Robert and Shana Parkeharrison construct extraordinarily-rich and enchanting photographic images that I find fascinating. Robert has described his work as 'stories of loss, human struggle, and personal exploration within landscapes scarred by technology and over-use'. By using traditional methods in contemporary ways, they create images that distance themselves from the typical qualities of photographs.
In a body of work, does producing an image create a starting point for more work, or is an entire series mapped out at the start?
Sort of both scenarios take place. We work in a series of images. Each grouping begins with research, progresses onto dialogue and drawings. We then build sets and props and look for appropriate settings. All along the way an image can change. We then compile the images in the darkroom or the computer where more changes can occur. There can even be backtracking at this point --where we change an idea, or reshoot a particular portion of an image. Once a series/grouping of images is complete we have discussions about what worked, what failed, and how we'd like to proceed. Inevitably, we have favorites which inspire us to move in a specific direction.
The series The Architects Brother is arguably your most famous work, there are various claims (even that of photoshop!) of the various processes used in their creation. Could you clarify some of the techniques?
The images for the Architect's Brother date from 1993 through to 2005. Photoshop was not used on these works. We merged multiple images through an adapted form of the paper negative process. In this process we still had to shoot the various components of an images, with the other components in mind (angle, depth of field, lighting etc)
Paper negatives allowed us to collage various images into one image. It is a lengthy process that requires a back and forth process from paper negatives, paper positives, drawing and contact printing. Once a final image was completed we then mounted it and painted on the photograph. This painting process consisted on many, many layers of washes. This further distanced the final image from qualities of photography.
There is obviously a lot of process knowledge and technical skill that goes into work such as The Architects Brother but that seemed to be the first time you appeared as artists, what photographically had you being doing previously?
We started the Architect's Brother series while we were in graduate school. It evolved over a twelve year period. Of course we both did work in undergrad and grad school, but by 1992 the ideas that led to the series were building and obvious in the experiments. Shana studied painting in undergrad and dance history and metalsmithing in grad school. Bob studied photo in both undergrad and grad. We both approach photography as outsiders. It is simply one component within our process.
What is it about a pre/post human earth that has attracted you so much, is this a reaction to humankinds ongoing affect on the planet?
We went to grad school in New Mexico. The landscape and culture impacted our ideas dramatically. We saw the stark difference between consumer culture/ military machine and the thoughtful, caring culture of the Native Americans. In New Mexico our preoccupation with the triangular relationship of humans, technology and nature developed.
I believe counterpoint to be digitally-outputted and then hand-manipulated, is this physical interaction with your work important to your practice?
In our new work we use a digital camera and an analog camera. In both cases we merge images via photoshop. The final prints are mounted on dibond and painted extensively. If you have the opportunity to see one of our large painted images, it will become clear why we paint on them. But the best explanation we can give is that the photograph is really not completed until it is painted. It becomes three dimensional. It has depth. The color intensity is enhanced through the layering colors.
Do you keep a journal or sketchbook?
Yes----all the time.
Do you prefer particular formats / cameras / materials, or do you see them as a means to an end?
We often joke that the camera that is not broken is the one that gets used! But some images invite us to use our medium format analog camera, while others are better suited to a digital camera.
Your output is very confined to the individual series’ you create; do you work on other projects or shoot recreationally?
We are constant working on something. But mostly we stay focused on a new body of images. We rarely shoot recreationally---we are not really photographers in that way.
Are there things you would like a viewer to take away from your work, or are you happy for them to make their own interpretations?
We provide the questions.
Are you currently working on anything or have any future projects?