Carol Inez Charney | ARTIST INTERVIEW




In Conversation | Carol Inez Charney

Foster/White Gallery: The visual effect of your photographs is so unique. Can you tell us more about your processes?
Carol Inez Charney: Initially I shot  through an actual wet window using a 35 mm film camera, which is all I had, but I quickly found that I couldn’t work unless it was raining and I was reliant on the view through that window. It was too limiting. Also, the film was grainy and limiting for the scale I could reproduce. Then I got a medium format film camera which changed my view completely. Working with a medium format camera was like watching a movie since what I saw  was so sharp and so cinematic to me. It was a level of optics I'd never had before.
But it was too stressful to haul around stands and glass with me while also hefting  this large camera and a tripod. It occurred to me that I could create my own landscapes by working in a more process oriented way where I had complete control over the variables. This led me to go on location and photograph architecture locally, then nationally and then internationally with a digital SLR I began making my own landscapes, searching  for interesting architecture all over the world. This is how my workflow began. Without having a clear workflow path, my ideas couldn't grow. So, once this process emerged, things really began taking shape with the Interior Landscape series.
I make prints of the images I feel are the landscape I want to be looking at. I then rephotograph the print with a medium format film camera through water on glass in my attempt to “find the painting” of what I’m looking at. This is a process of making the glass more and more saturated with water. I then begin the long, slow process of retouching hi-resolution scans.

Just like with a painting, I get to a point where the retouching and the spotting is done. I know there's nowhere else to go with the color balance etc and then I know I’m done. I approach the photograph as a painter would — just like the process of building up and evolving of a painting.
F/WG: What draws you to using water in your work?
CIC: I stumbled upon the condensation of water on a window in 2001 and I realized that the water transformed a normal landscape into a complex abstract painting. Or that it had the potential to do that and then I was obsessed with how water could change my view of everything — literally.
Carol Inez Charney, Minnesota Winter 1
F/WG: This layering process creates a sort of veil; almost like a visual limbo. What do you want viewers to experience in this space?
CIC: It’s the experience I have always had when staring at a window while rain is cascading down — I daydream and I think about things. I was that kid in school staring out the window while other kids were discussing things. What I'm looking to create with the water veil is a space for inner reflection where the viewer can hang out and get lost just a bit in their own thoughts and emotions while they visually take a trip around the composition. For me it’s the same experience I have when looking at an abstract painting and finding areas within a composition that are visually sublime. I keep returning to them in the process of looking at the work. It’s what I like to call being in a visual conversation with an image. This is very different from looking at a photograph of a straight landscape.
F/WG: Water flows, and a photo is itself static. How do you see your work balancing movement and stasis, as well as straddling the line between capturing and blurring?
CIC: One of the magic things about photography is that it happens in the fraction of a second. So I can stop time, stop the flow of water for an instant, and in that instant I can reveal something magical.

In addition to this, I can reveal to varying degrees what's behind the water through the aperture. I prefer to have a balance between revealing and obscuring within pieces. It’s this process and this idea which really kind of came to life in my After Painting series. Though I’m using water as the veil, I’m concerned with what happens when you look at the details which make up a classic painting. I then juxtapose the details against themselves or against the whole painting. Something new and unexpected is created. 
And again, I’m playing with how much gets revealed and how much is blurred. I think this is very evident with After Jan Van Eyck: Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, where you’re seeing the details in relationship to one another in a different way. Or in After Claude Monet: Nympheas 1 & 2 where the lily pond detail is in a visual conversation with the entire image.
F/WG: Can you share how your process changes when you are capturing light in a studio setting versus working in a site-specific setting, such as the work you did at the Seattle Public Library?
CIC: Though I have tried to photograph indoors and simulate natural light I’ve been unsuccessful. It’s for this reason I work outside and use natural light when I’m rephotographing my work. The base imagery from the Seattle Public Library was captured using existing available light in the space. When I’m capturing imagery for rephotographing I tend to try to work as quickly as I can and not try to draw attention to myself.
F/WG: Abstract painting is sometimes critiqued for a lack of accessibility to the general public, whereas photography is associated with an idea of inherent truth being captured and depicted. As a photographer who sees your photographs as paintings, do you see your work bridging that gap or questioning those generalizations?
CIC: I use photography as a tool. Many photographers use the camera to document a scene or a person or an event and the photograph is the end result. I use the camera to create something else that begins a long process that I’m unable to create with acrylic or oils and a brush. I use the camera as my brush and I use the computer like a canvas. The computer holds the piece digitally. I find the camera’s ability to create abstraction and the incremental levels of revealing what’s shown like glazing in a painting. I’m not sure if I’m bridging any gaps, I’m just trying to create something abstractly that most people aren’t looking at. I lack the skill to paint realistically with a brush. The beauty of the camera is its ability to realistically represent an image.
Carol Inez Charney, DIS-1, chromogenic print face-mounted to acrylic
F/WG: For Seattleites, distinguishing an image beyond a rain-laden window is a daily activity, but a rare occurrence for others. Have you noticed different reactions to your work based on region?
CIC: Not really, since a lot of my work is so abstract that people never know where and what exactly they’re looking at. Even when I tell people that DIS 1 in my Interior Landscape series is the Disney Concert Hall in LA, they can’t see it. I see it, just like the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland seems obvious to me but no one else, unless I guess you’re looking for it. Even the buildings I photographed in New York City, no one ever sees them. I think this is why I was drawn to working in this way, because I saw things differently and wanted to share what I was seeing.
F/WG: How has your work changed during this season, and how are you enriching your life as you find you are spending more time at home?
CIC: In a way, I guess I feel like everything that's happened to me before this moment—this pandemic—has prepared me to just sit with things. Since there's no working film labs open I can’t process my film, so I’m not shooting film. Film is essentially becoming cost prohibitive and slow in a world where everything happens instantaneously. However, I have been working on a new series about censorship of ideas and censorship of freedoms, etc., which was shot digitally from the start. It seems relevant to our times. It’s not ready for prime time yet, but when it is ready I'll share it. It’s a complete departure from water which is what I felt I needed to do for a bit.
Also, I've been doing a lot of cooking. I find it very creative and very nurturing at a time when there’s so much bad news. I need something simple, delicious and I just need to make things.
Carol Inez Charney, After Ferdinand Bol: The Crowning of Mirtillo, 1650, 2020, Digital C-print, mounted on aluminum with a luster laminate, maple float frame
To learn more about Carol Inez Charney and to see available works please visit
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