Matthew Dols Interview about his photographic series ‘Sentimentalist’
F-Stop: How did you first become involved in photography and what led to working in this medium as an artist?
Matthew: I became involved in photography through a series of events over a period of time. When I was in high school, my older brother was taking photography so my parents set up a home darkroom in our basement bathroom. One day all of my brothers’ equipment was stolen from his car, so he stopped doing photography all together, leaving the darkroom unused. So the next year in school I enrolled in photography. I played with it throughout high school and early college, but it was just “fun” not my major in college. Then I transferred to the University of Iowa as a junior with the intention of being a Native American studies major (it was one of only three such degree programs in the country). But when I arrived they told me I would need to start over as a freshman in order to receive the degree. So, on a whim in my counselors office, I said screw it, I will be an artist and changed my major to Fine Art.
I chose photography because I have very little dexterity or patience for painting, sculpting and drawing. At the time, photography was a great mystery, when you took a picture on film, you did not know what you had captured until you developed the film and got in the darkroom. That sense of excitement and anticipation (sometimes failure) was enticing to me. Other mediums are a direct result of the combination of my hand and my mind, photography is more of an interpretation via a machine and science to create imagery. That balancing act of creativity, science, and technology still keeps me interested in the future of the medium.
F-Stop: I like the idea of your images in the series “Sentimentalist” representing a “myriad of experiences and expectations” blended together and not just of that person but also from your past. The resulting images create a sense of a sort of blindness, not seeing all that is there. Do you see these as portraits that represent or reveal something about the sitter or are they more about you in some way?
Matthew: The images represent the way in which I see people over a span of time. When I first meet someone I have a clear picture of them, then after I have known them for 5 or 10 years, I have changed, and so have they. Therefore the idea of them becomes not just the memory, or the reality today, it encompasses all my interactions with them even as far as the potential future versions of them. Alfred Stieglitz had the concept that if you put all the photos of a person over the course of their life together in one exhibition that it represented a “composite portrait”. So this work is taking that idea a step farther by actually taking 100’s of photos of one person and compositing them together in one image to create an essence of that person. A single image expressing blended memory and potential future of the person.
F-Stop: In reading your statement about this work I was left with the impression these are all portraits of women you know or have known or maybe have dated, is that true? How do you choose your subjects for this project?
Matthew: No, these images are not people I have dated or even known. (I will explain more farther down)
F-Stop: Do you have a favorite image in this series? If so, which one and why is it the image that speaks to you most?
Matthew: My favorite image changes with my mood. The colors and the shapes of the figures speak to me differently at different times. Each image represents a different mood or impression of a person at a given moment in time, and my outlook on life changes so my interest in different images changes with me.
F-Stop: Can your discuss your process for making these images?
Matthew: This series of work began as a reaction to one thing, and then the final images grew into representing something completely different.
When it began this work I was reacting to the proliferation of pornography in this age of the internet, romance has been lost in favor of graphic blunt representation of sex and sexual desire. To create these images, I downloaded entire series of soft-core pornography from various websites on the internet. I took all of the photographs from the entire series and layered them on top of one another in a single file in Adobe Photoshop. I than adjusted the opacity of all of the layers from 100% to 1%. Then I flattened the file into one layer. I then processed the images with Auto Contrast, Auto Color, Auto Contrast. No other manipulations were done to the images. This entire process came about because I wanted to take something graphic and crass and reinterpret it as something romantic. My attempt to remind a society that is inundated by pornography that romance is still one of the most important things in life.
I have made over 5000 of these images, but only found that about 100 of them are incredibly successful. I find that this ratio of failure to success is indicative of the nature of friendships, romance, and love. The many failures make the successes that much sweeter.
F-Stop: Is this series on going or is it complete?
Matthew: Yes, the work is evolving, I am beginning to use my own source images to make them about people that I do know.
F-Stop: What are you working on now?
Matthew: In addition to continuing to work on the evolution of the Sentimentalist work, I am completing a collaborative book with an old friend in NYC, Tim A. Jones. The introduction reads:
My relationship with her started exactly 20 years ago. This was not a conventional affair and has always been difficult to describe. What was most profound to me was our continued correspondence over the years regardless of where or who we were at the time. We always returned to one another, in the same natural way that might affect the tides.
The following pages are a series of still moments from our relationship. The text is compiled from letters from her and diary entries from me.
I was only in her presence 20 days over 20 years.
– The book is titled ’20 days over 20 years’.
more information: http://www.matthewdols.com
F-Stop: What photographers or other artists inspire you?
Matthew: My influences range greatly, some because of the time in my life that I was introduced to there work, others because of the work itself. Many of them have no direct relationship to my work, but I highly respect them for the various strengths that they have offered in the perpetuation of Fine Art. Some artists influence me because of their technical processes, others for the concepts, but all of them posses a passion to create beautiful and engaging works of art.
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