Monday, September 7, 2009

6+ 1 Interview: Leslie Bartlett

Leslie Bartlett is a photographer-- or I might call him a finder of signs in the living stone, a teller of stories otherwise submerged in veins of granite. He has lived 40 years on Cape Ann in Massachusetts, the last ten of which he has devoted to exploring photographically the Cape's play of light and shadow on stone. Linger long over his work at Follow the Gleam. He has shown widely in the Northeast, including at Soho Photo in Tribeca, NYC this spring and currently at the Granite Museum in Barre, Vermont. Previously Leslie was a world-class juggler with Le Grand David And His Own Spectacular Magic Company -- Les photographed much of the amazing magic he helped create at the company.

Question 1: If you could be a weathervane, what would you be?

Leslie Bartlett:

[Leslie submitted the picture at the head of this post-- "Diana of the Tower," the 18-foot bronze statue made by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, placed atop the first Madison Square Garden in 1891, at which time it was the tallest point in Manhattan. Diana indeed moved as a weathervane on her lofty perch.]

Question 2: Your work is evocative on many levels, reminding me of the photography of Eliot Porter, the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Octavio Paz (whom you quote: "What is not stone, is light"). When you stand in the quarries, long before you raise the camera to your eye, what do you look for? More important,what feeling are you seeking to capture?


"Would that it were the king
of Asine
we've been searching for so carefully on this acropolis
sometimes touching with our fingers his touch upon
the stones."

George Seferis, The King of Asine

What I am looking for is the very gaze, the look before seeing, before understanding, the trace left upon the stone from centuries past. A return to fundamentals – Thomas Starr King is crucial to me, TSK wrote ‘The White Hills,’ the first annotated guide to the White Mountains, published in 1860. Not only did he identify scenic vistas, but outlined the feelings, emotions, poetry to be recited, thoughts to be entertained.

The capture is a return to a first viewing…Tristan to Isolde: ‘What, am I hearing light?

The captioning and titling of photographs in the 19th century hint at the direct , immediate experience I am looking for- such titles as

View from…., gaze across…

Re: Paz, here is a second poem which I used at the Cape Ann Museum show –

Wind and Water and Stone

"The water hollowed the stone,
the wind dispersed the water,
the stone stopped the wind.

Water and wind and stone.

The wind sculpted the stone,
the stone is a cup of water,
The water runs off and is wind.

Stone and wind and water.

The wind sings in its turnings,
the water murmurs as it goes,
the motionless stone is quiet.

Wind and water and stone.

One is the other and is neither:
among their empty names
they pass and disappear,
water and stone and wind."

("Wind and Water and Stone" by Octavio Paz, translated by Mark Strand, from The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, 1957-1987. Copyright 1979 by The New Yorker Magazine. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.)

One of the major influences for me has been David Jones ‘Anathemata,’ digging down below our backyards to the shared hardpan.

When I lecture these days, I often illustrate the typical SUV driver
holding a cell phone 'talking,'while 'looking' where they are driving. The conjunction of the two events does not lie in a middle,
the vague dislocation carries forward well beyond the moment and we
all suffer it.

So I've become more friendly with some of the Continental
Philosophers, especially Nancy's work, and the later works of Derrida as well. Philip Hadot comes to mind as well.

Simple proof, my show at the Cape Ann Museum 2007-2008 presented views of the Quarry walls to people who walked through the quarries daily, who grew up playing in the quarries, and they had never looked. There a ' stop to look.' Do we 'stop to see?' Not the same.

Look puts us in our place, and we see anew again.

Question 3: You have a precious talent for what I would call "reading human stories into nature," yet without anthropomorphizing your subjects. For instance, "Lady Zhao Jun Bidding Farewell over the Frontier" conjures up an entire epic rendered in granite as caught by your camera. Talk to us about how the stories emerge, how you find the fit between the rock, the light, and the narrative.

Question 4: At your recent Soho (NYC) gallery exhibition, you lectured on "A Thin Scratch of Time." We'd love to hear a short synopsis of your talk.

Bartlett: [A response to both questions 3 and 4]

I'm sitting out on the porch with the early morning salt air wafting
across my arms. The tactility of the cool ocean breeze, the slowness
of the currents hint at what it is like to dive down into deep time
deep space, "I cannot attain the intensity which is unfolded before my senses" - Cezanne. He's not talking so much about the mountain, he's talking about Bibemus Quarry. I touch my quarry walls with my hands,rake across the stone with my fingers - a rasping scrapping away, I smell the stone, the moss, the lichens ... "The immensity, the torrent of being in a single inch of stone (drop of water)" -again,Cezanne.

Our memories occupy space ("The Poetics of Space") we occupy but a thin scratch of time.

Mere pebbles left behind by the glacial moraines.

Question 5: The Impressionists often painted the same subject at many different times of day, to re-create the light in all its phases. Do you do that in your work? Tell us about the way in which light may change the surface of the rock, and how you seek to re-create each impression.

Bartlett: Yes, this coming weekend I am recreating William Gilpin’s ‘Gilpin 30,’ where he painted the same landscape 30 times over the course of a single day.

I’m photographing on Thacher Island off the coast of Cape Ann. The image you see on their website masthead is the focus for this effort. For imagery within the quarry I am sensitive to light temperature as it reflects on the stone, often dappled through foliage, the light becomes an equal element of the composition, no longer merely illuminating the surface but suggesting an immediacy, an immediate light without the need to edge, to define, to make comfortable, or dismissive of extended views.

Question 6: Many of the granite scapes you photograph remind me of paintings by Malevich and Klee. Which painters inspire you most?

Bartlett: Cezanne, Monet, Peter Prendergast, William Thon, Bernard Chaet

Question 7: Your turn! Ask me a question.

Bartlett: Yes your choice as weathervane?

Lobster & Canary [smiling]: Ah, well done, turn about is fair play... I shall serve up my response in my next post!

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