Photographer Winston explores SETX environs in February exhibition.
Joe Winston grew up along the waterways of Southeast Texas and the Bolivar Peninsula. He always felt in tune with the environment and its stories.
“People want to know the story,” he says. “That’s important in my work because it is a story. It’s about my experience. And the processes I use are very tactile because I want to pay homage to that experience.”
The photographer will present an exhibition of his work, along with guest artist Lotus, Feb. 2-23, at The Art Studio, with a reception 7-10 p.m., Feb. 2. Winston will host a gallery talk at 7 p.m., Feb. 21.
Winston said his work explores the same themes that the Pictorialists — photographers including Alvin Langdon Coburn, F. Holland Day, Gertrude Käsebier, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, and Clarence H. White — began working with in the late 1800s.
“It was this idea that the photograph could deliver an emotional representation of reality, that it wasn’t simply a mechanical reproduction of exactly what happened,” he says. “I’m still trying, in my own work, to resolve a 160-year-old argument.
“I’m still completely engaged in that argument, whereas many of my contemporaries have gone on to multi-media and video, where it gets bigger and bigger and flashier and flashier. It’s my hope I can grab my audience’s attention a few more seconds because the subject matter is subtle, the tonality in my work is relatively subtle.”
Winston says he likes for his audience to resolve some of the issues.
“It’s one of those things where, if you just look at it and carry on down the road of the pieces, you won’t have seen everything I intended for you to see,” he says. “As an artist, you are always trying to find that perfect resolution to that work of art. But what I’ve learned is, it doesn’t ever get perfectly resolved until someone who didn’t make it looks at it. That’s the final step in a work of art — when somebody in the audience responds to it. Whether I see the shortcomings in the process, or I wished it might have been different, or this isn’t exactly how I set out to make it — now it’s there, it’s mine and I have been able to share it with you. And once you’ve responded, that’s the final resolution.”
Once created, Winston says the art assumes a life of its own. He creates and then sets the work loose to find it’s own way. Many times he will never see the work again.
“I’ll sometimes see them again because I’ll be invited somewhere, but they are not mine any more,” he says.
Winston’s process combines the speed of photography with the hands-on quality of painting.
“Photography can be a very quick medium where you make an image and you move on to the next one,” he says. “Whereas, what I enjoy about my processes are that once the image is made, the memory begins to form. Through producing the work and meditating on the image — what I like and what I’m looking for to be delivered — I get to elevate that image from being something that happened in 1/60th of a second to being the memory.”
Winston paints photo chemicals onto canvases in a painterly way, before exposing the image and proceeding in a traditional photographic manner. He says this show is the first showing of what he considers to be a transition toward a new direction.
“For the last 15 years or so, I’ve been creating silver gelatin paintings, using a negative and projecting it on to a canvas and using the raw material of photography that makes the print, the light-sensitive material, and I paint it on to the canvas and then the negative is projected on to that light-sensitive paint,” he says. “Then it’s a traditional photographic process — developer, stop bath, fix.”
The resulting images merge the streaks and drips of traditional painting with the photographic image.
A year and a half ago he moved to Houston from New Braunfels. In the process, he had to face the issue that confronts all photographers in today’s technology-driven world.
“One of the challenges I have had is how to bring that tactile feel I have through the gelatin paintings through the digital medium — there isn’t a negative to project, there’s no way to for the silver gelatin paintings to make the transition,” he says. “With the digital camera and learning to enjoy that, I wanted to do something that had a tactile feel as well. So I began doing a multi-media transfer process. They’re laser jets that are on canvas, but they are not printed directly on the canvas.
“(The laser jet image) becomes much more like a printing plate at that point. So I take my plate, which is the intermediary step, and then transfer it on to the canvas after I have done multiple underlays and working with textures.”
Winston says his goal was for the new pieces to reflect the silver gelatin paintings in some way so they are cohesive,
“So when you look at them you say, ‘Ha, I see.’” he says. “There’s color and it’s scratchy various things, but it delivers — they read like paintings on the wall as opposed to the traditional photograph behind glass, slick and finished and perfect in every way.”
Winston says the tactile quality of the work has always been important to him. He tells a story about going to a former old patron’s house and seeing an old piece of his hanging on the wall.
“I started rubbing it down, I had my hands on it,” he says. I hadn’t seen it in probably ten years and I turned around to see the lady who owned the painting with a mortified look on her face. At that moment I realized that, absolutely, that painting was no longer mine. That object is someone else’s object of art and it doesn’t matter that I created it.”
The father of three says that the old cliché about paintings being like children is apt.
“You have to let them go,” he says. “It’s what we do. I don’t have a choice. We joke about putting work together for deadlines and making shows, but really, I have to make something creative on a regular basis.”
Winston’s definition of creativity is broad, and includes being out on his kayak. An avid fisherman, Winston draws inspiration from his explorations of the Sabine and Bolivar areas where he grew up.
“That’s where I get recharged and where my joy comes from,” he says. “That’s why I create the kind of art that I do. It’s not the kind of art that’s going to cause a scandal or turn the art world on its head, but it comes from a very solitary place within me.”
Finding that voice is something he encourages other artists to do.
“You have a voice that is unique to you, and as an artist, shouldn’t have to worry about what the trends are, what the latest multi-media is, how much can you can charge the account to make something wall size,” he says.
“My art is about recalling the memory of the time and place in which I found that moment of joy, that I had a lens and was in the right spot, and I could trim it down a little bit so there was just what I thought was the representation of it.”
Winston finds his inspiration from the elements that mark the area. He says that one of his memories is driving to Bolivar to his family’s beach house as a child and passing by the cutting pens, where cattle were sorted to be taken to market. The very first roll of film he shot was of the pens, after forcing his father to drive him there.
“I wanted to take a photo of the sunset with those cutting pens in the foreground,” he says. “Now those cutting pens are gone (after Hurricane Ike).
“Monet had his cathedral and I had the dirty pelican pier house. It was really accessible and when I felt I needed a deep breath, I’d run down there at first light or last light or a winter day or a summer day — and I photographed the dirty pelican pier house for years. I couldn’t necessarily explain it, except I loved the way the light played on the coastline with that building and the pier. I tried to get there as often as I could and to photograph as many different ways because it seemed to change. I mean it didn’t, but through the lens it changed. After Hurricane Ike, it’s not anymore, so that’s when I stopped photographing that micro-muse.
“I would often find myself on Bolivar just being receptive to ideas. I have been down every dirt road, every shanty I can find and think, ‘Why am I here again?’ And then all of a sudden I am there, I’ve got cameras, I’m in the right state of mind, and something would happen that I’d never seen before, as many times in my life as I’d been there — and that’s what keeps me going back.”
The series he is exhibiting in this show began when he returned to Beaumont as a guest artist at Lamar University in fall 2010, to fill in for photographer Keith Carter while he was on assignment. He currently works as an instructor at San Jacinto College.
Winston is a keen kayaker and said that kayaking and photography are “two wonderful worlds colliding.” There are places he can go in the Southeast Texas waterways that other photographers don’t care to explore or don’t know about. The kayak became a vehicle to a different landscape.
“You’re no longer standing on the shore photographing the water,” he said. “You are in the water in unique places.”
ISSUE Magazine – February 2013
Story by Andy Coughlan