Doug Ethridge is a photographer who refuses to get pigeonholed into one style, process or approach. He’s constantly reinventing his visions and has most recently created a body of work entitled 27 Mornings In Winter which is on view from January 14- February 7 at Lightbox Gallery in Astoria, Oregon.
Doug first gained notice with a series that he shot with a Hasselblad Xpan entitled Solitary Voyagers.
I first wrote about Doug’s platinum series Waypoints in my April 2010 column for Black & White Photography.
I then wrote about Doug’s color series Primordial Seas for F-stop Magazine last year.
Here’s an excerpt from a conversation we had a few days ago.
SUSAN BURNSTINE: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?
DOUG ETHRIDGE: My first year of college, I borrowed a friend’s Yashica 124 and created a book of b&w prints as a gift for a friend. It seemed like a good idea at the time even though I had never been in a darkroom before. In the process I had to teach myself how to process film and make prints, and I think this really is what got me going. Since then the idea of using a series of images to tell a story has been with me every step of the way.
SB: You were once a professional jazz musician. Can you discuss how your musical talents have informed your visual talents?
DE: Professional is probably a stretch but at one point I was actually good enough to play in public. I started music lessons when I was five. To me, the entire process of learning music is directly applicable to photography. From seeing patterns, the obvious rewards of practice, utilizing a mechanical device for artistic expression, listening and thinking, and ultimately getting to the point where you are flying on instinct and experience without conscious thought. All these things apply.
The other similarity to music is the performance aspect. If we can agree that music and visual arts are sort of non-verbal languages, then you need a reality check once in a while to see if you are communicating anything. If you just practice in your room all day, then you really have no point of reference. So showing or performing the work is a critical component. Not that we have to value our selves entirely on the response or opinions of others, but if you put a body of work out there and nobody at all responds, then it’s an indication that maybe you need a little more practice. What excites me the most is when I get a spectrum of responses; that tells me I’ve put enough emotion into the work to stimulate some emotion back, even if it’s an entirely different emotion that I put in.
SB: Your recent series 27 Mornings In Winter recently opened as a solo exhibition at Lightbox Photographic in Astoria, Oregon. What was the impetus for the still series and also the original video?
DE: In the Northwest we have these long and sometimes very depressing winters. At some point, it gets to be too much. So a few years ago I decided to embrace that moment and get out every morning to make a little film. Those miserable days turned into magical moments of discovering the uniqueness of each day, even if it was simply a different texture or smell of the rain. As I was editing the film, I kept seeing these lovely new images coming about from layering multiple layers of video, dissolving and so on. I began exporting some of those frames and playing around with making prints from them. It took about two years off and on to find the right way to print them.
SB: This is your second series printed in platinum. Can you tell me a bit about your history with this process and the creative genesis for these particular images?
DE: I am always up for learning something new. A part of me was really missing the darkroom, and a good friend, Ron Reeder is a master of the digital negative and platinum/palladium process. He also loves to share this knowledge. So it was pretty much a no brainer to sit in with Ron and learn the workflow. The digital part of it is all the same skills I already had after a decade of Photoshop, and the rest is simply being meticulous. I love the sort of Zen quality of tearing the paper to size, hand-coating the sensitizer, tweaking contrast, the whole deal. These particular images were printed with several other methods before I tried them in platinum/palladium and that seemed like the right answer.
SB: Is there one image with this body of work that you are most proud of or perhaps one that embodies the complete spirit and intent of your imagery?
DE: One any given day I might choose one or another, but they are all favorites or I wouldn’t show them at all. There are many, many more that will likely never see the light of day.
SB: You have shot in a number of your series in digital, some with film, some in color, some in black and white. Can you talk a bit about the variety of work you’ve created over the course of your career and how your process has transitioned from using state of the art digital technology to applying different alternative processes in your work?
DE: It is really important to me to change it up, to grow, to learn. I experiment constantly with different cameras, films, digital approaches, papers, presentation methods, even print sizes. Each informs the other and I rotate through these methodologies based on what I think will work best for specific content. All of my work usually starts with a question, “can I make a picture of …” and the … can be an idea, an emotion, whatever. Then I try to make that image. If/when I am successful, I try to make another one, and then another, and eventually, there is a body of work (or not!). Sometimes the answer is in color, sometimes b&w, sometimes video, sometimes a still. But whatever it is, I have to be able to prove to myself that a particular body of work is best presented in a particular way by testing it out in several different possible methods.
SB: You mentioned that you will be working on additional videos for this body of work. Can you tell me a bit about the approach and concept for future videos for this work and how it may grow or change from the first video?
My friend John Scanlan at Verve planted the bug in my ear to make 27 Mornings In Winter into a “four seasons” project. I was too busy with commercial work during the summer to shoot then, but I spent a lot of time thinking about the idea. When fall came, I was ready to roll, and I have shot all the footage for a new film. The rough cut is done and needs to marinate a while before I look at it again. I have already made a handful of still that I quite like. The concept expanded from essentially my immediate neighborhood on out to the coast and the rain forest. So far it is more dense, more textural.
SB: What are you working on now?
DE: I’m working on the second film and the accompanying prints. Thinking about another chapter of the winter film. Working out ideas for a long-standing question about water and clouds. I have some technical experiments to work on for a mixed alternate process printing concept I have. Off to Cuba in February and France in June and new work will come from those trips. The content will be location-driven and probably some combination of digital and film.
To see more of Doug’s work pop over to his website.