CRAIG VARJABEDIAN writing
Writing is an integral part of my work as a artist. It allows me to record thoughts and ideas about process and document the work as it unfolds. The following are excerpts from books, blog posts, quotes from interviews and articles I have written over the years.
“That said, I hadn’t at first considered myself a photographer who made revealing and insightful photographs of people—images in which something meaningful about the subject was revealed. I saw myself as a photographer of the natural scene. But I’m aware of what makes a compelling portrait. One of my favorite portraits is of Winston Churchill, a photograph made by Yousuf Karsh in 1941. Churchill was posing, smoking as usual, and Karsh snatched the cigar out of his fingers. Churchill glowered at him, Karsh released the shutter, and the rest is history. And that’s what makes the portrait authentic—seeing the defiance, the sheer force of the man come through in the image.
A good portrait reveals something deeper about the person in front of the camera. It’s not just a record of what someone looked like, as in a passport photograph. It’s the essential or poetic element of a person—that quintessential aspect that we remember, laugh about, cry about, love, or even fear. I call this “poetic identification,” because poetry is supposed to be just that, the essence of what the writer wants you to feel. Those are the photographs I like and the ones I strive to make.”
–Essay, “Archie West and Buddy, San Marcos, New Mexico 2001,” Four & Twenty Photographs: Stories from Behind the Lens, 2007
“Western landscape has long been a part of the American imagination. But rather than focus on a specific imaginative idea, my work communicates directly to the imagination: not the land, but what the land does to us. I look at intimate relationship with landscape and its elements, such as light and texture, to create metaphors. Therefore, the work transcends the boundaries of ordinary perception. It is as much about receptivity as it is creativity. I have photographed Ghost Ranch in order to create a body of work that captures its luminous grandeur through changes in the season, weather, mood, and time. The cliffs Georgia O’Keeffe painted were caught by her in one gleaming glowing moment – but the moment lasts forever in the minds of her viewers. However, the cliffs themselves are constantly changing, reflecting not only the moving sun but also the seasons, the time of day, the angle from which viewed. Ghost Ranch is composed of light, color, and texture, all in transition. In order to see the whole of Ghost Ranch, I have followed its changes – for onlychange allows for the fullness of existence and appearance.”
–Exhibition Prospectus, Ghost Ranch and the Faraway Nearby, 2009
“Even if I were to capture the countless stars overhead or corral the clouds in our boundless skies, such images would fail to reflect the variety of our individual imaginations of New Mexico. Here the vistas morph daily—sands shift overnight and the ever-present sun moves across the land so that no place is ever illuminated in quite the same way. This place never really ends—every time you make a photograph, another star is born, waiting to be named.
It is my hope that from my images, even of places that you know, new visions will leap out at you, offering something deeper. If you listen carefully, New Mexico speaks to you, and that’s what I hope these photographs reveal: a dream of memory and of feeling. If the result is a collection of images that transcends its earthly confines of ink and paper, then I will have succeeded.
The dream that is New Mexico still exists, to be sure. It is in the mountains. It is in the desert. It is in the sky. It is home. You have a place.”
–Essay, “A Photographer’s Dream,” Landscape Dreams, A New Mexico Portrait, 2012
“The light in these images was discovered many years ago out on a vast plain just south of Santa Fe. My friend Anthony, an Omaha Indian, walked out into the tall grass in his most beautiful regalia. The sun was low on the horizon and the light was turning everything a beautiful shade of pale luminous orange. Just when I was about to release the shutter, my friend Sadie’s hybrid wolf wandered into the scene and joined the moment. As Chief Dan George aptly observes in the film Little Big Man, “Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t.” This time the magic worked.
The faces of the Native American people I photograph reveal to me a profound sense of the sacred. These people are descendants of those I first encountered in images by photographer Edward Curtis that I admired in a photo history class long ago. I remember being deeply moved by what I saw projected on the screen that day. Curtis’s photographs reveal something awesome (in its truest sense)—something that is majestic and universally human and beyond words. I believe there is a flow of energy in the great photographer’s images that brings them into the present and in turn makes them timeless. It is that sense of awe and even dignity I want to bring to light in the photographs I make and present here.”
–Essay, “Light of the Great Mystery,” Light of the Great Mystery, 2017 (limited edition)
“For me, a good photograph must be an open-ended conversation: it must contain an invitation to the viewer to wander and to linger and to stay awhile. If it’s merely a record of having been somewhere, no matter how well composed or beautiful the image, I am left empty.”
–Quote from book review, “Into the Great White Sands,” Landscape Photography Magazine, 2018
“I was always drawn to the outdoors, being out in nature and observing and watching whatever I could find in my backyard—leaves, insects, birds, small animals. I was a focused, contemplative child who enjoyed spending time alone and getting lost in the workings of the natural world, trying to figure out why the natural world seemed to work the way it did. As an adult I continue to find great joy being out in nature, almost an obsession, and working as a photographer has given me the opportunity to constantly be learning something from my experiences in the natural world. For me it’s more than just about making pretty pictures—that’s nice certainly—but it’s more about having the opportunity to observe, to be a witness to the miraculousness of it all. While out photographing in the landscape, I have learned that I have to turn off the internal dialogue, to be quiet, still and patient so that the veil might be pierced and I am given a glimpse into some magic moment. And if I’m lucky enough for the veil to stay open long enough, I am given the gift of a beautiful photograph. Sharing these moments through my photographs brings me great joy.”
–Interview, On Landscape Magazine, UK, 2019
Text Copyright ©Craig Varjabedian. All Rights Reserved.