david benjamin sherry is reshaping how we see the american landscape
We caught up with the photographer in Miami to discuss his new book ‘Earth Changes’
For the past decade, LA-based photographer David Benjamin Sherry has shot breathtaking images of the American landscape, manually color-manipulating them to vibrant, almost trippy extremes. But it isn't just his treatment process that's changing how we see the world; Sherry is carving a new space for queer people within the genre of landscape photography, encouraging new generations of photographers to shake up traditions. After signing copies of his new book Earth Changes at Printed Matter's Art Basel booth, i-D caught up with the artist to talk venturing out into the American West.
Can you tell us about Earth Changes?
I've had this Edward Weston book, called My Camera on Point Lobos for many years and it's one my favourite books in its design and content. This book helped shape my visions of the American West. In some ways it inspired a move and relocated me from New York to LA two years ago, so as you can imagine, I've held it close over the years. When Aron Mörel approached me to do a book, I already knew that I wanted to re-imagine my own version of this Weston classic and I had the work to do this. I used the same format of the Weston book but updated the design and content and created Earth Changes.
The photographs inside are a collection of pictures I made over the last two years throughout the American West. I was specifically interested in revisiting the landscape canon of photographic history to raise awareness about our changing landscape due to climate change. I thought that by revisiting these famous places and re-imagining them in bright colors all made on film and printed analog in the darkroom, it could bring to attention that our land is rich and alive yet needs to be reconsidered as we are feeling the drastic effects of human caused climate change. Coincidentally, as a queer person, I felt it necessary and natural to inject a more queer and colorful vision of American Western photography, as I found there to be a void in the epic yet short and often straight male dominated, photographic history. Furthermore, I wanted to draw a parallel between the end of film-based photography and the changing landscape before our eyes.
Can you walk us through your colour treatment process?
I shoot all of my work on film and print in the colour darkroom-the process is entirely analog and I simply push the colour to its extremes while printing. I start with a perfectly exposed color negative and then use varying degrees of each the three filters we use while color printing-cyan, magenta and yellow. The light from the enlarger then passes through the color filters, through the negative, and then finally through a lens that projects the image and exposes the picture onto light sensitive paper. When you push these three filters in the enlarger to their extreme, the color intensifies.
I'm interested in this extremity and how far you can push the color through filters within the darkroom printing process. Once the color is applied, there are a lot of surprises I find within one hue. I believe the color filters only intensify the image yet often add an emotive, mystical, or fantastical element to the viewing experience.
Could you speak more to how your work explores landscape photography through a queer lens?
I'm interested in American Western landscape photography, I have been for a long time and this canon of photography has its heroes and masters, such as Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Frederick Sommer, Carleton Watkins, Timothy O'Sullivan to name a few. It occurred to me that the photographers notorious for this type of work were all straight white men who had a specific gaze and point of view that has now shaped how we all see American Western landscape. As a queer person, I felt an absence and void in this rich yet narrow photographic history and that a queer person's point of view needs to be created and considered. I'm interested in developing my own queer history in this and other genres of photography and I have been attempting to enter the eye of this historical storm to not only recreate some of these famous photographs, but also bring forth new photographs that I hope to raise questions about the subject of photographic history, ask questions about the lack of queer vision within the history of photography while also celebrating the mysticism, beauty and natural wonder that still is present in the American West.
What have been some of your favourite locations to shoot?
Much of the American West, South West and North West; California, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington.
Does Los Angeles shape your work?
Living here has only added to my work and the photographic language I'm interested in creating. I like being in the close proximity to these Western landscapes I often go to. Also the light, climate, and odd people that I get to meet are all so inspiring. LA often feels like a strange and anonymous yet very friendly and polarising vast jungle that either feels like a heavenly fantasy to me or like it's undergoing the apocalypse.
What's up next for you?
I'm starting new work for a solo exhibition at OHWOW in Los Angeles in 2015.
Text Emily Manning
Images courtesy the artist, Salon 94, and Morel Books