New York photographer David
Carrino left the city environment where he was raised and over the past
two years has lived in New England where he has developed a profound
relationship with nature through his camera. A walk in the woods or
over the dunes becomes a world of wonder as his lens slowly and darkly
records the quiet places. In some images the grasses are overgrown and
light filters through trees to form a pattern in the foreground. In
others a myriad of footprints in the sand dunes give depth to shadows
within the photograph yet leave no clues as to who has walked there.
In his landscapes or portraits the subject appears as if a light box
or scrim was placed in the background, seeping mysteriously through
the image. The natural world becomes translucent, the image often drawn
right to the edge of obscurity.
Carrino's images are black and white. The light is natural and
low level. Portrait subjects are lit through a window or a skylight
and landscapes are shot at the critical moment before the sun goes down.
In one image a lush growth of roses are at their peak, bursting at the
very edge before they begin to decay. Petals in the background barely
whisper and we need to look hard to see them. Everything is dense, two-dimensional,
without horizon. The effect is one of mystery.
Carrino is a painter and a photographer, a combination no longer rare.
He also edits and curates the work of other artists who hire him for
his unerring eye in selecting and putting together their exhibitions.
A graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1981, Carrino
has followed this dual career in art since his high school years. Speaking
of his development as a photographer, he says, "The happy mistakes
I used to make, like graying or fogging an image, I can now do consciously.
I have mastered my exposures so that the darkroom manipulation is minimal
and fortunately I have a very highly skilled printer in New York with
whom I have worked for 10 years."
Portraits and landscapes relate through their quiet ambiguity and sense
of solitude. In selecting models for his portraits Carrino has sought
out the same intimate relationships he seeks in his landscapes. "I
need to become close with what I photograph," he says. "My
portrait models are friends, people close to me. They are personal photographs,
softly lit in natural light and usually taken within the model's
Rather than trying to manipulate the lighting Carrino manipulates his
own position, he says, changing it in terms of how he has placed his
subject. The expressive images create a story. In one, a young man with
a long, classical nose drapes his hand over a chair. He is a restorer
of Renaissance paintings and here in his studio, though the paintings
in the background are not readily evident, he is a reflection of what
he does. "Mary" reclines curled up in a hammock, (as shown
on contents page) head thrown back, laughing. She is a performer, a
cabaret singer of the classics from the '30s and '40s. (The
bucolic landscape behind her would please Cole Porter or Rodgers and
Using an old 21/4 Rolleiflex camera and Tri-X film, all of the prints
are done on paper that is glossy enough to capture the detail yet soft
and warm toned enough to maintain the nostalgic presence Carrino desires.
"I want to re-create my experience," he says, "to
have it be directly the same as it was when I took the picture."
The camera is handheld and Carrino says he has discovered that using
a tripod with low-level light and creating a long exposure ironically
seems to let more light into his picture and obscures the reality of
what he is seeing. "It disrupts the idea that there is a layer
of veiling between me and my subject," he says. "The low-level
light creates a mystery that will make the images slowly open up to
my viewers so they will spend time with them rather than `boom--I
got it--I'm on to the next one.'"
Carrino spoke of a particular portrait of a tree. It is an ageless image,
placed almost dead center in the photograph among tall grasses and wild
growth and was taken on a property where he worked as a landscaper throughout
the winter, spring, and following summer. "It was a big property
with a creek behind it and all winter I cleared brush and cut down everything
from crawling wisteria vines to trees," he recalls. "The
tree was so beautiful even though it was bare in the cold months. By
summer it became a huge canopy that shaded the area. To catch the light
I shot at 1/4 of a second, exposing for the shadows like I was taught
in school. By the way, though that concept, `expose for the shadows
and develop for the highlights,' seems so simple, it may take
a while to understand it. Beginning photographers tend to focus only
on their subject that may be something like my interestingly textured
tree. What they will learn as they continue to photograph is to pay
attention to everything around the subject and become aware of what
is happening in every corner."
The tree image to which Carrino refers was taken during the height of
summer and shows a blooming branch creeping in from the lower left-hand
corner and creating a diagonal meeting with the foliage on the upper
right side of the photograph. The design creates a sense of life and
movement to what could have been a static, dull picture. "Had
I simply focused on the tree and not included those branches, the negative
area in the lower left corner would have been boring," he explains.
Composition, composition, composition.
"My brother is just beginning to photograph and he couldn't
understand why his peppers didn't look like Edward Weston's
peppers," Carrino says with a grin. "It's good to
look and to emulate the masters. That's a good starting point.
But it takes time to develop that eye of Weston's and I believe
a photographer needs to spend a lot of time with his subject and let
an image unfold.
"I have been told there is a sense of something old, Victorian
perhaps, an `Alice in Wonderland' feeling to my photographs,"
says Carrino. There is also the kind of childhood dream one might have
of being lost in a dense thicket. These are not sentimental images in
any way. What Carrino is trying to capture are the places in our culture
that are disappearing. The photographs might have been taken a hundred
years ago. There is that element of timelessness and drama.
The natural light is sympathetic with Carrino's imagery. "Natural
light for me," he says, "is the most flattering light for
portraits and landscapes. I use it because it is the light my mentors
have used so well, Andre Kertesz, Peter Hujar, and August Sander. It
gives my work the sort of 19th century look I am after. Some of my favorite
photographs are of Civil War battlefields taken a year or two after
the battle ended. There are no bodies, yet you know what has happened.
These are places where photographers came with their big view cameras
to document a site and the title always told where it was and what had
happened there. Yet there are no monuments. All that remains is a memory,
an essence, a sense of place. And that is what I look for in my photographs."
In Carrino's latest work he is using found images, portraits from
magazines or movie stills, and combining them in collage form with his
own landscape images. "What I like about this new work,"
he says, "is that I have a complete picture in my mind when I
shoot the landscape, a narrative in a sense." I have only done
about a half a dozen pieces of this work so far but they are becoming
a way of exploring my own psyche with my camera."
The new images are based on an ominous incident where two young women
were murdered many years ago in a small town in Massachusetts. Carrino
walked through what he called "an unbelievably beautiful, lushly
grown path" to the huge clearing where the crime took place. "It
has been so long after the fact and I was curious to see what may still
linger there of the event.
"Strangely enough, regardless of the story behind it all, the
photographer comes out with his or her own `stuff.' We invest
a place with our own emotions that become in a way, a self-portrait,
imbuing the place we photograph with our own feelings and ideas about
what may have taken place. Imagine--making a landscape that is a self-portrait."