The photograms are made on a light-sensitized surface. "Essentially,"
he says, "in the photograms you are seeing what is being recorded
by my light. I have no idea what is going to happen in these since I can't
see how the front of the image looks. The result depends on how I light
it. Though the original object may be the same in two images, each appears
different because of the light. I might light just the underside so there
is no outline. One shape, for instance, appears like a glowing spinal
These are long exposures of 4-5 minutes. Within this period there may
be unexpected movement as a large vehicle travels past the studio. Lopes
recognized he had to work with this and in some instances he purposely
moves the object gently on the sensitized surface to create a more interesting
statement. One image of a cone shows this intentional movement, its shimmering
edges giving the picture an ethereal quality. "I don't want
to see all of these things totally sharp," he says.
For the macro images he uses an old wooden view camera with a very long
triple bellows extension which enables him to blow up the subject more
and more the closer he gets and yet maintain the detail and the quality
of the light he is using. "In one image of a poppy I wanted it to
be glowing and very high key," he says, "whereas I wanted
to keep a low key in the Empire State Building since the higher key would
show it to be made of metal and would have been a dead giveaway. "Also,
I lit it flat against what appears to be the sky but in reality is just
a piece of cardboard. In a slightly moving image I may use very shallow
depth of field so as not to capture the whole object and can still blow
it up from a 3/4" object to a final print 16x21" with no detail
lost. Too, there are times I will place the object on film and blow it
up. In that case I am working with a projection of my subject. With my
penlight I paint around the object until I have what I like, then enlarge
it. Finally, everything is printed on a rich platinum background."
The beautiful softly sculpted edges of each print are the result of the
Polaroid film Lopes uses to create a framing that will finish the picture
around the solid background. The border adds to the suspense of the photograph
and no two will appear alike because of the emulsion.
Printing Controls And
The printing is always critical. In too light a print the subtle change
in the shapes and textures are lost. If it is too dark, the glow is gone
and the final image is but a group of shapes. "These are strange
objects to me," Lopes says. "I pick up things that are alien
and often eerie, things I don't always recognize. With the flower
from the maple tree, I picked up about a hundred in my yard looking for
one that was right. In the final image, the intricate veining creates
the character. One of my favorite macro images is of a dead poppy,"
Lopes says. "I found it in the fall, lying on the ground in this
position like a dance pose. It became anthropomorphic.
"Depending on how much I light an object and how far down I print
it, one sees more or less. There is a lot of serendipity to all of this,
very much seat of the pants, since when enlarging such a small object
I have to visualize what it looks like larger. Then, in a photogram, I
need to anticipate how the lighting will affect each part as it goes through
the object and imagine what is happening on the other side. It is only
when I feel what the final image will be that I can visualize my platinum
Platinum Printing Studio
There is a philosophy in Lopes' work that has persisted and been
nurtured since 1976 when he joined photographer Richard Benson in Rhode
Island to open his first printing atelier, producing portfolios of silver
and platinum prints for Aperture from the works of Edward Weston and Paul
Strand. It has been an uphill climb, working in platinum as Horst P. Horst's
primary printer until his death as well as producing portfolios for notables
such as Ruth Bernhard, Mary Ellen Mark, Helen Levitt, Margaret Bourke-White,
Herb Ritts, and many other noted contemporaries.
But it is in his own quiet work where Lopes shines. First came his collection
and book on the Vietnam Wall, the images recently purchased by the Art
Institute of Chicago, followed by a collection and book, Living With Aids.
Among his most outstanding and ongoing body of work is a series of horse
pictures. For me it is there that his passion for photography reveals
itself in a spectacular way. In one moving image a mare shields her foal
with her tail from the intrusion of Lopes and his camera. In another unforgettable
picture horses restlessly wait their turn by the gate at a rodeo in Maine.
In this new body of macros and photograms Lopes has taken his creative
talent to another level. Surely he has mastered the technique long ago
but the earlier work involved people emotionally and he now feels he has
taken that part of his career as far as he cares to. This documentary
phase ended when he finished photographing at the World Trade Center after
9/11. "I did that work of 9/11 for very personal reasons,"
he says. "I was so angry about what had happened and making the
pictures was cathartic.
"I am no longer interested in relying on the emotion in a situation.
I was careful not to interject myself in any of that work. Now I am interjecting
myself a great deal and I want to tap into other interests I have like
science, physics, and architecture."
The current series is private work for Lopes. The literal aspect is diminishing.
They are very contemporary though the platinum process combines the old
with the new, presenting contemporary images that hark back to the masters
"In this new work I
don't want to do anything that is just a bigger version of itself,"
Lopes says. "I want the object to transpose itself into something
else, more interesting than its original self in a way we would never
see it in
its microscopic size. It must have its own voice. Imagine walking on a
beach and seeing this small rock with a face on it. It happened because
my mind is now tuned into seeing these things and I always question what
will they be when I finish them. However, I don't want the work
to be so personal that I am the only one to appreciate it. I want people
to have a new understanding--to wonder."