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The Bosco Project: An Interview

What is your artistic background? Where did you study and what was the focus of your studies?

Ever since I was a kid I wanted to create visual music after seeing the gateway sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But home computers didn't exist back then; I had to wait until I got to college before the medium existed for me to try to create them.

I pursued a self-directed course of study at Hampshire College where I studied computers, music, and art. My goal was to develop a theory and practice of creating a visual equivalent of music based on the computer's inherent algorhythmic nature. I then went to CalArts to get an MFA in experimental animation. CalArts, at the time, was the only art school in the country that had a computer graphics lab.

From there I entered the world of computer graphic movie fx, working at a variety of studios such as PDI, Tippett, Manex, and ILM on major blockbusters such as Starship Troopers and The Matrix.

It was during this time that I decided to try my hand at photography, studying at UC Berkeley. I exclusively shot black & white landscapes. When I moved to Canada I lost my darkroom, and my camera was in mothballs. I resisted going digital; but one day, after many years, I decided I needed to photograph again. So I took the plunge, and, once I was able to find a way to fulfill my aesthetic in color I was overjoyed!

Who or what movements have been your greatest influences?

They are legion. How can one narrow down all one's influences? There are those that I have consciously and deliberately cultivated, such as artists like Piranesi, Corot, Kupka, Radziwill, Matta and Bacon. And now, with the success of The Bosco Project, I'm starting to investigate the proto-expressionist James Ensor, who really had a thing for masks.

But surely there are a constellation of influences, especially literary, that have had profound influences on my approach to art. They would include things like early Mad Magazine, the dark movie comedies of the 60s and the 70s, literature from Gaddis and Sade, the philosophy of Deleuze, the films of Greenaway and Lynch, and countless other sources, especially if they lean towards the darkly satirical. And of course music.

It may sound quaint, but I actually believe in beauty, and I want to create beautiful images that have some depth and edge to them.

For me the images have a subtle unnerving quality to them-do you have an interest in horror as a genre?

What an excellent question. My initial impulse was to say no, horror is not my favorite genre. Yet when I look at my (embarrasingly large) movie collection I can't help but observe that horror movies take up a lot of space.

I think my favorite genre has always been black comedy, and the darker the better. I suppose I find the pointedly creepy and unnerving more compelling than the outright scary. I like dark comedy because of the dissonant tension it creates, eliciting laughter while wincing. And, if really done right, black comedy will hopefully fire some neurons that may just get you to open your mind a little.

What are the techniques you employ to achieve your photographic effects?

I use an HDR technique: I take several photos at different exposures and combine them through dedicated software that extends my dynamic range. I'm very careful with my settings to make sure I get the contrast I want. But I don't alter my photos in something like Photoshop because that, to my way of thinking, is cheating: what you see is what I shot.

What are you attempting to achieve in the viewer with your art?

I think a German collector of mine captured my aesthetic with the adjective acheronian.

I am overwhelmed by the "thingness" of existence. Why is there somethingness instead of nothingness?

I think what my photography is about is an attempt to express the ineffable, to express this mystery of "thingness". And as beautiful as the world is, it also creeps me out. Because behind the prosaic existence of the corporeal there is an immanent essence, and it's not necessarily a benign one.

My work is always about the background, the parts that remain unseen. Even in my landscapes. I want to capture the reality behind the appearance of the corporeal, I want to tap into this rank essence behind the manifestation.

Thus I'm not interested in just making pretty pictures; I seek, like so many other artists, to alter the way we perceive the world through the artist's perceptual filters. In my case, I guess that means making others experience this rank animism the way I do.

Are you interested in other mediums? Film or sound?

I worked in film for over 25 years, but always on other people's projects. I've only recently begun finally creating those visual music pieces I've always wanted to do. I've only done two so far, which have appeared at a few film festivals, and I have plans in the works to do more.

The Bosco Project uses the mask as the focus of the photograph - will you be experimenting with the use of props in the future?

It depends what you mean by props. I do carefully use and position props in my photos currently: a bowl of fruit to provide some color and balance in the composition; a glass of water to catch some specular highlights; a briefcase so the viewer can project some motive to the character; etc. Props are important not only for their aesthetic considerations, but for how the viewer can project a meaning into the scene.

I don't foresee myself using "horror" props as such. In the Bosco pics there's a frisson between the quotidian and the macabre that I think creates a feeling that is whimsically creepy. I fear that by moving Bosco from the mundane to something more overtly sinister I would tip the balance from the whimsically creepy to the purely macabre.

But I definitely have some plans that involve props that will add some striking compositional features, and hopefully increase the sense of mystery. Plus, sometime in the future, I think Bosco may be joined by a friend or two.

Do you have any upcoming exhibits?

Starting in January my landscape photos of the trails of southern Durham Region will be on display in the Oshawa City Hall.

And negotiations are under way to play one of my visual music pieces with live orchestral accompaniment in March.

Are you working on any projects currently or in the near future?

When I'm not taking landscape or Bosco photos I have a few other series that I add to, such as playgrounds, houses, and cemeteries.

I've long had an idea for a series of abstract photos that I hope to get to within a year. I like abstract art, and have an idea for how to create some unique and compelling abstract images without fiddling around with them in Photoshop.

I'm also planning on starting my next visual music piece within the next month.

What was the inspiration for The Bosco Project?

The Bosco Project happened seredipitously. It began as a purely technical exercise: I wanted to see how my HDR approach worked indoors.

I was in my son's basement study and was intrigued by the colors and textures in it. I thought it would be a great test subject. I fiddled with some lights and really enjoyed the result. But it was missing a subject. So I had my son sit on the bed. No, it was still missing something. Hey — put on last year's Halloween mask and the fez. Yes! I was tremendously excited. I shot my pictures and couldn't wait to see the results. They exceeded my wildest expectations — pure magic!

Thus The Bosco Project was not the result of a pre-planned thematic series of photos; it was more like Alexander Fleming discovering penicillin by accident when he arrived in the lab one morning.

The lesson for me was that mistakes and off-the-cuff experiments can result in serendipitous discoveries that far surpass the most meticulous plans.

Fri, Dec 30 2016, 00:44:20

I'm really sorry to see Suspect Video close. But apparently, like the Phoenix, it will be reborn... as an online store!

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