Friday, December 2, 2011

Nolan Preece talks about his work - part I

(We invited the Nevada-based photographer to discuss his artistic odyssey.  This is the first of several parts.  His website is - DC)

Preece, Nolangram #017 (choir), 2001
Let's start off by talking about the cliché-verre pieces from the late 1970s.  It seems I've always had two sides to my art.  I was trained in the Ansel Adams tradition of the fine print and the zone system at Utah State University.  I took a hard core, boot camp zone system class from my favorite photo professor, A.J. Meek.  Ansel Adams, Ruth Bernard, Al Weber, Imogen Cunningham, Jerry Uelsmann and other west coast photographers would frequent our campus giving workshops, lectures, exhibitions and critiques (late 1960s to early 1980s).  I didn't realize what a wonderful experience this was at the time.

Winters were so cold in Cache Valley, where Utah State is situated, with subzero temps for weeks at a time, that my camera gear wouldn't even function outdoors where I wanted to work.  I began to play with chemistry in the darkroom during those cold winter months.  When I went to work on my MFA, I broke with tradition and decided to do my thesis on the "Sabattier Effect."  My second emphasis was printmaking so I have a variety of solvents around the house.  I had researched what Henry Holmes Smith, Frederick Sommer, Francis Bruguiere, Man Ray and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy had done.  I became interested in the effects of soot on glass simply because it could be put in an enlarger and printed as a negative.  I accidentally dribbled some of the kerosene from the lamp I was using to soot the glass and WOW the most beautiful aray of patterns and 3D-looking landscapes unfold before my eyes.  I immediately started trying every solvent I had, finally settling on mineral spirits as the best and cleanest to the image.  I solarized some of the best "glassprints" and published them in my thesis in 1980.  There are two drawbacks to these clichés-verre: 1) When the solvent is applied, it breaks off bits and pieces of soot, sometimes leaving a matrix that has spots that are difficult to remove from the print.  These days, the matrix can be scanned and cleaned up with the healing brush and clone stamp tools in Photoshop.  2) Many attempts need to be made before coming up with a stunner - you generate a lot of rejects.

I've had a few arguments with photographers about the merits of such work along the lines of: is it really photography without a camera involved?  Douglas Kent Hall, the well known New Mexico photographer (who hailed from my hometown of Vernal, Utah), told me to "become the maestro, name it, teach it and present it to the world."  So I jokingly started calling them "Nolangrams."  We traded prints in 2000, not long before he passed away.

Working in isolation has, in some ways, been a benefit.  Not that I haven't been influenced by others but you get so you draw on something deep inside that starts to surface as your own self expression when you're just working by yourself.

So here I give you a sampling of Nolangrams - or clichés-verre if you prefer, or glassprints.  All are selenium-toned gelatin silver prints from a cliché-verre matrix of sooted glass, printed on Forte Warm Tone paper.

Next time we'll talk about my chemigrams, which have had a different history.

Preece, Nolangram #000(legs), 1979

Preece, Nolangram #026(rolling), 2001


  1. Beautiful and complex patterns that result in very interesting and mysterious images, Nolan. Looking forward to more work. And thank you to Doug Collins for posting the images and your explanation.

    Norman Sarachek

  2. Thank you Norman!
    I know of and appreciate your work. I am working on a couple of new techniques that I will talk about in my next conversations on this site.

    Nolan Preece