For Mabry Campbell’s series “Honoring — The Time Dynamic,” Campbell carefully selected architectural subjects that pay tribute to a person, place or idea. With spaces including John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza and The James Turrell Skyspace, the photographs in the series insinuate the present and future by highlighting the past.
“It was important to me to choose subjects that represented our history, as history can be forgotten very easily if we are never reminded of it,” Campbell says. As a result, it was also important that the subjects remained recognizable and their steadfast nature shined bright. Despite time’s natural passing during Campbell’s exposures, “the sculptures,” he says, “stand resolute.”
ASMP: Your specialty is architectural photography, both commercial and fine art. What is the main difference between your commercial work and your fine-art work within this genre of photography?
Mabry Campbell: My ability to be creative and achieve my vision is far greater in my fine-art photography. Commercial architecture photography is almost always in color and clients want the photographs of their buildings to represent them as they actually are. My fine-art photography is limited only by my imagination.
ASMP: What types of architecture inspire you most?
MC: I am inspired by architecture that is designed as art, where interesting volumes are primary and function is secondary. It needs to push the field of architecture in a new direction and be original. I am inspired by post-modernism and its sub-movements. Examples of this are: the Pennzoil Building in Houston by Philip Johnson (which is arguably the number one building in post-modernism), 8 Spruce Street in New York City by Frank Gehry, Aqua Tower in Chicago by Jeanne Gang, KPN Tower in Rotterdam by Renzo Piano, Erasmusbrug in Rotterdam by Ben van Berkle, Den Blå Planet in Copenhagen by 3XN, The Hague by Richard Meier and most designs by Santiago Calatrava.
ASMP: Are there any particular photographers or other artists whose work influences your aesthetic?
MC: I am most influenced by photographers whose images are immediately identifiable to the photographer and who have a defined vision of what they are trying to make. A good example is Andreas Gursky. If you see a Gursky, you know it’s his photograph before you read the label below the print. Additionally, he knows exactly what he is trying to make — nothing is created haphazardly. I am also influenced by Michael Kenna, Hengki Koentjoro, Cole Thompson, and Joel Tjintjelaar.
ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?
MC: My style is based on a desire to remove the subject from reality. I employ very long exposure times, and shoot in black and white using an infrared camera and non-traditional lenses (such as tilt-shifts) for fine art. My post-processing technique is a time-intensive style in which I shape the light in the image to create the mood. I am very careful to have all zones represented in the final image, from pure white through pure black, but I add a processing element here that also separates my work from most photographers: I like to have two zones spike in my images. Which zones spike is determined by my vision; sometimes it is zones two and six, sometimes zones three and nine and so forth.
ASMP: In the series, “Honoring — The Time Dynamic,” what buildings, structures and landmarks did you photograph? Why?
MC: The “Honoring — The Time Dynamic” series was a departure for me in terms of subject matter and the meaning behind the subjects I chose. As the name implies, the subjects were all built to honor a person, place or idea.
For Honoring I through IV, I selected the James Turrell Skyspace because it honors the sky and the changing look of the sky over time. The John F. Kennedy Memorial and the Sam Houston Monument are more straightforward subjects, as these well-known designs honor specific people. The San Jacinto Monument honors the Battle of San Jacinto.
It was important to me to choose subjects that represented our history. These four sculptures stand on their piece of earth to remind us of the past and how it relates to our present and future.
To convey the essence of time in the images I chose to use very long exposures of around six to ten minutes each. As time passes by during these long exposures, the sculptures stand resolute.
This series is not over. I am currently working on Honoring V and VI, which I hope to complete in 2015.
ASMP: What type of lighting did you use for this series?
MC: I used only natural light in this series — the images were taken in the middle of the day. To achieve the long exposure times, I used 16 stops of neutral-density filters made by Formatt-Hitech.
ASMP: How much time do you spend post processing your fine-art images? Can you describe your techniques and process?
MC: My post-processing time varies between images: some may take 20 hours and some may take 60 hours. This time is not spent in one sitting; I work on an image and then let it rest. I repeat this over and over, which translates into several months to finish one image. To keep my eyes fresh, I usually work on three images at any one time, alternating between them during their “resting” period.
In Photoshop, I make precise selections at 500 percent zoom of every volume of the building. I make luminosity selections from “very dark” to “very light” zones. These selections are combined so that I am able to work on one part of the image at a time. I use layer masks with the gradient tool to shape the light in the image to make my vision come to life. In this way I have complete control over the tonal values of every part of the image and can make smooth transitions between them.
ASMP: What do you consider the most valuable aspect of your ASMP membership?
MC: My membership in ASMP has led to many tremendous relationships with outstanding photographers, which is invaluable. Additionally, ASMP photographers tend to share knowledge and experience.
ASMP: What is the most important relationship you’ve formed through your ASMP membership?
MC: For my fine-art work it would have to be Bob Gomel. Bob has taken a sincere interest in my fine-art photography from the beginning and is very encouraging and helpful in seeing me be a success in this field. I’m not going to speak for Bob, but when someone asks you “what you are working on next?” you know they care about your work.