David Van Allen, Assembled Portraits
David has been doing these multiple-image portraits since 1997. Each fragment is from a 35mm film negative. Each portrait was made from 5 to 8 rolls of 36exp. film, with a close up lens and a very close camera (4-5 inches). The focus ring is taped down so that the camera/subject distance remains constant as the hand-held camera “scans” the subject. The camera remains parallel to the subject. This distinguishes these pictures from other multiple-image panoramas and “weaves” which collect all of their parts from one, rotating camera position. This should also be distinguished from digital photography and photoshop.
Each fragment is individually printed in the darkroom and often reprinted with adjustments. These fragments are aligned, overlapped and taped together until the final image resolves itself in as many as 3 months. At that point the image gets cut down to a single layer and mounted.
Multiple points of view and multiple points in time are important aspects of these images. So perspective shifts, expressions change, and posture and gestures adjust.
Private space is invaded by the camera stage of this process. The subject is asked to look back at the camera with a matched intensity to the scrutiny they feel confronted with. The goal is to make a portrait that is looking back at the viewer as intensely as they are being observed by the viewer, resulting in (hopefully) a “conversation” between the subject and the viewer.
Concepts of time are being explored here. There are many points in time that are being included here; not merely a single fraction of a second. The time it takes to shoot all of the fragments lasts about as long as the viewing of a short film. The time to make the final print takes a very long time, enough time to discover new ideas, sit back and stare at it, and make adjustments, mid-process. The viewer tends to spend more time viewing the image as is seduced into wandering around the image. The viewer’s eye is forced to stop and start throughout the picture as it adjusts to unexpected shifts in focus, multiple hands and edges that don’t always line up. All of this “work”, on the part of the viewer, taps into the part of the brain that processes movement. We’re not literally fooled into thinking that these images are moving, but they nevertheless trigger a feeling of energy, entropy and a sense of the passage of time.
Imagining “The Grid” is part of a mental frame of mind. It provides a structural paradigm
onto which much chaos is dumped. The act of adjusting and aligning the fragments is more beholding here to the grid than it is to “reality”.
Since the beginning of photography it has always been very “democratic”. Within a decade of it’s inception (1839), photographic portraiture became accessible and affordable to a huge number people. Prior to that, only the rich and famous could afford a “likeness” of themselves and their families in the form of paintings and drawings. When George Eastman invented the box camera and flexible film in the 1880s, even more people could participate in the making of photographic images. And after a while, the common person could look at images of their distant and/or deceased relatives and connect with them in a way never before experienced in history. Equally significant is the advent of digital photography and the ever more sophisticated technology that accompanies it. All the while including more and more people in the activity of making photographs. Like with the box camera, one no longer has to be a professional photographer and/or chemist in order to access this medium successfully. Also noteworthy: image making is exponentially faster to make and to distribute than ever before.
David seems to be going in the opposite direction. Or maybe it’s sideways? There must be a compass around here somewhere.
About the Artist
David Van Allen grew up in Iowa City, the eldest son of Maurice and Janet Van Allen. He received a BA in English from St. Olaf College in 1973 and returned to Iowa City for an MFA in photography at the U of I School of Art & Art History (1980). He began teaching shortly thereafter at Kirkwood Community College (1981-1990), then also at Mount Mercy College (1983-2012), along with several classes at Coe College. He retired from teaching as Professor Emeritus (Mount Mercy University) in 2012. Travels have taken him to Mexico and Guatemala many times and also to Egypt, Sudan, Georgia, England, Czech Republic and Germany. He had a live-in studio in downtown Iowa City (19 1/2 S. Dubuque St.) in the 1980s and now lives in his studio in the Cherry Building in Cedar Rapids.
FilmScene's lounge features rotating exhibitions highlighting the work of local photographers and other artists with a kinship to cinema.
For inquiries regarding our gallery space, our to submit work to be featured, contact our gallery curator, Barry Phipps.
- Vero Rose Smith, Iceland
- Dawn Frary, Grotto
- Peter Feldstein
- Nic Wynia, Pond Hockey
- Barry Phipps, Iowa Photographs
- Sandy Dyas
- Scott Duncan, Touba