Article by Mona Varichon
Frankie Carino and Adam Ferriss share a few passions, like their unconditional love for experimentation, intense landscapes and LA burritos. Both started as photographers, but today they prefer to take the matter out of traditional picture making, whether it’s light, chemicals, inks, pixels or numbers, and handle it in unexpected ways. They resonate with the sculptors and land artists of the 1960s who used photography as a means to document and circulate their works, but not as their final piece. The result is read the same way as a photograph, contained within the edges of the screen or the paper, but it has a depth that goes beyond the medium’s promise. It’s a remnant of ephemeral matter, that of a vision.
Mona: Your imagery seems less and less anchored in recognizable forms, although you both come from a pretty strong landscape photography background. How do you read these new ‘landscapes’ compared to the ones that you produced earlier on?
Frankie: The major difference between my new works and my earlier works is a refined and personal way of looking. As my process matures, I am learning to utilize outside influences and pre-existing mediations while not simply repeating them. I think a good artist develops their own way of navigating the world and works to translate that personal navigation into some sort of media, and then disseminates that media in hopes of expanding an audience’s own navigation mechanism.
Adam: When I first started programming, writing code that could alter photographic landscapes was the end goal for me. I think the results of such experiments could pretty clearly be labeled as landscape, even after the source image became unrecognizable. As I started moving away from working with a photographic source and towards a purely digital one, it became trickier to designate particular works as purely landscape but instead landscape-esque. In a folder full of pseudo-randomly generated images, some of them will by chance generate the qualifying features of a landscape; you can pick those ones out, but it isn’t necessarily always something that is controlled or planned for.
Frankie: How would you describe your work?
Adam: I find it hard to pin that down, even as the maker, perhaps because the work is often never manifested physically, and the tools that I use change very rapidly. I heard someone use the phrase “screensaver puke” and I think that wraps things up pretty succinctly. Much of the work I’ve made in the last few years has been experimentation, messing with code I find online, or examples files until something interesting begins to appear. In a way, the work becomes a documentation of my learning to program graphics.
Image © Adam Ferriss
Mona: Your practice is very driven by specific mediums and processes, whether analog or digital. What are some softwares/techniques/materials that have inspired you lately and why?
Adam: Been spending a lot of time trying to decipher GLSL shaders on shadertoy.com and glsl.heroku.com. The shader feedback loop has been my weapon of choice lately. It’s essentially the same as opening up photoshop with an image, and then applying an emboss or whatever other filter over and over and over. Making small rotations or transformations to the image plane change the effects. There are a couple really captivating things about the feedback loop. If you get it right it will never die, it is an infinite process of call and response, over and over and over again. Humans sort of operate in a similar way. We cultivate food, eat it, and then turn it back into energy, which (if you’re a farmer) you then use to cultivate more food. Similar things are happening on a more molecular level with the way our body regulates its internal chemistry. Within the abyss of the feedback loop there is infinite variation; they can run forever and never show the same image twice. I’ll start tweaking a particular loop with no real goal in mind, and before I realize it, I’ve spent hours diving into this deep hypnotic hole.
Frankie: To be honest the technical side of my process has become less important to me; I have an interest in all of it, but not so much a passion or fascination. I guess right now on a technical side I am really excited about a new 6×7 camera I just got and this little Sony digital camera. My process of making art is transforming or maybe just surfacing. I am focusing on trying to harness and investigate intense feeling or experience. For example I have been making a lot of work that makes me confront serious real fear, I’ll go out into the deep desert alone at night and force myself to work. Sometimes there is some really scary shit going on. I want to look at why I am feeling a certain way and how that feeling translates into media, how it effects my creating. By making this piece of art, and trying to transcribe an experience, I actually change that memory and my relationship to those emotions, viewers also read the works differently, I am very interested in this disconnect from and re-configuration of that present.
Adam: It seems like most of the series on your site are a mix of representational photographs from the studio & landscape, and the more amorphous textures from chemistry. Perhaps you could talk about your decision-making process when pairing these two disparate image styles, and what exactly the relationship between them might be?
Frankie: I am investigating my own reality and history, specifically how it’s shaped, recorded, and perceived. In the combining of seemingly disparate images I am looking at different perceptions, trying to physicalize experiences I find to be important to the understanding of my history. The straight photographs look at the subject almost as evidence; these moments, people, places or things are being pictured to look at what is directly shaping my reality. The photographs that are somewhat transitory in the “realness,” either abstracted through the photographing, a darkroom mediation, or an installation, mark the slippage between physical sensory perception and a personal interpretation of an event from a removed secondary examination, how I historicize that event. The other non-negative based or studio augmented pieces are different investigations into expanding my own faculties of perception, trying to record the unseen events and energies at play in the subjects I photograph. The chemical pieces are direct exposures of the physical passing of time in a place. These pieces record what is unable to be pictured in a camera-based photograph. In placing these different types of pictures together I am looking at the varied ways I perceive my reality and how that affects my personal history, but also how my personal history affects my perception of reality. I keep speaking in first person saying my reality and my perception, but I would like to point out that my perceived reality is mine and your perceived reality is yours and they are different, but they are not that different.
Image © Frankie Carino
Mona: Since a large part of your process is about pushing your medium and your comfort zone further with each piece, I’m curious to know if you see a difference between works solely born out of that exploration, and others that may feel more purely resolved?
Adam: The majority of my works are born out of exploration or play. To complete a single piece is quite easy this way, but it’s much more difficult to feel like you’ve produced a cogent body of work. For this reason I find it hard to make videos that aren’t just one long take. I do not like to dwell on the editing process, instead I favor an approach that’s more linear real-time/one off. I think this is partially why I’m attracted to feedback loops; they have no start or finish, and they are always unique, never producing the same results twice. Working with the computer allows me a lot of freedom to make tons and tons of work very quickly without really having to reflect on much of it, or worry about spending resources on material goods. When I’m working this way, it’s often hard to even determine what is more or less resolved, especially if there is an algorithm making a lot of the choices on it’s own.
Frankie: Yeah the works born solely out of exploration are hardly ever resolved and normally get torn up. Nothing you’ll ever see is the first exploration, it’s the 10th version that has arrived from that first discovery.
Adam: On the technical side of things, I’d be very interested to hear about the actual chemistry used and your process for creating the chemigrams – inkjet as well as c-print?
Frankie: Okay, okay. I am not going to give you my most secretive recipes but I use all different types of traditional photochemistry. I was working at a darkroom for a number of years maintaining the color processor and developed a relationship and respect for the chemistry and its potential as a writing media. Each chemical is different and reacts to different papers based on many different variables: temperature, dilution, combination of developers, age, paper type, paper exposure, how the chemicals are combined, how long they are applied, etc. For example if you leave a piece of Kodak C paper in the desert for three months with rocks piled on it and then develop it with diluted Ra4 chem, the part of the paper not covered by rocks will go a grey/tan, where there isn’t direct exposure because of dirt and stuff it’ll be yellow, and the paper covered by the rocks getting considerably less exposure to the sun and other elements will go dark blue/ green.
The inkjets are less technical; most of them are printed on the backside of failed c-prints or undeveloped c-paper. Because this paper isn’t receptive to the ink, the ink bleeds and has a very hard time drying. In the drying process and fixing techniques I have found, the ink acts almost as glue picking up dust and other detritus giving the print a texture and a new layer. What is a photograph? Is this inkjet a photograph or mechanical painting?
Image © Frankie Carino
Mona: You both spend a lot of time creating work on the computer or in the studio; how does that time compare to the one spent making work or getting inspiration in the outside world?
Adam: I have a sort of pseudo-studio in the form of the school where I work. There are so many people around a college campus, it’s easy to find someone to get a bit of quick feedback. Having a reason to leave the house and make work elsewhere is really beneficial to finding inspiration. I find working from home almost a little too comfortable and it becomes very easy to get locked in this groove of just piddling around on this or that. I’m sure lots of people know this, but exercise really does help get you out of a creative rut.
Frankie: I am much fonder of working in the outside world, I really enjoy the studio but it comes with a level of consequence that I am able to transcend simply through the enjoyment I experience while being outside. The studio acts as a place for me to realize or finish work that has come from the outside, either as raw material or inspiration. Recently I have started to try and bridge the two by taking my studio approach to the outside world. I just got done living in a tent on a farm where I maintained a small studio section, chemicals and all. By bringing the two so closely together I was able to open up new possibilities, while confronting new problems. For example I had to work completely by headlamp and hand held flashlight giving me a very limited directional beam of light to see the world, this beam and way of seeing ended up influencing the way I was making my pictures and opened up a whole new way of handling light. It is in the mixing of possibilities and problems that my work arrives and matures.
Image © Adam Ferriss
Mona: Although you might still get referred to as photographers, your work truly sits on the edge of photography. What do you feel mostly differentiates your work today from the concerns of straight photography?
Frankie: Specificity. I find that a lot of “straight photography” becomes so stunted by a pre-existing conceptual framework that a photographer finds and then works to illustrate. I think this way of working limits a certain level of play and experimentation that is really beneficial to a creative process. In my work I try to run with my impulses and mistakes, to explore many different ways of arriving at a piece. By maintaining an open-minded process I find that I am constantly butting against my comfort level and having to push beyond it.
Adam: Actually I think I’m finally beginning to shed the photographer tag; I’ve been slowly drifting away from the photo world, even though I do still feel at least little grounded in it. Perhaps that is at odds with my day job running a traditional darkroom and photo lab. If I was ever even close to knowing what the concerns of straight photography were, I definitely don’t know now.
Frankie: What is your relationship to the computer? Is it different from your relationship to the camera?
Adam: Absolutely, I hardly ever use a dedicated camera anymore. I’ve been making a lot of work using the webcam, but I think maybe that’s not quite the same as using a camera that you can pick up and take around with you.
I was trying to make this piece (http://adamferriss.com/feedback/gate3.html) a few weeks ago that used the webcam for a seed image, and the microphone to trigger the camera to take a new image. The program was coded to listen to sounds, but not to make any, however something unexpected happened; if you turned your volume up, the computer would create a noise feedback loop. Similar to those shrill noises you hear when a mic gets too close to a speaker. The odd thing about this particular mistake was that I could control it almost like a theremin, by placing my hands on or near the computer. It was a very intimate moment with the machine, holding the monitor by it’s sides while it sang this strange song it was never intended to sing.
Image © Adam Ferriss
Mona: What are some of the themes that you are currently exploring or dealing with?
Adam: Maybe somewhat related to your previous question, I’ve been thinking about the way we hold and store our digital files and what really differentiates a photograph and a purely digitally created image as files. It’s easy to point to a piece of film and say this is a different media, but photographs as well as more abstract digital work are essentially built from the same pieces in the computer. Both are comprised of big long arrays of numbers, it’s hard to even really determine which one is more ordered or natural.
Frankie: I have started to understand that our societal concept of reality is really limited to our immediate sensory experiences, and thus I have been actively pursuing what is seemingly not there. Making art is how I explore my relationship with existence and push myself beyond material limitations. It is the result of this play with the “established,” I think I am trying to record evidence of other dimensions or planes of reality.
Mona: Adam, your work mostly lives inside computer screens, and Frankie, your prints seem to only be completed when installed or documented in your own way; what is your guys’ approach to displaying your work? Where and how do you want people to experience it?
Frankie: I make almost all of my work with physical display in mind, specifically in a space that has been engendered with “galleryness.” I am very interested in the effect different hanging techniques have on the reading of an artwork. I try to engage the architecture of whatever space I am hanging in, while trying to mix up the ideas of how a photograph is supposed to be displayed. The physicality and installation of my work is very important, I make a lot of my work with the intention that it be experienced in-person. For me that interaction is necessary.
Adam: I really struggle to find interesting ways to present my work offline. For some of my work, the webcam based pieces for instance, are very clearly meant for a browser platform. For others, the answer is a bit murky. The digital parentage/nativity inherent in the processes that create my images binds them to the screen. When I am asked to present this digitally incepted work in printed form, it often feels unnatural.
I personally spend a lot of time in my bed surfing the net, which is such a comfortable art viewing experience. You can get as close as you want and take as much time as you need to get into the work, without feeling like anybody is watching you. I’d like to cultivate that bed-internet-gallery viewing as long as there’s a willing audience.
Image © Frankie Carino
Mona: I think it’s interesting how some of Frankie’s photographs (which are both C-prints and inkjets) can look computer generated in the way that he documents them, given the fact that they are actually very hands-on; Adam, what are your thoughts on those blurry boundaries?
Adam: Yes, especially the chemigrams look like they could have been CG. Computer graphics people spend a lot of energy trying to come up with different ways to simulate the lighting conditions that make an image look convincingly real. To me this is like a reversal of that; how can real things be made to look fake? Ultimately these are now in digital form, and once it has crossed the pixel threshold, for me the material ceases to be a unique chromogenic print and instead becomes jpeg/png.
Frankie: I’ve heard that anything put online can never be removed, that it will live forever. Would this make internet art the most archival art form? “Not acting as just a record of the art but within the intended viewing context”.
Adam: Not by a long shot. If you look at what the internet looked like even 10 years ago, we had flash animations all over the place, and I think geocities sites were still around. Now flash is hardly supported and the only reason we can still look at some of those old sites is because sites like archive.org have been slowly trying to capture a screenshot of everything. There is no guarantee that any file format or protocol will be supported or available even in the near future. I think archival preservation is a true problem for digital and web based works. On the surface digital works can appear immutable, but as soon as the standards and formats change they very quickly become difficult to maintain and preserve.
Image © Frankie Carino
Mona: Frankie, if you got to show some of Adam’s work however way you wanted, how would you go about it? Would you be tempted to print it somehow?
Frankie: I wouldn’t print them at all. I think the Internet and the computer is a very interesting place to show art. I would have his show all over the web, each piece would be on a different website that would range across many different types of sites, from Albertson’s.com to wanderingbears.co.uk. I like the idea of using the navigation of the web and its variability to show art, an online pop-up scavenger hunt art show.
Adam: What do you consider as the materials of your work? Is it the chemistry and paper used to produce the print, the documented image, or the edited documentation?
Frankie: This is kind of a hard question to answer. The materials are the paper and the chemicals, or whatever the physical material is. But I found early on that my straight documentations weren’t doing what I wanted, but we live in a digital age where things must be online. Instead of compromising and accepting the documentations’ shortcomings, I decided to exploit the failures and highlight the fact that the viewer is seeing a removed version of the piece in a secondary context. The edited documentations have become works in themselves, so I don’t know what the specific material really is for these. I would maybe even stretch that they are my version of digital art; they are specifically made for the Internet.
Mona: What and who are some of the artists/things/people/activities that fuel your work these days?
Adam: Really been enjoying going to and hanging with the people that run Ghosting.tv (Johnny Woods, Steve Smith from Globodigital Home Video, Ricky and Kristel of The Great Nordic Sword Fights, & Sam Newell), I’ve learned a lot chatting with Andrew Benson, Vince McKelvie, Felix Woitzel, and Matthew Plummer Fernandez. Also been spending a ton of time looking at work from Sarah Ludy, JJ Stratford, Sabrina Ratte, Yoshi Sodeoka, & LaTurbo Avedon.
Frankie: Artist wise: Matt Connors, Jean-Baptiste Bernadet, Liz Deschenes, this new work by John Gossage, my buddy Chris Hanke, Phil Chang, Duchamp, Richter, list is endless. I am really into music; right now: Cass McCombs, Leonard Cohen is my dad, Connan Mockasin, F.J. McMahon, and anything my buddy Dan Abary does specifically Four Visions. Beyond that: Graham Hancock’s unconventional theories of ancient history, the philosophy of Michel Foucault, the planetarium, space in general, hiking, long drives, esoteric conversations, kissing, and taking my dog on walks. Oh and I finally started to watch movies, and saw 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, and I am way down.
Mona: What are some of your favorites things about living in LA right now? Do you feel that it is conducive to your creative process and lifestyle?
Frankie: LA is great; I moved out here just over a year ago from NYC and am in love. LA has a very interesting and fun art scene that feels really good. The chilled out atmosphere is a very conducive place to interact with art. I love the fact that I can drink a Tecate, and eat chips and salsa while looking at $100,000 paintings. I have found a good group of like-minded young artists who are constantly schooling me and pushing me to progress my work. I can’t really imagine a better place for me to be making things. LA has a small town feel within a huge metropolitan area and all the amenities to boot, the mix is perfect for me. Right now I am really into the tomatoes in Ojai, exploring weird hidden hilltop neighborhoods, eating Chile Relleno burritos, the Hammer, Human Resources, Mike Kelly just closed and that was incredible, dog life, and my access to the desert and mountains.
Adam: The proximity to so many varied biomes, beach/mountains/desert/forest, everything is just a day trip away. Also there is immense value to me in the form of cheap burritos. LA is a travel hub, so there are always new people coming through. Having the chance to meet up with so many different people in person is awesome, I think I’ve met a lot of great people that I wouldn’t have otherwise come into contact with had I been living in a more isolated locale.
Frankie: Do you think that the internet would outlive human beings if there was some sort of catastrophe that wiped out our race? Could the internet be intercepted or discovered in the future by either a new race inhabiting earth or by ET’s?
Adam: Perhaps just as well as any other remnant of our culture. According to yahoo answers, the earliest human radio signals are already some 100 light years away from Earth, so definitely possible. It’s a whole new audience for your work to consider.
This article was brought to you by Mona Varichon.
Mona Varichon is a 26 year old photo editor & artist originally from Paris. Having graduated from Paris Descartes University in 2009 with a BA in Sociology, Mona lived in Montreal from 2008 to 2011 (at the time she was mostly playing the French horn in a number of local bands). In 2011 she moved to San Francisco and graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2014 with a BFA in Photography and Urban Studies. Mona now works as a photo editor, and the rest of the time she’s making work along side running her blog An Ocean In the City.