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spotlight: with Galina Kurlat and Shelley Calton

The idea of artist dialogue came about because HCP is always trying to create new ways for artists to meet and talk about their work. Membership has grown to an all time high, and while that is something to celebrate, HCP should also feel like an intimate place where artists can openly talk about their work and visitors are invited to ask questions and seek answers. Artist dialogue was a call for artwork that encouraged artists to show their work in the learning center gallery at HCP. At the end of the exhibit, artists exchanged work and HCP encouraged the artists to start a conversation about the ideas, methods, and history that fuel the creative process. The artists all voted for their favorite photographs, and Shelley and Galina proved to be the winners. Their winning photographs and an excerpt from their dialogue are published below.

-Bevin Bering Dubrowski


Galina Kurlat: Tell me about your new project Within My Garden, Rides a Bird. Do you generally start a body of work with an idea of
what the outcome will be or is it more instinctual?

Shelley Calton: Each of my projects was formed in different ways, some developed on their own. That being said, one usually leads to another, most of the time not on a conscious level. I usually have to think about a project for quite some time before I start shooting. Once I do begin, it is intuitive. I started shooting the Within My
Garden project with an old 4×5 view camera, then went to medium format. I was thinking about buying a new digital camera, so I borrowed a friend’s Canon 5D Mark II, and loved it. I ended up shooting the project with it, my first digitally shot series. I see you work with or did work with Polaroid Type 55 film. Are you missing it as much as I am? Also, tell me about the Sanctuary project.

GK: I would have never suspected that your image was shot using a digital camera. The subject matter and style are very reminiscent of archaic photographic processes. I was distraught when Polaroid Type 55 was discontinued. At that point it was my primary medium. It was then that I realized that I wanted to start making Ambrotypes and working in the collodion process. I had assisted Jody Ake in New York for a number of years and finally decided I needed a space to work in which could house both a darkroom and a shooting area. So I moved down here to Houston in order to be able to set up shop and really train myself how to work with collodion. Recently, I began a completely new series of 100 self-portraits. I hope to have them completed over the course of this year using my remaining stash of Type 55 – yes, I still have a shelf in my fridge dedicated to expired film – and wet collodion. This is the first time I have approached a project with the intention of making a certain amount of images within a given time frame. It really has changed my approach. I find myself working for the sake of working, rather than a given outcome. Sanctuary (Untitled) 1 was photographed much like the rest of that body of work over a much longer period of time and usually either on vacation or a road trip. Since this work was mostly shot outside of New York City, I was able to bring back a Tupperware box of negatives. How do you feel about sharing your work before it is completed? Do you feel that a critique group or a community of like-minded artists is beneficial to your process? Since I moved, that group of friends has scattered all over the US. Now we send iPhone images and JPEGs of work we have made for each other’s feedback. How important do you feel is an artist dialogue to your working method?

SC: HCP has First Tuesday, where you can share your work with other photographers and get feedback. As artists, it helps to have the input from our peers. We are so fortunate to have a large and wonderful photography community in Houston. It’s great to have HCP, FotoFest, and the MFA H fulfill all of our photo community needs. I’m ready to undertake a new project – Texas women that carry concealed handguns, and I want to add audio and video, which seem to be important elements these days. Have you considered mixed media for any of your projects?

GK: Although I appreciate mixed media work, I have not really had the chance to experiment with it. The difficulty of working with Type 55 and especially collodian has kept me in one medium. That said, I have just sized some paper to try salt printing for the first time. Since paper lends itself to so many approaches, I may be interested in incorporating other media. Tell me more about your new project – one of the first things that stood out to me as typically Texas is the “51 gun law” signs outside of most restaurant and bars here in town. Can people really bring concealed handguns anywhere except a bar or nightclub? How will you find these women who have a concealed carrying permit? Do you or will you get a gun for the project? What kind of mixed media are you considering for this new body of work?

SC: Well, to tell you the truth, I did not know what the “51 gun law” was about, so I checked it out. It is unlawful to carry a handgun on the premises of a business that derives 51 percent or more of its income from the sale of alcohol for on premises consumption. I’m somewhat uneasy around guns, so this project is also about confronting my own fears. I have signed up for a concealed handgun class in January. I want to get the full experience and hopefully meet some gun-toting women. I’m checking in with all of my girlfriends and their friends – it’s always surprising who’s packing! I will be doing audio and video interviews as I’m interested in why these women have guns.

GK: Hearing their reasoning for having handguns and concealed carrying permits will be very interesting. I would be curious to know how often they carry their guns with them. Do they leave it home if they are going out the mall or take it with them on a first date? One of the most important parts of image making for me is walking that fine line between having full control of your end result and giving some of that control away, with the hope of happy accidents. Collodion has been a great medium for this since there are so many variations, which will affect the image from the density of your silver bath to how you pour the developer. As maddening as it is, when it works the results are like nothing else. I find your body of work, Invisible Thread, very inspiring. The archetype of woman’s lingerie has so much history, each piece being so unique and personal, yet easily recognizable. From the sensual to the purely functional, these intimate clothing items are an integral part of day-to-day life. They are usually very well cared for and change as we age and our bodies change with time. What compelled you to start working with people’s belongings, rather than the people themselves? Which do you prefer?

SC: The Invisible Thread work came about in two ways. On the subconscious side, I was still working on the Roller Derby project, and part of the costumes they wore sometimes included bustiers and fishnets. On the conscious side, I was in a vintage clothing store and came across a box of lingerie. I started thinking about the women who wore the garments, their stories, and how as women we are all connected. I loved photographing the women of the Houston Roller Derby, but it was a nice change to work on the lingerie still life in my studio. I seem to have this parallel thing with my projects. I will do studio work and simultaneously work on something that takes me out into the world to photograph interesting people. As for walking that fine line of control and having happy accidents, I find that shooting digitally takes that away. Not so sure that is a good thing – I’m with you on those wonderful little surprises you get with film! Thanks for the dialogue. Should we wrap it up?