INTERVIEW, 8-20-11

Anjali Gupta: Talk to me about your shift from straightforward to nontraditional portraiture and landscape photography. Was there a specific inspiration for this? 

Rodolfo Choperena: Yes. Olafur Eliasson exhibited a piece at the 2005 Venice Biennale called “Your Black Horizon” in a pavilion designed by David Adjaye. In 2007, the piece moved to Lopud, Croatia. In essence, it is a single beam of light that surrounds the space, 360 degrees, shifting through the color spectrum of a single day every 15 minutes.

I traveled to Lopud specifically to see the installation. It was an overwhelmingly contemplative experience, and after what seemed like hours, I began taking pictures. In reviewing these images—snapshots, really—I became obsessed with the subtleties of captured light: tonal shifts and fractures that the eye fails to notice.

AG: It is interesting that the impetus for a major shift in the way that you harness photography was inspired by happenstance, but the process you have developed has become, over time, quite regimented. 

RC: When the work was first taking form, it was all about wonderment—about the unseen world—but it wasn’t until after my first series was printed that I began to explore the potential for staging and further in-camera manipulation. I traveled to Careyes, Mexico. Call it the prismatic effects of optics, the magnificent light of the Pacific or just an epiphany, but in that second series, everything changed. I began to really see the way that light refracts and bends and curves in three dimensions. It does so naturally, but we simply don’t notice. It’s all about physics.

AG: All of that is in keeping with the basics of how the medium itself works, but what you are doing obliterates the immediacy of the photographic process in terms of the way people digest and process (or rather, don’t process) images. We’ve come to understand the photographic image as a journalistic rendition of reality and don’t even think about how—or how much—they are being manipulated by what they see. But when one stands in front of one of your pieces, they know that they are being manipulated, and that can be a source of discomfort.

RC: That brings us back to process, and how my process is evolving. I started by shooting what I saw. Then the inner art director came out to play…what if there were deeper tones of blue here, or a shock of pink there? I soon started incorporating textiles into the work, which was the first element of staging I explored. It is a way of injecting and sharing a piece of the personal.

AG: Do you feel that the longer you explore this process, the more elaborate this is becoming—and will become?

RC: Absolutely. In the current series produced for my exhibition at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, I set out to do a study of light, breaking it down into the rather simple way that the eye sees and interprets color. Beyond chroma, in choosing the final images, I looked for texture, depth. Beyond all else, I look for beauty. They—the images—must speak to me. The images must have a sensual quality that goes beyond the parameters of an exploration of the physics of light.

Shadows, too, are of the essence. Look at the hyperreal work of Claudio Bravo and Jason Martin, two of my favorite artists. Martin, even more so than Bravo, achieves multidimensional effects even in monotonal, monochromatic work. Subtleties intertwine in the most sensuous of ways. That is what I am trying to achieve in this series.