Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ambient Light: Marcus Kesler

Author: Heather Eck (OVAC Intern)
Marcus Kesler, Taft, Photography, 16" x 24"
Light. Place. Time. These are just a few factors that Edmond artist Marcus Kesler takes into account before making a photograph. His Concept/OK Survey exhibition piece, Taft, further explains why light is so important. For each photograph Kesler makes, he uses light and the color of light to tell a story within the locations he shoots. 

Most of his locations have a history, especially this clump of ruins in Taft. The state of this location is what inspired Kesler to plan and capture the image. He describes the ruin looking as if a fire made its way through it; the red light you see mimics the supposed fire. Kesler informed me further as to why and how he uses light to breathe life back into these rather lifeless locations.

Q: What is the process in which you light your subjects? What kind of lights do you use?
MK: After taking a neutral photograph using only ambient light to get a good feeling for the subject that I am photographing, I start walking around the area and use a handheld flashlight to illuminate different areas of the scene. I try to get a feeling of how certain areas stand out once they are painted with light and I try out different colors to see how they complement the atmosphere that is already there. 

The goal of the light painting is to help the object or place tell its story and to share the emotions that are already present. Once I have an idea of how to do that, I start taking 3-5 minute exposures of the scene and then use that time to move around and manually paint individual scenes with light using a variety of flashlight and a handheld strobe, both covered with different colors of theater gels. The setup is very portable and fits in a small bag that gives me the mobility needed to travel in and out of different areas at night.

Q: How do you determine which location to shoot?
MK: The general areas are either determined through research or pure luck, often both. During my process of photographing historical African-American towns in Oklahoma I spent a lot of time at the Oklahoma Historical Society looking over old maps and land surveys to find the locations of towns that no longer exist. 

Once I found the general locations of these towns I used satellite maps to see if I could find any sings that there are still buildings to photograph. But the majority of locations are found by simply driving around the state while keeping an eye out for locations with potential. Sometimes it is fairly easy and you just happen to come upon an old abandoned gas station. When I do find a location I try to spend at least 5 minutes just walking around the area before setting up to take a picture to feel out the location and to let it tell me what kind of story it wants me to tell.

Q: Do you work in any other photographic medium, such as large format, or do you strictly practice digital photography?
MK: I strictly practice digital photography at this time. The instant feedback and being able to review your ideas is a very valuable ability to have. There have been many times where I have thought that something would look wonderful in a certain color, only to find that the material that I was painting absorbed all the color and almost nothing was visible in the final picture. Using digital allowed me to identify that problem and correct it on site. Digital also has certain benefits over film when it comes to long term exposure and being able to calculate the amount of time needed for each picture.

The Concept/OK: Art in Oklahoma exhibition is open to the public through February 16, 2013  at the new Tulsa Arts and Humanities Council’s Hardesty Arts Center. See www.concept-ok.org for more information. 

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