Photography

The preface to my forthcoming book, Ineffable Light–reprinted below–will tell you most of what you need to know about how I came to photography and what motivates me artistically. While my series have always been fairly narrative in nature, recent work has focused on symbiotically combining contact prints of handwritten text with my images of landscapes and other subject matter. Their presentation in a gallery setting has been compared to “an open illustrated journal hanging on a wall.”

My current major project combines journal entries from people I do not know with found negatives from other people I do not know, and juxtaposes them in a manner that forces the viewer to reconsider issues of personal and private identity, cultural voyeurism, and the manner in which we construct our own narratives and those of others. Intended as a gallery exhibition with a companion published narrative, Other People’s Lives should be complete sometime in late 2013.

You can find more information about my photography, including sample images and some full series at ericplaag.wordpress.com. This is also the best place to check for updated information about various gallery shows–past, present, and future–as well as new projects, intriguing experiments, and forthcoming photo books.

Preface from Eric’s forthcoming photography collection, Ineffable Light:

One might say that it was fate that brought me to photography. Or perhaps a happy accident. Sometimes I don’t know the difference, if there is one.

I spent much of my adult life convinced that I was incapable of being an artist. In the waning months of my doctoral program in American history at the University of South Carolina, I tossed off this belief and heeded the sage advice of a dear friend who insisted I find an outlet for my long-neglected sense of creativity, some artistic endeavor that would balance the load of ten-hour days spent writing analytical dissertation copy.

At first I tried drawing, given that I had never been able to draw before, and the good folks at the Columbia Museum of Art’s About Face artist group took me in and gave me a place to learn. This proved deeply satisfying, as I discovered that drawing reasonably well was not only possible for me but also something that opened other doors that had always been closed to me visually. Charcoal was especially rewarding, allowing me to push around and futz with what I first put on the canvass, while also giving me the dense, compelling shadows that I could not achieve with a pencil. Nevertheless, I still felt unsatisfied, hampered, bottled up. There had to be something more.

Beginning in January 2006, my attention turned toward black and white darkroom photography. I have remained something of a purist, finding my greatest satisfaction in the analog world of manual aperture settings, trays filled with liquid chemicals, and fiber-based silver gelatin prints. Although I have recently experimented with toning and various alternative processes, my aesthetic remains rooted in the rich shadows of the black and white image.

Perhaps the most liberating discovery for me has been the toy Holga given to me by my friend and mentor, Toby Morriss. I will forever appreciate his decision to tape over the viewfinder and force me to play catch with the camera, during which he intentionally dropped it several times when I tossed it to him. His act of rebellion forced me to let go. The result is an intriguing dichotomy in my work, one I have been exploring more directly in my most recent series. Whereas the images I take with my Bronica are very carefully composed and precisely executed, everything that happens with the Holga is pure serendipity, something I’ve always had trouble letting happen on its own. Now, happy accidents abound, and if there are photography gods to be praised for that, well, then, they have my enduring devotion.

Funny, too, that these happy accidents of creative discovery should occur at a time when the rest of my life has been filled with curious synchronicities, puzzles, and paradoxes that often leave me speechless. I do not plan my series ahead of time. Instead, I take things the way I find them, and that usually means shooting in the midst of the unexpected: a chance meeting in Heavenfield that alters the lives of two solo travelers; inexplicable events in the remote ruins where Homer and Odysseus once walked; ethereal notions uncovered in the blurred boundaries between time and space; staggering beauty in the wake of unimaginable grief.

These images, then, are the result of an ongoing effort to capture visually the serendipity of mystical experience. Rather than speaking a thousand words, as the old saying goes, the photographs in this collection serve as iconography for the times when words fail us, when saying anything at all would belittle the moment.

*****

Ineffable Light is currently planned for release in 2013. The above material is ©2008 by Eric Plaag.

IMAGES FROM RECENT GALLERY SHOWS

Eros and Aletheia series, The Illusion of Truth exhibition, Gallery 80808, Summer 2010

But One Man Alone… series, Photogra3 exhibition, Gallery 80808, Winter 2008

All images from the Photogra3 reception are courtesy of Joshua Burrack and Jennifer Knight.

Eleusis series, from Memento Mori, City Art Gallery, Spring 2007

All images from the Memento Mori reception are courtesy of Kathleen Robbins.

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3 Responses to “Photography”

  1. Your photography work is wonderful. It talks to me like a dream unremembered…or intentionally forgotten. Visions captured by the eye you should have been born with, but had to create for yourself. It not as easy as it should be, is it? All us artists just trying to find the way back to ourselves! I guess it’s rather funny, in an existential way, huh? I myself don’t laugh as much as I should…Keep working and keep sharing!
    Lindsay

  2. Susie Stockton Says:

    Hi Eric,
    I thought of you yesterday and went googling…so impressed with what I found! I really want to read that book, and I would love to buy it for my library—but I don’t think any of my elementary school patrons would appreciate it. I can wait. I’m patient.

    Anyway, I feel I should say something about the photography but you have me all tongue tied and feeling self conscious.

    Susie
    qlady2008@gmail.com

  3. Eric

    I was completely overwhelmed by your work exhibited in the Sumwalt building on the campus of USC. How do I purchase some of your work?

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