"Portraits From Madison Avenue"
© 2003 Quinn Jacobson
When I was a young boy, in the early 1970s, I traveled with my father to a low-income apartment complex he owned on Madison Avenue in Ogden, Utah. The people I met there lived on the fringes of society. They fascinated me then and have deeply affected me to this day.
As an artist, I used photography to explore my memories of the people I met on Madison Avenue and the questions I have about marginalized society. A renowned German photographer named August Sander called them, "The Last People," or "Die letzten Menschen." They make me ask questions about identity, difference, memory and justice.
I use an old, forgotten photographic process called Wet Plate Collodion. The photographs are made on glass and metal plates. It was invented in 1851 by an Englishman, Frederick Scott Archer. It's a process that was discarded in the 1880s when dry plates became popular. The process is both difficult and somewhat dangerous to do. Each image is a handmade artifact and the process takes a lifetime to master.
Wet Collodion is the perfect syntax for my work. I use it as a metaphor as it relates to abandonment. The process was abandoned and forgotten, just as most marginalized people are by the mainstream. I also embrace it for its imperfections; echoing our human imperfections.
Collodion's unique esthetic gives a half-remembered dream quality evoking the feeling of memory. It's hauntingly beautiful and reveals deep, poignant qualities about the people I photograph. It also allows me to interact with the sitter in ways traditional photography doesn't. Because of the commitment (time, complexity and stubbornness) of the process, I feel that the sitter co-creates the image with me. That idea is very important to me. In the end, it's the co-creation that is the art. I consider the image evidence or residue of that interaction.
"Portraits from Madison Avenue" and "Vergangenheitsbewältigung" were combined, a total of 88 photographs, and shown at Centre Iris Gallery for Photography. The exhibition was up from March to June, 2010 in Paris, France. It was called, "Glass Memories".