Doug Fogelson’s Year

Victor M. Cassidy

Doug Fogelson, Field Work.

Doug Fogelson is the ne plus ultra of polymaths. He’s a photographer of architectural interiors—that’s how he eats. He’s a photo artist too, who invented a way to make horizontal panoramas with multiple overlapping exposures (more on this below). Sometimes he shoots straightforward art photographs, such as his images of a man covering himself with a survival blanket.

Fogelson has produced many photograms or camera-less photographs. He makes these by placing objects directly onto unexposed black and white photo paper or color film and then exposing it to light. The result is a shadow image that varies in tone depending on the transparency of the objects used and the direction and intensity of the light. Areas of the paper that received no light come out lighter in color than those that were exposed.

Fogelson is also founder/director of Front 40 Press, which publishes books and recordings. As he tells it, a Front Forty Press project “embodies uninhibited creativity and deals with current topics. The work can be functional, political, ecological or simply expressive. What matters most is the cultivation and communication of ideas.”

There are nine books in Front Forty’s backlist and five products including “Green Dynamite,” which is a paper tube closed at both ends with green pipe cleaner sticking out of the top like a wick. Inside is a mixture of seed from 50 native wildflowers and grasses that grow in the Chicago area.

Fogelson is an artist of ideas, who creates non-commercial installations and photographs that he sells. His work is consistently idea-driven. The people or natural objects in his imagery serve his themes and he does not probe beneath the surface. Whatever it depicts, most of his photo imagery is flat patterns.

Doug Fogelson, Sakura, 2008.

The Seasonal Project

Fogelson is having four exhibitions in 2010, one for each season. This program, he explains, celebrates “the flow of time” and “the magic to be found at different times of the year.”

Salt Room (Winter on the Moon), the winter show, was up in February and early March of 2010 at Studio 1020. Three thousand pounds of rock salt covered the gallery floor. There were five piles of differing height. Photograms on the wall depicted “salt experiments” in which Fogelson dropped salt and brine onto unexposed black and white photo paper. Visitors had to walk on the rock salt to enter the gallery and the artist invited them to “just sit on the floor for a while and touch the salt,” a substance that suggests snow, healing, and the earth to him.

Doug Fogelson, Field Work.

Sakura, the spring show, went up in May at Pagoda Red, a high-end Chinese antique store. Fogelson showed roughly fifteen multiple exposure photographic panoramas of cherry blossoms (Sakura) also a video of their growth and change. He explains that the blooming of Japanese Sakura “marks the change of the seasons from winter to spring,” and also symbolizes “the transience of life.”

In 2009, the artist had traveled to Japan in order to photograph Sakura as they bloomed. He worked mostly on Yoshino Mountain, which he calls “the most revered area” of Japan for cherry blossom viewing. As he tells it, the images in Sakura led the viewer “through the seasons and metaphorically through the changes in life—from winter to spring; from early budding to full bloom, to mature leaf.”

Sakura was particularly appealing because Fogelson’s photo panoramas integrated seamlessly with Pagoda Red’s antiques. The photos talked to the furniture and the furniture talked back. The panoramas were deliciously pink, which was just the right color for spring. They had a painterly quality, which added another layer of suggestion.

Fogelson has made multiple exposure photographs for several years: the Sakura images are his latest. He makes them by shooting with vintage range finder cameras that allow him to advance the film by hand as much or as little as he likes. He shoots, advances the film slightly, shoots again, advances again, and so on to create multiple overlapping exposures. After developing a roll of film, he inspects it; drum scans the best parts into a computer, prepares high-resolution output from this, and makes C prints. He could make overlapping images on a computer, but prefers this mechanical process.

Doug Fogelson, Georgia, 2003.

Field Work

The summer show, called Field Work, opened at the Chicago Urban Art Society on August 13 and will be up until September 25. Environment is a major theme in this show, but the artist focuses on roots, soil, and earth architecture rather than the plants and animals that we see in most green-themed art. Environmental art is all the rage nowadays, but Fogelson’s is refreshingly unsentimental and free of uplift.

Fogelson cut exposed roots from storm-downed trees and used them to make five elegant black and white photograms. The nicest one is just a trunk with a root ball that’s so open and loose that it almost seems to be moving. Roots 5, the most ambitious of the photograms is an abstract root-based pattern presented on twelve pieces of 16 x 20 paper.

The artist asked friends to mail him soil samples from nine parts of the country, which he scattered on color film to make photograms. New Mexico soil has pine needles mixed into it, while there are strange rock-like lumps in the soil of Brooklyn (what did you expect?). The artist mounted twelve of these photograms on transparency film in a beauteous light box.

Fogelson says that rammed earth is one of the oldest—and still one of the most common—ways to make a building. Field Work includes five sculptural pieces—Bench, Table, Shikako Flag, Dirt Throne, and 1:1000 (pedestal)–made from rammed subsoil, clay, plant material, and topsoil.

In rammed earth construction, earth is pounded into a box-shaped mold, which is then removed, leaving an earthen wall, block, or other form that can be used to make the thermal shell of a building. Rammed earth advocates say that these structures are strong, quiet, healthy, termite-free, fire-resistant, comfortable, and environmentally responsible.

Neon Wilderness Redux, Fogelson’s upcoming fall show at Heaven Gallery is “going more into the conceptual mind frame via text, neon, installation, and some small photographs,” he states. However the show turns out, we’re sure that it will be fresh and provocative—and we look forward to it.