essays

Slipping Man
by John Fergus-Jean

Each of our day to day lives is filled with "the simplest acts and gestures" that we hold deep within our memory. There they remain until some ordinary but unexpected event causes a sudden shifting in us to release them. That chance imbalance, a moment of slipping, can ignite extraordinary remembrance.

In this respect David Seltzer is evocative of a slipping man. He is a man who walks with unveiled senses, perceiving subtle shifts in daily life patterns. He catches these events as they seep from the thousand sealed vessels of his memory. ln this way Seltzer uses the events of his daily life and transforms them into images of transparent memory. And, in the act of catching them on sensitized paper, they are recreated anew. The events are more alive; the shadows are more ominous; and the silence becomes shattering.

Slipping is a useful metaphor to describe Seltzer’s work. A slip is not planned, nor is it invited; it simply arrives unannounced, sharpening the senses and throwing the mind and body into the now. So too, does Seltzer’s art making process invite such accidents, fortuitous or otherwise, to speak of his life. In his studio he often allows months of time and events to inflect and form his images. Sometimes years may pass between photographing a subject and the addition of imagery, text and toning. In his studio images are in perpetual process, some in piles or pinned to the wall, others soaking in water with parts of their emulsions floating away, some more forgotten then remembered, and some framed and allowed to steep into his psyche in a more formal way.

David Seltzer’s photographs are large scale black and white compositions of negative and positive images. His images have a layered quality, the result of the heavily manip- ulated collaged surfaces which are evolved over time. Seltzer uses a variety of applied techniques to resurface the images, including elements of texts, marks, scratchings, erasures, cuts, and gouges. He photographs people and situations which are a part of his environment. These include his friends, neighbors, strangers, lovers, and animals; which are then displayed in the ironic and often erotic situations as they occurred in his life. There are two movements at play within Seltzer’s work. On the one hand there is an inherent "otherness in his work that could be considered as provocatory; yet in another respect the work is autobiographical, containing glimpses of the disquieting exposures, developments, and fixations of his personal life. These he approaches with severe purpose; as Miles Barth has said"...He holdsthe camera to his own life the way someone attempting suicide might point a gun to his head."

Seltzer describes his images as "a sort of tightrope walk" taken over the risks, decisions, and detours in his here and now. This visceral relationship can be seen oscillating within his work; appearing as inflections of gesture, form, and content melded in recirculating surfaces which seem to fade even as they emerge. In this sense his images embody the ebb and flow of his lived experience as expressed in multiple graphic notations.

As Seltzer works on an image, he often uses agitated marks or mannerist splashes of pigments and bleaches to inscribe cryptic messages, titles or unanswerable questions into his negatives and prints. These layered effects posit a double nature in which overlaid typewritten texts also become veils; hand written passages become the containers of touch and gesture; saturated tones and stains reveal temperaments; scratches, marks and abrasions give form to irritations; unsharpness and image grain are dissipation; and applied colors become the auras of emotion and sensuality. David SeItzer’s images are also his personal body knowledge. He embodies them with an internal awareness that weaves his lived experience into their worked surfaces; thus, the bleachings, darkenings, ironies, humors, and eroticism in his images are as much felt as they are seen. Light and its corollary of darkness are fundamental sources of illumination in his work. In the practical sense, his images contain physical illuminations reflected from the things in his life; and in the metaphorical sense, they contain the illumination of his relationship to those things. Both poles of illumination, light and darkness, operate in his images.

Light is scaled by a darkness that is also physical and mental; this darkness pervades his work, seeming to emerge from some fathomless depth in his unconscious psyche. This interplay conveys deep polarities of chaos, balance, presence and loss. Thus, illumination is a transcendent metaphor that resonates with Seltzer’s world view, in his images, and within the endless levels and endless contexts of his unconscious "shadow seIf."

Seltzer’s images and processes are thus not removed from the flow of his life; rather, his extended art process creates a multiplicity of entry points in his ongoing text. The images are flash points in his here and now, the trace evidence he uses to rejoin his slips in and out of one place and another. ln this regard, for him they are more events than objects; and like an unexpected slip, the reworking of his images forces an interior shifting toward equilibrium in his life. In David SeItzer’s images one can never fully arrive. This is because they are themselves unfolding events, dynamic processes whose function is to create relationship not category. In this way his lived experience sculpts his images, and becoming is a main destination.

SeItzer’s images are like peripheral visions from the high wire. They tell of gravity — the constant attraction of bodies in space, spontaneous confrontations in his life, equilibrium, and sunriving. In this respect, as in electricity, the difference between polarities determines potential energy; and in Seltzer’s work the psychic distance between slipping and desolation is enormous.

His immersions and imbalances are absorbed in his imagery; and it is the involuntary nature of it all that imbues his life and art with energy. In this sense his images have a kind of built in peril — the possibility of losing grasp, slipping, and falling. Paradoxically, this quality of peril is the transcendent function that allows him to remember his life in image.

- John Fergus-Jean

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Modern Hieroglyphics
by Miles Barth

How correctly will our interpretations of life today be understood by future generations? Will they be able to decipher our dress, decor, architecture, customs and habits? More importantly, are we communicating the feelings we have of ourselves and our relationships through our current visual means? Will a simple encounter distinguish itself from a life long passion? When we view prehistoric cave paintings where men are chasing wild beasts, do we assume the predominant activity is survival or sport?
Until the second half of the twentieth century our evaluation of a visual impression and consequent evaluation of the visual image were based on factual information. We accepted the photograph as being (for the most part) true, comprised at unaltered facts and indisputable realism. There have been some exceptions to this premise, but only in the last three decades have "storytellers" who use the photographic medium emerged.

These stories live between reality (by using matter we recognize) and Fantasy (by using images that perplex or provoke our sensitivities). l would like to limit my discussion of photographic storytellers to three of the main practitioners of the visual narrative today. Duane Michaels is best known for his use of separate images, photographed and arranged in sequence, to bring us through a script he has carefully composed. His final presentation, usually dealing with human sexuality, has the same structure as most literature or musical compositions: a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Jerry Uelsmann uses the highly elaborate and technical aspects of the darkroom to create serene dream·like images. Sometimes they are composed of more than five different negatives printed on the same sheet of paper. These composites, with their overlaid information, invoke cerebral messages that have no other meaning than the one which our own mind originates.

Most recently, the photographs of Joel Peter Witkin have captured the interest of the photographic world: the disfigured human form, performers from circus sideshows, animals, and religious icons play roles in a history Witkin is recontextualizing. The meaning of his photographs can be subtle, the imagery is anything but. The photographs aggressively assault the very nature of our beliefs and challenge our previously conceived notions of humanity. These photographers have used the photographic process to guide us in different directions than their predecessors. With their craft and invention they have altered many historically accepted methods of viewing photographic prints and created a more literate object.

David Seltzer's photographs continue this tradition. He holds the camera to his own life the way someone attempting suicide might point a gun to his head. When I first viewed his work, l was struck by the direct, unencumbered display of his subjects. Seltzer is not afraid to expose a raw nerve. The situations in his photographs dwell on emotions not often recorded and memories not usually retained. They are part documentary, part the authors not-so-subtle commentary.

With the occasional exception of Joel Peter Witkin, the physical properties of Seltzer's prints differ from those of the photographers previously mentioned. His narrative (sometimes overlaying the entire image) is not concerned with ‘ describing the subject of the print, but rather acts as an analogous dialogue that allows the photographer to report at greater length than the photographic image alone can support. Working more as a painter in a certain respect, his prints are unique: no two made from the same negative are alike. Selective developing, a variety of hand-applied toners, and random scratches or carvings made on the negative, all are techniques displaying Seltzer's turbulent energy.

Inevitably, the remembrance of each situation depicted will change the further apart the photographer grows from it. Subsequent printings from the negatives (some taking place ten years alter the event) will reflect that distance, also. However, there is no doubt that on the walls of this photographer's psyche the version of the images depicted here will forever be engraved.
- Miles Barth