Sam Krisch opens his second solo exhibit of the year “Above Zero: Photographs From The Polar Region” Sunday, June 14 at the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania.
In this post, Sam shares what he learned on his journey to creative success. You’ll find it inspiring and helpful.
Here are a few highlights.
“John Paul’s mentorship as well as the inspiration and encouragement of countless others led me to work harder, to dig deeper, to find new places: physical locations, internal emotions, and fresh ways of seeing. Hard work and constant study added to my skills. Through the fellowship of an international group of artists I found community and stimulation: a vast ocean of knowledge and inspiration.”
“Each particular curator sees an artist’s work in a particular way, interprets it, and often brings out a way of seeing the work that the artist hadn’t considered. A great pleasure for me is working with professionals who approach the presentation of my work in a different way. They ask probing questions for the lectures, gallery guides, and docent training. I always learn something from exhibiting my work and I am often surprised by people’s reaction to it. Some are emotionally moved, some want to know technical details, some may not like it. It’s the risk you take when you exhibit.”
To Trip the Light Fantastic
Palace, Antarctica, 2012 © Sam Krisch
It all started with a Tango. It was a whimsical, impossible mid-life project to see if I could find a new direction through attempting to learn two things for which I have virtually no aptitude: Spanish and Tango.
In 2008, I went to Buenos Aires for an extended period. B.A. is very lovely and at that time was a very inexpensive city, an interesting and dizzying mixture of European cultures.
The project produced the predicted failures and struggles, and the self-deprecating and ironic humor that arose from it. I was in a place with incredible light and life. Because I couldn’t speak to anyone, I watched to find out what was going on. I was shy and withdrawn—a part of the crowd and apart from the crowd—but I was startled by the show unfolding in front of me. I recorded it, not only with daily writings on my blog, but also with a point-and-shoot.
Tango, Buenos Aires, 2012 © Sam Krisch
I had big ambitions for this Tango project. I thought it would make an interesting book. I had a small international audience of mostly middle-aged women who enjoyed the romance of it all, but after a while people started commenting more on the photographs than on my writing. This hurt my feelings terribly.
I couldn’t believe that after 18 months of attempting to learn Spanish in an immersive environment that I still couldn’t speak. A perceptive friend of mine said “that’s because you’re trying to learn verbally. You’re a visual person.”
I was furious! “What do you mean,”I asked. “I’m a writer.”
“Yes,”he said. “But you write in pictures.”
All of a sudden, I saw my writer’s block and my language learning block as part of a larger life trend. I had spent decades pursuing paths that didn’t quite come naturally. People were responding more to my visual metaphors than to my verbal ones.
I hadn’t thought seriously about taking photographs since I was 17. I had won some prizes, but I thought being a writer was for me. I had a degree in Film Studies and Screenwriting. I always planned to write The Great American Screenplay, but never could make the final cut.
Back in the U.S. I started pursuing photography more seriously. It was complicated trying to learn digital technique, but it seemed quite natural for me to see on location. I think that all the years I spent studying great filmmakers and seeing paintings and photographs led me to a better understanding of good composition, color, mood, and light. I wasn’t quite achieving all that I wanted or to which I aspired, but I had a new direction and it felt much more natural.
In the summer of 2009, I had planned a visit to New York City to see my daughter and I thought it would be good to go shoot the Maine Coast. Strangely enough, an email from Adobe listed a workshop in Maine that was running at the right time. It was led by an instructor I had never heard of: John Paul Caponigro.
John Paul and I almost instantly formed a wonderful mentor-protege relationship. We both understood each other’s sense of humor. In the review sessions I started to learn a new vocabulary and a new respect for analyzing visuals and putting them into an artistic context. Although it was my first week with a digital SLR, I seemed to be putting together the first strands of a body of work.
Wave, Sand Beach, Acadia National Park, 2009—captured during my first John Paul Caponigro workshop
In just a few days I went from being a writer with a photography hobby to a photographer with a writing hobby.
Over the next couple of years, I attended numerous workshops with JP. I learned to print and use Photoshop, I traveled to the desert and to the coastline, I got creative with an iPhone, I went to Iceland, and ultimately took my first trip to Antarctica. I was amazed by the streaming light, the majesty of the icebergs, the comedy of penguins. The landscape and the atmosphere were well-tailored to my strong suits and I was able to find solitude, drama, new visions, dreamscapes.
When I returned and reviewed my images I found the fishing had been excellent. I was excited by what I had captured. Later that year, five of the Antarctic images and one from Iceland were part of a group exhibition at the Taubman Museum in Virginia. Three of those works are now part of the museum’s permanent collection.
This began many more voyages to the polar and sub-polar regions. I captured images of large ice monuments, meditations on abstract forms, and panoramic images of the wild, clean, moody, windswept, poetic landscapes and seascapes.
On June 14, an exhibition of these works opens at the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania. It is a large exhibition: 36 large prints ranging in size from 24”x 24”to 40”by 60”and 30”by 90”. All of the prints are new, the prints will be exhibited without glazing (no glass or plexiglass in front of the print) and with thin white frames, the wide border of the prints substituting for matting. I print on Epson Ultra Smooth Fine Art paper. The warm tones and subtle matte finish suits my softer and more painterly aesthetic.
This will be my second solo exhibition this year. My most recent,“Elements” at Virginia Tech’s Center for the Arts opened in December, 2014 and featured 18 of my landscapes. That was an excellent experience. As I am currently finding in Allentown, a great curator makes for a great exhibition. The choices, the groupings, the sequencing, the supporting materials make for a viewer experience that inspires and educates.
“Elements: Sam Krisch”, Moss Center for the Arts, Virginia Tech, December 2014-February 2015. The presentation style from this exhibition—white frames, no mats, no glazing— will be used at the new exhibition in Allentown “Above Zero.”
Each particular curator sees an artist’s work in a particular way, interprets it, and often brings out a way of seeing the work that the artist hadn’t considered. A great pleasure for me is working with professionals who approach the presentation of my work in a different way. They ask probing questions for the lectures, gallery guides, and docent training. I always learn something from exhibiting my work and I am often surprised by people’s reaction to it. Some are emotionally moved, some want to know technical details, some may not like it. It’s the risk you take when you exhibit.
(I have written about my experiences curating an exhibition for the Caponigros in a previous post for this site.)
Caption: “Arches II,” 2014 © Sam Krisch
That initial trip to Buenos Aires did provide a surprising new direction. I hadn’t planned on being a photographer or contemplated being an exhibiting artist, but step by step and sometimes by leaps of faith and flashes of insight it happened. The subsequent voyages to Maine, Antarctica, Iceland, Greenland and other places challenged and fulfilled me in ways I could have never expected before 2008.
John Paul’s mentorship as well as the inspiration and encouragement of countless others led me to work harder, to dig deeper, to find new places: physical locations, internal emotions, and fresh ways of seeing. Hard work and constant study added to my skills. Through the fellowship of an international group of artists I found community and stimulation: a vast ocean of knowledge and inspiration.
I dove into the ever-deeper waters of creative practice. Those waters are sometimes turbulent, sometimes cold and forbidding, but I continue to swim forward—surfacing for air and then resuming the journey.
It was because I took that leap to try and learn something new that I found a true calling and a way to communicate my passion with others. Without those clumsy first Tango steps, my dance with art may never have happened. Now “tripping the light fantastic,”I feel terribly fortunate and I am tremendously grateful that I will always be able to say that at least for a moment—even if not perfectly—I danced.
For more about the exhibition “Above Zero: Photographs From The Polar Region”
Find out more about Sam Krisch
View more Alumi Success stories here.