• Faiq Imran

Nolan Preece – Who Needs a Camera? Or a Canvass?

Brought up by a camera-yielding father and a mother who loved to paint, Nolan Preece grew up with a perceptive eye afforded to but a few. Such a privilege is a profound rarity (and a curse) as he quips, “With two parents as artists, I was doomed to be an artist”. Taking his love of the camera and the landscape from his father and painting from his mother, he later decided to change direction to arrive at an obsession that is wholly unique yet readily apparent today.


Spring 2021 © Nolan Preece


Born and raised in Vernal, Utah in 1947, he received an MFA in photography and printmaking at Utah State University in 1980. He is an emeritus professor of art (specializing in photography and gallery management); retired in 2011. He has been involved in well over 100 international, national and regional exhibitions combined.


Forest 2021 © Nolan Preece


Chemigrams, a term popularized by Pierre Cordier in the 1950s, sit at the heart of Nolan’s artistic labor — 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). He also produces cliché-verre prints, chromogenic photograms, and much more. His particular cliché-verre process, which is an original technique he discovered in 1979 (http://www.nolanpreece.com/page-7--about-the-work.html) conjures up Brakhage-esque visions that exhilarate, baffle, and mesmerize with their inviting fluidity.


Tundra 2021 © Nolan Preece


He has always been a fan of silver-based photographic materials, using toner solutions as painting media. But, his style has incorporated different techniques over the years. For instance, he has incorporated the use of acrylics as resist like his influence Pierre Cordier who has acknowledged him as “without a doubt, one of the outstanding practitioners of the chemigram” and has beckoned substantial praise onto him, “You work like a painter who controls the forms of his work but you use masterfully the chemigram technique to make images that no one has seen before.”. Over the years, Nolan has also started using Photoshop which he uses to digitally intensify the coloration.


High Sierra 2021 © Nolan Preece


The result is a combination of exhilarating landscapes that introduce themselves as foreign entities, introducing the door to uncharted fascination. It’s almost prescient in that regard. Only after some time has been spent with these textures — at times ragged, at times sublime — that one begins to associate a familiar notion with the image. Spend some more time and it calls out like an immersive reality that is tethered to one’s mind.


The Gap 2020 © Nolan Preece


This has long remained the obsession of avant-garde artists who have previously worked with photographic materials. Despite the obvious interest, the prevalent sentiment towards cameraless photography has failed to garner the deserved response like its counterparts. It has never had a narrative of its own, has never been emphasized as a truly innovative and exciting style, and its practitioners do not boast the name-recognition of their contemporaries. The truly well-known individuals in the field, like Man Ray and other Dadaists, were already established artists who rigorously dabbled in multiple mediums. Avant-garde photographic styles are treated as causalities of movements like pop art and Dada that frequently make use of these techniques. As a result, photographic artists who are influenced by the aforementioned movements but reside outside the narrative of those movements are fated to relative obscurity.


Mountain 2020 © Nolan Preece


Such a shame when it has so many gems to offer, like the artist under discussion.


You can find Nolan Preece’s experimental photography on http://www.nolanpreece.com/. For altered and general landscape, make your way to www.nolanpreece.net. You can also find information about his work on Manhattan Graphic Center's website. The Stremmel Gallery in Reno, NV, and the Walter Wickiser Gallery in NYC are representing his recent work in chemigrams.