Cotton Stomper, photograph by Marvin Morrison
My first solo exhibition and biggest show thus far opened last week at Art Intersection. One year in the making, the show featured 17 prints on the walls from scanned slides, negatives, and prints, with creative writing text below them. A hard cover handmade artist book, and a commemorative platinum/palladium print also sit together in a clamshell box set, on display.
The photographs are from a local farmer named Marvin Morrison, who passed away in 2007. His son, Howard, came to Art Intersection and to me looking to commission a project and exhibition based on the remaining photos from his father. In an ironic turn of events I found out that in my previous project Arid Zone Utopia I had actually been photographing in some of the exact places Marvin had been, only 60 years later.
When Howard brought the images to me I was struck at the unique stories I felt the images told. For a lifelong farmer who surely would’ve never considered himself a photographer or artist, there were some amazing images! They had a quiet and telling beauty to them. I felt a connection to the intimacy of many of them and decided this could definitely become something great.
I spent the next year gathering stories and memories from Marvin’s sons and wife, June, while learning all of the players in the family dynamic and getting to know the people individually. In doing so I also got to know Marvin, the man I would never meet. In these verbal descriptions of him, being in his lifelong home, and in the revelations of his photographs, I understood who he was.
…It’s 5 am on a chilly Fall morning and the dew is just beginning to settle. Father and son plow ahead bailing 100lb packages of cut alfalfa, their machine shooting them out in perfect blocks. The two have been at it since the early morning hours. The son does his work and remains quiet; his shouting wouldn’t be heard over the grumbling John Deere engine anyway. He knows his labor will be rewarded by his comrades in the barn later that day. He will rule as king of the Lego brick fort that the gang constructs when he returns with the goods, and it will be glorious…
To compliment the edited down images, I created captions based on family memories, and while sometimes channeling Marvin himself and putting myself in his shoes, based on what I’ve learned of him. The lines of text sit just slightly underneath the image and run as an accent to the pale-colored vintage feel of the prints made from his photographs.
The book is perhaps my favorite part of the project. For the past few years I’ve loved book-making and tried to use it in my work when it makes sense to. When looking at Marvin’s photos, I saw a distinct difference between more general farm-life pictures and between family-oriented photos. One of my favorite images is one of all of the women in the family wearing matching nightgowns, obviously homemade gifts from Grandma, and posing together for a picture on Christmas Eve.
I knew I had to use these wonderful pictures in some way, which lead me to the reworked family photo album book. I wanted the book to be fun and also to be something that could be displayed in the gallery in a 3-dimensional way, so I chose the accordion style construction. I unified the many different image styles from different eras, from black and white to color, and printed them all digitally with a uniform sepia tonality. I’ve been dying to make an accordion book with handwritten photo captions (like you would see if you turned over an old photograph; yeah, when people still printed them!) on the back for some time now, and felt this was definitely the project to incorporate this into. June was the natural choice to illustrate the captions. Her fabulous cursive scribbles were done in pencil, scanned in, and digitally printed on the backs of the images. I love how this book has become a sort of unknowing collaboration between Marvin’s photos and his wife’s captions.
In the end, I am extremely happy with the artwork and so glad I had this unique opportunity to create something wonderful from someone else’s found photographs. I can now continue on with more of my personal projects, but I am so thankful for the experience and I’d like to think that Marvin likes it too 😉 .