Biography and Artist's Statement
I was born in San Francisco, California in 1946 and moved to a very small town in the northern part of the state in 1950. We lived on a dirt street and the phone numbers were three digits. But, if one picked up the phone, the operator would address you by name and ask who you wanted to speak with. We did not even have to remember those small numbers.
When I was 14, my father committed suicide with my rifle. Thereafter, I was soon removed from school as having been determined to be ineducable and began working in a lumber mill and playing music with a band on the weekends. At 17, I enlisted in the Army (1963) and spent six years in the service, two and a half of them in Vietnam with Special Forces. My duties were dichotomous; I was both a medic and a sniper. When I returned from Vietnam in October 1968, I immediately became an alcoholic drinker and user of dangerous street and prescription drugs.
In 1985, at the age of 39, I had become so alcoholically, emotionally, physically and spiritually sick that in order to save my life I sought recovery through a 12 step program. Miraculously it worked the first time that I passed into the welcoming rooms and I celebrated 32 years of continuous sobriety on May 17 of this year.
In 1990 my sober life continued to resemble my drinking and drugging life and I came to believe that my lack of formal education was a major factor in my lack of significant financial and social development. To make a living after the war, I had a brief career as a professional musician and later became a machinist and eventually a quality control supervisor. My manufacturing career culminated with my work at the high-energy physics laboratory at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. I did work for a three-year period, beginning in 1987, as a medical-scientific photographer at the Stanford University School of Medicine. This was my only period of professional photographyr. Monochrome silver gelatin printing was my primary medium of personal photographic expression although my professional work was produced almost entirely in color transparencies.
While working in the manufacturing industry I returned to formal education in an attempt to improve my life circumstances. The College of Notre Dame in Belmont, California accepted me into their adult evening intensive degree program in 1990 and transferred the college credits that I had earned at several community colleges and the University of California, Berkeley. Some of these credits were 17 years old. I was graduated cum laude and elected into the Catholic University equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science Degree. Stanford University admitted me to its Master of Liberal Arts Degree Program that year and I was graduated from there with an MLA in the history of philosophy in 1998. It was during this marvelous educational experience that I came to aspire to work in biomedical ethics and realized that the most direct path to this important discussion was through legal training. The Vanderbilt University School of Law admitted me and I matriculated in 1998 and was graduated in 2001 with a Doctor of Jurisprudence Degree. It was through this unbelievable opportunity that my new wife, our two cats, and I moved to Nashville. My practice of law was retired in 2012 due to health considerations resulting from a severe heart attack.
When I was growing up my family had a small but nice collection of art: mostly etchings, prints, and line drawings. I now believe that I began to see the world as patterns of lines, shapes and textures without much contribution to my vision from the color of objects. Also, we spent some of my most warmly remembered times in the forests of the Sierra Nevada, Coastal and Cascade Mountains that surrounded our then little town. Later, after the war, I learned of the photography of Edward Weston and Ansel Adams as I pursued an amateur involvement in the craft. I have never developed the panoramic vision of Adams’ but I was attracted to his style of expressive printing. Weston’s vision of detail, shape, texture and light still informs my seeing the world. They, along with John Sexton, Bruce Barnbaum, Ray McSaveney and most recently, Sandy King, are the greatest influences in my work.
I find photography, as I practice it, a contemplative exercise. Mine is a slow process; until last year, I used a slow, large-format camera and slow film in order to capture as much detail as possible, so I photograph things that do not move much, or rapidly. I prefer photographing in low light which illuminates details lost in the harsh shadows of mid-day light. I miss much more than I see and many of my exposures lack the intensity of my experience while viewing the object before my lens. I tend to have a vertical view of things which informs the orientation of many of my images.
Several years ago I saw some reproductions of carbon transfer prints in an art magazine. Even though these pictures were half-tone ink reproductions, the remarkable tonal range of the medium shook me. A little research, long before the internet, caused me to believe that this craft was beyond my capabilities. Through more recent online research I discovered that the master of this nearly lost art is Sandy King, a retired professor at Clemson University who has photographed and taught carbon transfer printing world-wide. I contacted this wonderful teacher and gentle man and he agreed to give me a two-day tutorial at his home workshop in Greenville, South Carolina about three and a half years ago. It was also at this time that the Department of Veteran’s Affairs awarded me a settlement and I was able to build a laboratory and start printing photographs in my new-found medium after a long hiatus from any kind of photography due to lack of access to a proper facility and the business of working full-time while perusing my educational goals. Three months after my tutorial with Dr. King, I was diagnosed with Stage III B lung cancer which has since taken up residence in my brain. With this life-limiting condition, both in quality and duration, I am now urgently intent on making my legacy one of contemplative beauty. I expect that I will not produce a large volume of work and the images that I am offering here probably represent about two-thirds of my total pictorial contribution which I count as about 70-90 unique pictures. My lack of strength and stamina and the unpredictability of the carbon process severely limit the number of quality prints I can produce and making new images seems out of reach at this point.
I am now printing images that I made along the California coast and the High Sierra 25-30 years ago and more recently on Ossabaw Island. Through this process of scanning and converting negatives originally made for silver gelatin printing into negatives suitable for carbon printing, I have rediscovered long-forgotten images. Some that worked well in silver are unprintable in carbon and other images that I had laid aside as lacking in visual intensity have taken on new life as a result of the power and range of the carbon transfer process.
It is my desire that people viewing my pictures will be able to find the quiet, contemplative part of themselves and by intently studying these images, in detail and at a distance, over time, to enhance their appreciation of our places in the world. None of my pictures include people but they are made to intimately include the viewer and help them to connect with their spiritual nature through allegory and symbolism.
Fred A. Dusel III
September 26, 2017