Interview

A Conversation with Please Touch Artist Jay Croft

Interview conducted by Alison Caplan, Akron Art Museum Director of Education

Inspired by skateboarding and D.I.Y. culture, Jay Croft’s illustrations have donned skateboard decks, his zine Street Canoe, and most recently, a mural at Chill Ice Cream.

Can you talk about being a parent and an artist?

It’s the best thing ever! I love it. My kids are always drawing and making stuff. We definitely encourage them to create. Our house is filled with all types of markers, paint, papers, and glue. I encourage them to help me with some of my projects too. It’s pretty cool that they are so receptive to it.

Jay Croft, Friends, digital rendering, 2016

Jay Croft, Friends, digital rendering, 2016

Do you bring your kids to the museum?

Yes, we bring our kids to the museum for sure. We try to bring our kids to everything that we do. We want them to experience everything that they can growing up. Going to an art museum is something that I didn’t experience until I was much older than they are now. Not that my parents wouldn’t do it. The opportunity never really presented itself. I think the world is way more kid friendly than when I was growing up.

We are always trying to come up with cool things to do with the kids and what better thing to do than go to the art museum.

Jay Croft, Friends, installation view in Please Touch 2017

How did you come up with the idea for this work?

The inspiration actually came from a puzzle that the kids own. I just wanted it to be as fun and hands on as possible. Plus, I always liked the idea of mashing things up and putting things where they might not actually belong.

Jay Croft, installation view, Please Touch 2017

Jay Croft, installation view, Please Touch 2017

How does/has DIY culture influence/d your artmaking?

Besides my grandpa, it’s the one thing that has pushed it the most. As a kid growing up in Ohio, skateboarding and listening to punk rock music was the one thing that made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself. Even though I probably didn’t understand it like I do now. I just couldn’t get enough of it. From looking at skateboard magazines, to the liner notes in punk rock records, it made me feel like I could do it too. It made me realize that there wasn’t much separating me from the people I was checking out. I have always tried to go against the grain. Not in a rebellious way, but in a way that I could make it my own. I never wanted to be like anyone else. Not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of being true to myself.

It seems like all of the artist in show have some connection to childhood games or picture books in their work. Do you have a favorite childhood game or book?

It’s funny, I don’t think I actually do have a favorite book as a child. But, I have always wanted to make my own kids book ever since I can remember. Maybe someday it will happen…

Jay Croft’s artwork is on view and accessible along with artwork by Erin Guido & John Paul Costello and Jordan Elise & Christopher Lees (Horrible Adorables) in Please Touch at the Akron Art Museum through July 16, 2017. Look for interviews with Erin Guido, John Paul Costello, Jordan Elise and Christopher Lees coming soon!

Please Touch shakes off all of the traditional museum-goer behavior and asks visitors to use their sense of touch to experience the exhibition.

For Please Touch, the museum commissioned a group of regional artists to create new works that actively engage audiences of all ages. Erin Guido creates brightly colored dynamic shape and text murals often found in surprising places, like abandoned buildings, offering friendly encouragement as they declare “come over all the time” or “hi.” Jordan Elise and Christopher Lees create mounted animal sculptures they call Horrible Adorables and design patterns for fabric and wallpaper, as well as plastic toys for Kid Robot. Inspired by skateboarding and D.I.Y. culture, Jay Croft’s illustrations have donned skateboard decks, his zine Street Canoe, and most recently, a mural at Chill Ice Cream in downtown Akron.

For Please Touch, each artist has created an interactive work that visitors can touch and manipulate as they make meaning of it in their own ways.

Please Touch is organized by the Akron Art Museum and supported by a generous gift from The Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation.

An Interview With Our Land Artist, Bob Herbst

Bob Herbst, Green River Overlook, After the Storm, 2006, platinum/palladium print, 12 x 20 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Green River Overlook, After the Storm, 2006, platinum/palladium print, 12 x 20 in., courtesy of the artist

Interview conducted by Theresa Bembnister, Akron Art Museum Associate Curator

Akron Art Museum: Can you explain to me your interest in photographing the American West, specifically the national parks?

Bob Herbst: In 1993 I decided to take a photography workshop in southern Utah which involved camping out in the desert and photographing for a week. My wife and I were raised in camping-oriented families and had done canoeing expeditions for the 10 years prior in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, so it sounded like something I would enjoy. I added a few extra days on the front end of the trip and stopped at Zion and Bryce National Parks on my way from Las Vegas to the location of the workshop in what is now known as the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument. I was hooked immediately. I had seen the Smoky Mountains and Yosemite, but nothing like the canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona. It was grand, peaceful, unlike anything I had ever seen, and like another planet in some cases. It was a beautiful place to photograph but just being there was enough for me. I camped out in the desert in a small tent under the stars, occasionally staying at a motel for a break, a soft bed, and a good hearty meal.

Jane went with me in 1994. I did solo trips in 1995 and 1996, and two trips with my best friend in 1997 and 1999. I returned in 2005 and 2006 with a different friend who had also explored some of the same areas himself for a number of years. With two four-wheel-drive vehicles, we could go places where it wouldn’t be safe for just one…and we did. Health and day job issues kept me away for a while but I returned in 2012 for what I considered my last “hurrah!” It was time to move on. I have years of printing ahead.

Your question caused me to reminisce a little and I found a picture that another workshop student took of me on the canyon country exploratory in 1993. I could carry that camera pack and tripod all day back then. This is where the 20-year odyssey started. The canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona is a very special place for me. Many of the national parks and national monuments are not well known which made exploring them all the more special over 20 years.

Herbst poses in canyon country in 1993, courtesy of the artist

Herbst poses in canyon country in 1993, courtesy of the artist

At least one of the scenes you captured in your photographs in Our Land is no longer accessible to the general public, correct? How did you reach that overlook and why is it no longer available to park visitors?

Actually, both images are taken at standard viewpoints in the parks easily accessible by car. The image at Bryce Point is gone because split rail fences have been erected in the foreground in an attempt to restrict tourists from getting too close to the edge. The areas I mentioned that are no longer accessible are typically land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, a federal government branch. They have fewer resources than the National Park Service and manage far more land so they sometimes have to close areas due to funding issues. The National Park Service does an absolutely wonderful job of keeping the parks in southern Utah and northern Arizona accessible. In this country, it is not unusual for numerous dirt and gravel roads to be washed out completely several times a year. A single thunderstorm in Canyonlands National Park can change everybody’s plans on the White Rim Road. I have had that experience. Our trip out from Toroweep in the Grand Canyon National Park was similar after a major thunderstorm that wiped out roads all over the area. We made it out with a National Forest Service fire truck behind us if we got stuck – an angel on our shoulders! The park service has regular ranger patrols to help broken down or stuck visitors and to report road conditions. They repair the roads as quickly as conditions allow. I have been very impressed during my travels throughout the parks and have nothing but praise for the National Park Service.

Bob Herbst, Bryce Point, Snowy October Morning, 1994, platinum/palladium print, 16 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Bryce Point, Snowy October Morning, 1994, platinum/palladium print, 16 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

Your photographs of the American West are remarkable, but you’ve also taken pictures of national park scenery closer to home. What can you tell me about your photographs of the Ohio Turnpike bridges in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Bob Herbst, Old Bridge Rubble, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 12 x 20 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Old Bridge Rubble, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 12 x 20 in., courtesy of the artist

I began photographing the turnpike bridges in 2002 when I started working with a 12×20 inch view camera. Digital negatives were in their infancy at that time so you still needed a big negative for big prints. Because of the size and weight of all of the associated equipment, I needed local subjects for working with the camera. My wife and I had spent a lot of time in the Cuyahoga Valley on towpath trails walking our dog and when I was chasing the Cuyahoga Valley Line steam train up and down the valley in the late 1980s. The scale of the new bridges captivated me, especially when viewed from below. They were part way through the construction of the second bridge at the time. Some of the very first 12×20 negatives I shot were of the bridges.

Bob Herbst, Bridge Piers, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 20 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Bridge Piers, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 20 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

A 12×20 camera made from brass and mahogany with a red bellows tends to attract attention where ever you are. One Saturday I was shooting the bridges from Riverview Road and a man stopped by out of curiosity. He saw the camera and we chatted for a while. He turned out to be the supervisor of the entire turnpike bridge construction project for the main contractor. He gave me permission to photograph on the construction site on the weekends when they weren’t working and gave me one of his business cards for any questions I might get from others. I returned periodically until both bridges were complete and the last of the old bridges was dynamited and demolished.

Bob Herbst, Finished Bridges, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 20 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Finished Bridges, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 20 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

I would also like for you to see an iconic image from 1989 in what was then the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, still administered by the National Park Service. The “National Park” designation came in 2000. The train was pulled by a steam locomotive, No. 4070, and known as the Cuyahoga Valley Line. It ran between Howard Street in Akron and Cleveland. The next year I spent the winter photographing the refurbishment of the locomotive in the old B&O roundhouse in the flats of Cleveland. After chasing it up and down the river valley all summer and fall, I captured the attached image at the Ira Road crossing near Hale Farm. A catastrophic mechanical failure early the following year sidelined the locomotive forever. Diesel locomotives have pulled the CVSR excursion train ever since.

Bob Herbst, No. 4070 at Ira Rd. Crossing, 1989, platinum/palladium print, courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, No. 4070 at Ira Rd. Crossing, 1989, platinum/palladium print, courtesy of the artist

What type of camera do you use?

I have used a variety of camera formats over the years progressing through 35mm, 2-1/4” square, 4×5, 8×10, 12×20, and digital. Bryce Point, Snowy October Morning was shot with a 4×5 camera. The print is from a digitally enlarged negative made on an Epson ink jet printer. Green River Overlook, After the Storm was shot with a 12×20 camera, so the print is a contact print from the original 12×20 film negative. Platinum/palladium printing is a contact printing process so you need a negative the size of the print you want. Up until about 13 years ago when digital negatives became a viable option, the other options for creating large negatives was to either shoot with a large format camera, or employ a tedious multi-step wet darkroom process to create enlarged film negatives from smaller negatives. In 2002 I wrote an article in View Camera magazine about that process. I now print almost entirely from digital negatives made on an Epson ink jet printer. The source of the image can be a scan of any size of film, b&w or color negatives or color transparencies, or from direct digital capture from a phone, digital camera, or scanner.

Herbst’s 12x20 camera at Hatch Point overlooking Shafer Canyon, courtesy of the artist

Herbst’s 12×20 camera at Hatch Point overlooking Shafer Canyon, courtesy of the artist

Why do you print your work using the platinum/palladium method?

I started printing black and white silver gelatin in the camera club darkroom at Goodyear Jr. High School in Akron in 1970. I was the quintessential high school yearbook and newspaper photographer at Akron East High School from 1971-1974 and did senior pictures in college after that. In 1991, at the urging of a friend, I took an evening class on platinum/palladium printing at Kent State University. I fell in love with the process. It renders images so much more beautifully than what I could get from silver gelatin. Platinum prints have a subtle tonal rendering, a smoother scale, an inner luminescence, and ability to represent a greater scale of light than is possible in traditional silver gelatin papers or ink jet prints. The images appear to have more depth because the coating solution soaks deep into the paper. A traditional silver gelatin print has an emulsion that sits on top of the paper making the image look more two-dimensional. Ink jet prints are mostly ink on the surface of the paper.

But as much as anything, for me, platinum/palladium printing is about the handmade print…made one at a time, coated with a brush, processed in trays, and placed on screens to dry, all by my hand.

Our Land, an exhibition of photographs of areas under the management of the National Park Service, is on view through February 12, 2017 in the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Gallery. The exhibition includes the photographs Bryce Point, Snowy October Morning and Green River Overlook, After the Storm by Bob Herbst, along with photographs by Richard Misrach, Ansel Adams, Masumi Hayashi, Ricky Rhodes, Marilyn Bridges and others.

Stephen Tomasko’s Fairgrounds

By Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

This season marks Stephen Tomasko’s seventh summer photographing county fairs throughout Ohio. Three of the artist’s untitled photographs of foodstands appear in Snack, which runs through September 3 in the Judith Bear Isroff Gallery. The Akron Art Museum blog chats with Tomasko about his current work as well as projects the artist pursues far from the fairgrounds.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2013, 18 x 12 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2013, 18 x 12 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Akron Art Museum: Fair season seems to really pick up in August. Which fairs do you plan to visit this month?

Stephen Tomasko: August is amazing for fairs. I’ll definitely hit the Ohio State Fair. The county fairs are all over the place this month. On my schedule is Columbiana, Medina, Holmes, Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain, Portage and the amazing Canfield fair at the very end of the month. There are some other good ones as well which I may fit in if time allows.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2012, 12 x 18 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2012, 12 x 18 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Do you see the same vendors at different fairs?

I do see many of the same vendors and carnival game operators at different fairs over the course of the season. Many of them are quite supportive and have a real interest in what I’m doing as they see their way of life as a disappearing piece of history and want to see it documented and remembered. The people with the games, in particular, are full of stories from their travels and the past: How far a particular game has traveled over the years, how old their metal milk bottles are, various bits of carny history, scams they have seen over the years, stuff like that. Also once you get to know some people over time you hear more about their own past and what their families are up to and how they got on the road. It seems that, like making art, once you get the traveling fair bug some people get pulled in and never get out. It can be an obsession as well as a lifestyle choice.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series I’m so Happy I’m Happy!, 2013, 12 x 18 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series I’m so Happy I’m Happy!, 2013, 12 x 18 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

You tend to photograph in crowded, chaotic situations—county fairs, tailgate parties, outside of the Republican National Convention. What attracts you to those environments?

I am really interested in the crowded and chaotic lately, especially those groups that are formed around a shared interest or passion as opposed to, say, everyone on the sidewalk heading from work at the same time because it’s rush hour. I’m fascinated by what it is that makes people identify with a group enough to show up and join and dress a certain way and act a certain way. What drives people to spend all the time and effort to buy or make the stuff to fit in and stand out?

Also, with a certain density of engaged people you get a critical mass where everything gets noticeably intensified. People feed off of one another and really commit to what they are doing, emotions run higher, it’s much louder, even the smells are stronger. These are elements that I want to convey in my work.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Winter Was Hard, 2009, Inkjet print, 11 ¾ in. x 17 ½ in., Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Museum Acquisition Fund 2011.2

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Winter Was Hard, 2009, Inkjet print, 11 ¾ in. x 17 ½ in., Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Museum Acquisition Fund 2011.2

It’s not that different from my spring flowering tree work really. I pack those images from edge to edge with blooms and supplement the natural light with very theatrical flash to create an over-the-top, more-real-than-real tableaux and when it works people respond all the time with comments like “It smells like flowers in here!” So what I’m obsessed with doing now is entering into these energized packed places, distilling down the action there into the frame, capturing what it feels like to be there, maybe even reminding you of what it smells like to be in a place like that, not just what it looks like to be there even though that is of primary importance, too.

I think another part of it is that I like to do things that are hard, to make things that have not been done well before. Crowds are hard and these places are a mess. As a small example, the fairs are loaded with big ugly trash cans that will kill an image in a second if you aren’t careful about excluding them. You never notice that they are not there in the prints, but the work would suffer if they were in the image. Making visually coherent and beautiful photographs is a real challenge. My wife always says about these chaotic images “I love to look at the prints, but I wouldn’t want to be there!” They are a fun challenge to make.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series First Place and Our Congratulations, 2011, 12 x 18in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series First Place and Our Congratulations, 2011, 12 x 18in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

How do your subjects typically respond when they notice they are being photographed?

Photographing in a crowd can be easier to move around and work without people noticing you ahead of the exposure. By the time most people notice they are being photographed, if they notice at all, I have usually made my best shot. The reaction of those who do notice varies a great deal from venue to venue, and sometimes I can’t really figure it out ahead of time. In general, out of all the situations I photograph, the county fairs are toughest. The participants there, even though it is a very public venue and they are “showing at the fair,” tend to be very suspicious of outsiders. I’m not sure if they think I’m from PETA or something, but the reaction is sometimes pretty unpleasant. On the other hand, tailgating at the Muni Lot before Browns games is a blast. Sure I’ve got to clean beer off my camera almost every game, but the reaction of my subjects to being singled out and noticed is almost always very positive. I’m constantly offered food and drink.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2015, 12 x 18in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2015, 12 x 18in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

In the spirit of Snack, I have to ask this last question. What’s your favorite fair food?

I’ve been to so many fairs now that the stuff that is straight up bad for you holds no more interest to me. The deep fried and the sugar doused has long since lost any allure for me. I’m usually looking for something that is good and will sustain me through the summer heat. A best bet for me is to get a ribeye sandwich from the local cattlemen organization at any given fair. That almost always satisfies and usually they will have some fresh sweet corn roasted on that same grill.