New York. Often while working on the ORDER FROM CHAOS series, I spent time with my friend, the contemporary painter, Philip Slagter, at his studio on a farm in the New England countryside. Brewster was not far away. These images certainly represented the vibrancy of life out of my studio window (so to speak). More importantly, for Michael Wilder and I, these two prints contain just about EVERY shade and degree of color our materials (film/paper) were capable of producing and in these contrasting/complimentary prints you view the full range of Cibachrome color through a "hot" and a "cold" tonal spectrum. Yes, there is a tree "dividing" the composition of #11 in half.
The 18-prints / 2-portfolios published as ORDER FROM CHAOS were accompanied by a complete, full color catalog produced by Gardner/Fulmer, the same printers that Ansel Adams used for his books. The 18-Cibachrome images were printed by Michael Wilder in editions of 20, and only a very few have ever been printed in any other size than 30" x 40". I ALWAYS tried/try to exhibit the two bodies of work, WINTERS: 1970-1980 and ORDER FROM CHAOS, together when I could/can, and I would like to thank G2 Gallery in Venice for recently showing the work in this way and acknowledging it 35-years later with the exhibit "Shifting Landscape, Shifting Vision: Robert Glenn Ketchum, Ansel Adams, and Eliot Porter"
Complete (18 prints) ORDER FROM CHAOS portfolios are in the permanent collections of the Amon Carter Museum (TX) and the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Garden (CA). Multiple prints are in the following museum collections: Akron Art Museum (OH); Cleveland Museum of Art (OH); High Museum of Art (GA); Johnson Museum, Cornell University (NY); National Museum of American Art (DC); Portland Museum of Art (ME); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (CA); University of California, Los Angeles; and University of Nebraska.
The catalog(s) for the ORDER FROM CHAOS & WINTERS: 1970-1980 portfolios contained an essay by photography critic and author, Cathy Coleman. The following are excerpts from that essay pertinent to ORDER FROM CHAOS. As a personal note, I have been talking about the dimensional space in these images and Cathy is going to repeatedly say I am flattening the subject and picture plane. WE ARE BOTH RIGHT. Although I do flatten the image when abstracting it, within the new composition are numerous dimensional spaces, they are just VERY convoluted and complex. Cathy refers to "layers" of colors and textures, and I see them more as a tapestry where, rather than being in layers, everything is woven together and you can follow the "connections" into deep visual space. There is an infinity point in every image you just have to REALLY look for it.
ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM: The New American Landscape
by Cathy Coleman
A vital task of the artist is to move from the one-dimensional world of mere "sight" to the multidimensional world of "insight," where the dynamic structure of the literal world is perceived and ultimately translated. The poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, was interested in rendering the "inscapes" of nature - the dynamism found in any living thing. Discovering and celebrating this rhythm of life while exploring the intrinsic properties of two different camera formats are the major concerns in the work of Robert Glenn Ketchum. Two photographic series, WINTERS: 1970-1980 and ORDER FROM CHAOS investigate both the visual and technical nature of the 35mm and 4x5 view cameras, respectively. Although the images are very much about the technology that created them, they also transcend it. With a visionary eye, Ketchum perceives and expresses the extraordinary in the ordinary. Selecting non-monumental subject matter, he is like a geologist who knows the value of a rock others would kick to the wayside. His method is in the purist tradition of direct treatment of subject, full frame printing and no manipulation of the image.
Historically, landscape photographers have been concerned with presenting majestic vistas that evoke the grandeur of nature, usually descriptive of a particular (and often well known) geographical location. The photographs of Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter are inextricably linked to place. Although Ketchum's work refers to that of the traditionalists, he is the archetype of what might be termed the "new American landscape photographer." He isolates the landscape, setting it off from its geographical importance and rendering it in a purely visual medium. Just as Ketchum avoids describing a specific place, he also avoids the traditional vanishing point perspective to achieve depth and distance. He flattens the image, using few horizons, denying its depth as a view or a vista. This rendering of the subject two-dimensionally is one of the qualities which gives his work an affinity to both abstractionism (ORDER FROM CHAOS) and to Oriental painting (WINTERS: 1970-1980).
As well as furnishing access to the plasticity and materials of the painterly realms, his abstracting of the image serves another function. By bringing the information up to the picture plane, we are forced to examine the particular qualities bestowed on the image by the 35mm camera or the 4x5 view camera without the distracting elements inherent in a description of place, such as traditional depth and distance. Taken out of the context of our normal spatial interpretation, as Ketchum excludes relevant information which would tell us the correct recessional space, we must "re-see" or reconstitute the image according to the new perspective. This lends a freshness to the work which is underscored by a consummate technique. Although we are given an image which reveals the self-reflexive fusion of idea, equipment and technique, we are simultaneously given one of lyrical beauty and complexity which swallows the materials that made it.
It is the counterpoint between his two chosen themes which gives Ketchum's photographs a dynamic force, the undulant quality of the rhythm of life. In ORDER FROM CHAOS we can see kinship with abstract expressionists, like Jackson Pollock, as well as with color/field painting. Ketchum creates depth through the layering of one color field or texture field on another. The image is built up mosaically like the paintings of Cezanne (a forerunner of abstract expressionism) in which color and compositional treatment make all parts of the picture equal and resonant. The lack of hierarchy in Ketchum's subjects contributes further to the flattening of the picture plane. The amazing capacity of the 4x5 view camera to clearly render each leaf and twig is exploited with almost hallucinogenic clarity, crowding excessive amounts of detail into each frame causing it to become abstract. The mind/eye cannot possibly take in everything at one sitting. It is necessary to pay concentrated attention to these photographs, as in listening to classical music, before they yield up their complexity.
Ketchum uses the parallel lines of trees and twigs, the texture of leaves and the reversal of colors normally associated with perspective to unite in a common pattern, elements that are lying on different planes of depth.
In "La Couleur de mon amour" the tree trunks are used like stripes to establish and flatten the picture plane. The distant trees are illuminated with sunset colors, and the foreground contains cool blues and greys. We know that blue is the color of distance, but here it is up close, while the warm colors, associated with nearness, are in the distance. This compresses the space while the succession of vertical parallel lines against the grid-like structure of the branches gives the image dynamic movement. The net-like grids of twigs suggest a theme of a problematic universe in which the trees are stanchions of peace. The delicate twilight colors plunge us into an atmosphere of crepuscular, otherworldly beauty.
Ketchum's link to abstract expressionism is never more apparent than in "Brewster Boogie Woogie, #27" and "Brewster Boogie Woogie, #11." This vivid moulding of color upon color coupled with an extraordinary palette of vibrating vermilions, and lime greens, ripe plum purples and buttery yellows makes these images a true feast for the eye. The autumn has turned parts of the same leaf different colors so pictorially we see three or four leaves where there is really only one. Again, this technique of loading the image with detail (as in medieval painting's "horrorvacuity" where they were afraid to leave any space vacant) has the effect of flattening the picture plane. This flatness forcefully counterpoints the violent eruption of layered color which causes the image to explode within the frame. The depth created by texture and color has the effect of seeming fathomless, like the sea.
In this molecular world which Ketchum gives us we can create our own imaginary pictures within pictures, a theme which is suggested in "Window in the Forest" by the vignetting of branches like a second frame around a second scene. However, because of the lack of hierarchy of subject, the frame is totally integrated into the image and the vignette does not recede in space. We cannot really "see into" (or "out of") the "window" so the image contains a quality of mystery - of something revealed yet enigmatic. It is like an intricately woven curtain, a scrim of fabulous meshes and ethereal nettings punctuated by soft reds and greens.
In "Dielectric for the Eye/Homage to Jackie Priestman," Ketchum introduces groups of parallel leaves which seem to be floating through a grid of tree trunks and twigs. Again, it is difficult to tell what planes these elements are lying on. In direct contrast to the vapor-like leaves the whitish twigs act as conduits infusing the image with a strange self-propogated energy.
The quality of objects floating in space is extremely vivid in "Good Dog Constellation." It is a symphonic image. Here we can see distant blue-grey, light green, white and then a "luminous" white plane which, like in "Brewster Boogie Woogie, #27 and #11," causes the image to explode from its two-dimensional constraint, as if it has just burst into bloom.
In "Altar/Apparition in Blue" we again have the mosaic units, the suggestion of pictures within pictures, the cool colors up front and the warm in the distance. The similar texture of the ferns in the foreground and the soft foliage in the distance also equates nearness and the far. But this image carries a foreboding, ritualistic element. It has the character of an unexplained yet purposeful configuration full of magical properties and slightly disturbing. The oddly blue twigs seem to embody this puzzle, charging the photograph with ominousness.
The feeling of portent and potential evil is full-blown in "The Dark Wood of Error." It is a seductive image, the exquisitely layered colors of the leaves at the top look as if they were done with a palette knife. The structure seems to be held up by the two light colored vertical trunks which flatten the picture plane, acting as gateposts into an unknown territory we are prevented (again by the lack of traditional receding space) from entering. We remain at the gate, hypnotized by the seething rhythm, the source of which eludes us.
Ketchum uses color as both an expressive and constructive tool. The size of the images (30"x 40") together with his high saturation, glistening palette telegraphs a world of startling immediacy and beauty, a sumptuous delight for the eye.
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