Robert BrkeHarrison's photographs are eerie narratives of life in a world slightly like ours but also entirely different. A single character—BrkeHar -rison himself, dressed always in a simple dark suit and white shirt—perches on a ladder with giant feathery wings attached to his arms or sews a gaping piece of earth with a giant needle. iW their seemingly mocha-splattered glaze and dim lighting, the photographs can be mistaken for sepias of an earlier era;but their environmental storylines are utterly current.
For BrkeHarrison, who creates the behemoth photographs they are as large as four by five feet)with his wife Shana, his journals are one of the most important tools in their making. The books are circular in nature, representing all stages of a photograph's making, from initial spark to printing to the ceremonial cleaning of the studio.
The couple completes about ten photographs over the course of a year, each image adding to their fifteen-year-long visual narrative. At the beginning of each series, BrkeHarrison says, "there's always a very uncomfortable feeling of not knowing where you're going." He pulls out past journals so that he and Shana can review what they have done in the past. "It's reassuring to see how we were able to start at point A and progress to a final series of work."
The source images BrkeHarrison collects and pastes into the journals— everything from old photographs collected on library visits he often roams the stacks, pulling down random books like a game of exquisite corpse)to advertisements—provide inspiration in the early stages. The images, photocopied and pasted into the journal, share space with his writing. Though he ays he has a difficult time with language, the writing helps him to find the center of a piece. In pages of penciled scrawl, he asks questions and offers possible answers.
An image begins to take shape in his mind, almost entirely as a result of the seeking process in his journal, allowing him to go into the field to take Blaroid test shots of possible locations. Bops, such as a giant typewriter ball, are assembled next. Once a final version of the image comes into focus, it informs the progress of other images in the working series.
BrkeHarrison is unabashedly "obsessive" about his journal keeping. He has nearly forty books and even admits to writing in journals—smaller ones he calls the "satellite journals"—while driving. As compared with his wife's creative style, which he considers to be focused and precise she keeps no journal) BrkeHarrison describes himself as scattered. "I need to work through something with my hands, whether on the page or in the studio. I run around going, I don't know what's going on! That's when writing helps me to snap into place," he explains, laughing at his mental disarray.
The payoff is a rich compilation of ideas, the majority of which never get pursued to finality. Like many artists, he fears losing his creative drive. The journals are an ounce of prevention against that: "They're priceless to me because they contain so many ideas that were never pursued. It's very therapeutic to go back and read how my thoughts developed over time." Developed, not unlike a photograph.
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