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Nolan Preece: Experimental Photographer

Nolan Preece is a prolific American photographer with over forty years experience in the field. Preece explores chemical techniques and processes in his photography such as chemigrams and cliche-verres, and often employs a painterly quality, taking inspiration from nature. His work can be found in the collections of many museums such as the Nevada Museum of Art and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and he is currently represented by Walter Wickiser Gallery in New York City.

Portrait of Nolan Preece, courtesy of the Artist

How has your practice changed over time with the various updates in technology and digitalization?

I have been playing with chemically formed imagery on silver-based photographic materials since about 1981. At first I used different toner solutions as painting media to enhance or to simply try and come up with some sort of visual vocabulary, with or without a printed image from a negative. This procedure hasn’t changed much from when I first started. Since 2010, I’ve also been using acrylics as a resist to hold back the chemistry, much the same way Pierre Cordier, Father of the Chemigram, uses paint, varnish and wax as resists.

Out of necessity, I began teaching Photoshop in my photography classes in 2003. After teaching this platform for about 10 years, I automatically shifted to scanning in my small chemigram matrices so that I could enlarge and retouch them digitally. The chemigram is an equal mix of analog photography (chemistry and silver photo paper), printmaking (resists and paper surfaces), and painting (selective chemical coloration or digital enhancement via Photoshop). I usually try to keep the original coloration of the chemigram, but intensify it a bit. What is really different is that the scanner has become the photographic enlarger.

Portrait of Nolan Preece, courtesy of the Artist

How do you think the role of the artist changes in the current times of social distancing, isolation, and uncertainty?

Artists have always been the conscience of society, sometimes projecting out years in advance. I think back to the environmental photo movement New Togographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape that first inspired me. The aesthetics of those photographers are still valid today.

There will be a new art movement created by this pandemic trauma. You can count on it. It is likely to center around a more wholesome attitude about globalization and a global community.

Portrait of Nolan Preece, courtesy of the Artist

Who and what most inspires you?

It’s an odd mix of who inspires me, each from a different field. Richard Misrach and his photography about the West and the desert. Misch Kohn whom I studied printmaking under for a short time - he made printmaking an exciting medium for me to work in with his ideas and techniques in chine colle. And, Max Ernst whose never ending inventiveness and visual effects inspired me to try to do the same. Pierre Cordier has been very supportive of my work, endorsing me many times. His words of encouragement have been an inspiration to me.

Garden, 2015, courtesy of the Artist

What advice would you give to your younger self and/or an artist just entering the art world?

Find your own voice - it will come if you keep working. And, follow your bliss as Joseph Campbell has said, don’t settle for the status quo.

The Clearing, 2015, courtesy of the Artist

What role does nature play in your work?

Nature has everything to do with my work. I love this tiny orb we live on with all of its beauty and all that it gives to us. However, our duties to protect and nurture it have been sorely neglected. If you believe in Gaia Theory perhaps there has been a karmic response to our irresponsibility in dealing with global warming. We must fight and try to reverse climate change.

My work has been tied to environmental issues for almost 40 years now. I have tried many approaches to illustrate the need to change the way we view the planet. The chemigram provides a unique visual vehicle to carry that message. My first attempts at Enviro Chemi Art were quite literal. However, as my work has progressed and evolved into a landscape format, I’ve come to realize that a more nuanced approach may be more effective. These chemigram landscapes have a post-apocalyptic feel to them with their color and texture.

Some of your work has elements of painting not typically seen in standard photography. What drew you to these processes?

My mother had an artistic side and she taught me to paint and draw when I was a child. My father was an amateur photographer who taught me how to use a camera and how to compound my own photographic solutions. So it was easy for me to take up printmaking from my mentor, Moishe Smith, in grad school.

These influences have come together to shape my current work. The chemigram uses elements of both printmaking and photography to create the image. The printmaking resist is “painted” onto the photo paper and the image is developed using standard photographic chemistry. I still appreciate what the camera can do to capture the moment, but it doesn’t compare to the magic that chemistry can accomplish on a surface of silver halide.

In the Grove, 2014, courtesy of the Artist

Which photographic process is your favorite to work in?

I’m passionate about all aspects of photography. I’ve been an industrial photographer, a press photographer, a photographer of scientific methodology and a fine art photographer with large format cameras. When I wasn’t working at one of these, my interests fell to alternative photo processes and especially to platinum printing. However, I’ve always tended toward experimenting with chemistry and light sensitive emulsions. The chemigram offers lots of territory to play in and I’ve taken advantage of this.

Floundering, 2011, courtesy of the Artist

If you could exhibit your work anywhere, where would you choose?

Well, of course MoMA or one of the other large, beautiful museums in New York City. New York City will always be a wonderful art space even after this current tragedy. We all need to gain some perspective as well as some humility as we proceed into the future.

Big Oil Meets with the Big Fracking Deal, 2011, courtesy of the Artist

What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?

There’s talk about another book. My current gallery, Walter Wickiser Gallery in Chelsea, has approached me about this possibility of making a book but there could be quite a length of time before going forward.

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