v1.10 / Doug Fogelson & the Leaves of Sure Obliteration

“. . . my fateful collaborator (Chance itself) . . . “

“And while I know the best results are usually found in the tension between representation and abstraction, my mind is still pulled toward complete obliteration,” says Doug Fogelson.

Fogelson’s reflections recall for me a line from Wallace Stevens’ “Sunday Morning,” where death “strews the leaves / of sure obliteration on our paths,” and yet, she “makes the willows shiver in the sun / For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze / Upon the grass.”

I’m no maiden, alas—but do I sit and gaze at these photographs as if they were willows shivering in the sun? Yes I do. Yes I did. Yes I will.—CB

Doug Fogelson:
On Collaborating with Chance

"Ceaseless No. 1" LaPorte, Indiana © Doug Fogelson
The two main parts of my process are 1.) heading out into the landscape to photograph and 2.) altering the developed film with household chemicals back at the studio. When I am outside I’m looking for things to catch or hold my interest in a way that feels different than traditional landscape images. These tend to be cluttered spaces— there is something about either the lushness or relationship of “harmony vs. competition” of foliage growing that seems telling. I also like to use a method of overlapping multiple exposures along a roll of film so that space and time merge within the picture plane.
"Creative Destruction No. 3" Presque Isle, Wisconsin © Doug Fogelson
The physical touch is important to both process and concept. On one hand we’ve affected non-human life around the planet in such invasive ways that every picture is a portrait of the Anthropocene, and on the other hand, the synthetic chemicals I apply to film provide a direct and violent visual metaphor to that same end. Reflecting climate change impact via the destruction of photographs can open a dialog around themes of beauty, change, loss, and responsibility.
"Nadir No. 3" Hegewisch, Illinois © Doug Fogelson
As the emulsion melts from full “natural” color down to the three layers of yellow, magenta, and cyan, new forms begin to emerge. It is almost the reverse of watching a classic black and white image develop in the tray under a safelight. Layers of die coupler wash away and emulsions wave like tattered flags rapidly disintegrating. Bubbles can sit upon and burn into the film’s surface; sometimes these get fixed to the image. During the drying process salt-like crystals form, as can snowflake or branch patterns, and then everything flying in the dust gets stuck in the image too.
“Creative Destruction No. 7” Ojai, California © Doug Fogelson
“Creative Destruction No. 7” Ojai, California © Doug Fogelson
It’s hard to get used to the loss as original pieces of film rapidly bleach out and go into complete abstraction. Try as I might this is a perilous endeavor and my fateful collaborator (Chance itself) often chooses the scorched earth policy over a strategic strike on the target. I often think of Rauschenberg’s Erased DeKooning piece as an inspiration. And while I know the best results are usually found in the tension between representation and abstraction, my mind is still pulled toward complete obliteration.
"Twilight No. 8" Port Antonio, Jamaica © Doug Fogelson
Ultimately I am in love with the film’s potential to record light’s energy. This tangible plastic coated object has a capacity that repeatedly delights me and even during its demise brings something forth. Maybe this is another metaphor. The memory of a particular air, land, and the life experienced when I was out in the field becomes toned in acidic colors and the flat signifier slips out of register. There is the hint of discovery as each stage in the process reflects both growth and decay, mechanical reproduction, and the deepening human stain upon a porous earth.