This is Part 2 of my interview with LeRoy Howard. To return to Part 1 click, HERE
BS: Can you discuss your process in general? Are there any specific techniques that you utilize?
LH: I photograph with a 4” x 5” camera, using film and make in-camera multiple exposures. As my background is in traditional photography I hold myself to the technological constraints that come with film. I discovered during earlier work that one can photograph the body many times over on the same sheet of film if the background is black. Each body appears to hold it’s full form and substance. The only bleed-through comes when the bodies superimpose on each other, which gives rise to some wonderful juxtapositions and physical relationships.
Many have suggested that I could just as easily make the photographs individually and digitally combine them, but that doesn’t interest me. There is something about the process of staging and practicing to get the body in just that right place so the two or three characters portrayed in a given photograph are seen engaging with one another. It is almost like staging a play or a performance piece, then shooting that. There is something about the calm discipline as I set up and imagine the characters and their emotional state that is as gratifying to me as the completed image.
And the gifts of the overlaps and overlays are such that I could not think to do it in Photoshop. There is a magic involved in working this way and when I see the juxtapositions of body to body, the overlap of one blending into another, the piercing of flesh by flesh, I find myself drawn on and overwhelmed with the final image.
Beyond capturing the image, I am looking into alternative printing processes. I began making gelatin silver prints, but now (out of necessity) many of my prints are digitally made. I have taken workshops for printing in bromoil, platinum/palladium and photo-graveure, and plan on producing editions in one or more of these media.
Under Construction, No. 1 by LeRoy Howard
BS: What about other influences? For example, are you influenced by any specific artists?
LH: This is a more difficult question to consider. I know of many artists that photograph themselves, but don’t think I can claim them as influences. I think we have just happened upon a particular technique that works for us. I recall reading an interview with Cindy Sherman where she said something that reflected my own thinking. In effect, “I’m easy to work with and I’m always around.” I don’t have to communicate my ideas to another. I can just let it flow through my body and mind and see what the camera captures.
Early on I saw an image by Joel Peter Witkin where he had set up an amazing tableau using up to five or six people in the image along with painted backdrops, furniture and built sets. I came away from that with the idea that it was o.k. to set it up, to stage it. Once could pursue their ideas and create meaning by setting it all up. There was a great deal of freedom in this idea. It felt as though I was given permission to abandon the constraints of standard photography.
One artist I greatly admire, as he does build meaning in a variety of ways and is fully photographic in his approach is the Japanese photographer, Eikoh Hosoe. If I am influenced by others, it is by studying their work where I discover that I can give myself permission to do something different, that there are no constraints on my ideas or approaches.
My main influences come from classical painting and sculpture as well as modern dance. I suppose my greatest influence is the time I spent living and visiting Japan, where I first saw Butoh avant-garde dance. Butoh has had a long-lasting influence on my work, probably lending it a sense of darkness, nudity and dramatic narrative.
Under Construction, No. 4 by LeRoy Howard
Under Construction, No. 4 by LeRoy Howard
BS: So what is the specific message you strive to convey to viewers? Do you adhere to a specific philosophy as far as your work is concerned?
LH: Not sure I intend this as a message or a philosophy, but I think my work does explore and celebrate our emotional, and perhaps spiritual being. I want to elicit an emotional involvement on the part of the viewer. I aim at the senses so that there is no question in their mind that there is something to feel and that makes them alive.
While I know that the components of my images may have specific meaning, I leave the overall meaning of the piece or image to the viewer. And while they may not be able to construct a narrative, I don’t think they are left wondering that there is a reason for the image. So much of modern photography, some call “deadpan,” seems purposely devoid of emotion and meaning, beyond apparently saying, “this is what is here”, and frankly, that doesn’t resonate for me.