The creator of our current exhibition NUMEN LUMEN REDUX, Bill Pielsticker, spent some time inside this weekend, answering questions about his process, the nature of Wisconsin's frozen lakes, and what the day after Christmas might hold for a professional photographer...
1. How did this project get started, how did you discover this? How did you know what you’d find in the ice, or did you?
Actually, each new opportunity to shoot on the ice brings new surprises. My first effort took me onto the frozen lake looking to make interesting images of plates of ice that formed in windy conditions as the lake froze. The plates were packed together and on end, and didn't look nearly as interesting in the camera as I expected. Discouraged, I meandered around for a while and came across a small patch of black ice, an underwater log, and frozen bubbles. This became my first Black Ice photograph, later rechristened Inner Space #1. Foreshadowing the eventual trajectory of the project, I also came upon what I first called "Ice Geometry" which I recently re-titled Patterns #1. These changed my whole concept of winter photography.
2. You became a professional photographer in 1998, but this exhibit hints at a past life that contained science, fractals, meteorology or even ophthalmology! So, Bill, what’d you do for a living before you became a professional photographer, and how did it mold the Inner Space and Patterns series?
Ahmm. I think my life would have been easier had I recognized my inner artist earlier. I have a BA in English, then returned to scool for a BS in Agriculture. After two years of losing money farming, I had a job as a cost accountant and a stint with a corporate training firm. I returned to school and completed an MA in American Politics. I quit work on my PhD. dissertation to follow my muse. All this time, my wife cultivated a career in natural resource conservation...thank goodness!
Much of what I know about ice and patterns I've learned after the fact. When I make landscape photographs, I research the area to provide information for the commentary I supply with each. The same happened with the ice images - my natural curiosity about what I was seeing in the ice drove me to learn about ice, crystals, etc..
3. You say in your bio that you’ve been a “serious” photographer since 1984. Would you tell us about your photographic history prior to 1984?
As a child I had a Brownie box camera, took a lot of photos and mailed them to a lab, which returned the snapshots with a new roll of film. In high school I had a Polaroid Swinger, allowing me the instant gratification we now have with digital cameras. After my Swinger was stolen, I retained little interest in photography.
About when I was 30, I purchased a Canon AE-1 and began tyring to make photographs. That is, I began to try to capture a scene in a way that would convey the feelings I had when viewing it. We would vacation in Colorado every summer, and I would go through 4 to 6 rolls of film a day, pick them up, and quickly sort between the good and the not so good. Reviewing what worked and what didn't, and why, is something I continue to practice.
4. There are some of the works in this exhibition that look like a negative print, with a dark mass on a white background. Specifically, in Pattern10a and Pattern10b, is this a negative print, or is that the way the light and ice behaved that day?
Ha! That's a fun one. I didn't have time to combine the two iterations in a single frame for the exhibit, but I've attached the diptych here.
I spent a few days following Christmas converting several of my Patterns images to black and white, which was relatively straightforward and, to me, strengthened their presentation. On Dec. 30, five days before hanging the exhibit, I returned to an image I rather like, but wasn't compelling to others. What I liked about Patterns #17 was the pattern, so I converted it to black and white, and liked what I saw. I then inverted the image and, after a bit of review, decided the straight black and white worked. Clearly for Patterns #10 I preferred the inverted/negative image paired with a rotated and flipped image.I spent the next five days reviewing "failed" Inner Space images and converting them to black and white, with or without inverting the result. With Patterns #10, I liked the result, but couldn't decide which orientation to use. Tracy Madison suggested using both, so I did. The question now is, just what is it you see?
5. You shoot a lot of quickly fleeting moments like ice and light, wildlife, and the reflections and ripples in running water. How does the ephemeral nature of what you seek and shoot inspire your own photographic practice?
The short-lived or fleeting nature of my subjects inspires me to put aside whatever I planned to do and pursue an opportunity that may not last, or that I may not get again. As a full-time photographer I have the ability to drop what I was doing to take advantage of weather conditions and lighting.
This has meant enduring single digit temperatures and biting wind the day after Christmas on the ice. It also has meant getting that one day when conditions are right to capture some new images, just before they are obscured by snow. Finally, it means I spend less time evaluating and more time shooting - serious previsioning is a luxury I can't afford in these conditions. Even so, I do take the time to consider framing alternatives, angle of light, etc.. Finally, it means that not every image works. And I learn from that.