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 uneducable 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 left the service, I 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 well known 12 step program. Miraculously it worked the first time that I passed through the door and I celebrated 30 years of continuous sobriety on May 17 of last year.
By 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 photography during my long amateur career. Monochrome silver gelatin printing was my primary medium of personal photographic expression although my professional work was produced 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 admitted 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 classics 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 the 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. While attending Law School I rekindled my love for Freemasonry, in which I was initiated in January of 1969, and I continue to be an active member of that ancient and august institution. 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 would 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, Costal 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 vison 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; I use 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. I miss much more than I see and many of the my exposures lack the intensity of my experience while viewing the object before my lens. I tend to have a narrow, 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 some art magazines. Even though these pictures were half-tone ink reproductions, the remarkable tonal range of the art shook me. A little research, long before the internet, caused me to believe that this craft was beyond my capabilities. After attempting this process for a while, I have not entirely abandoned this belief but a confluence of events made my foray into carbon transfer printing possible. Through online research I discovered that the master of this nearly lost art is Sandy King, a retired professor of Medieval Spanish 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 almost exactly one year ago. It was also at this time that the Department of Veteran’s Affairs awarded me a settlement. I was able to build a darkroom 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 lung cancer. With this life-limiting condition, both in quality and duration, I am now urgently intent on making my legacy one of contemplative beauty and spiritual kindness through my carbon printing and Masonic work. I expect that I will not produce a large volume of work and the images that I am showing probably represent about two-thirds of my total pictorial contribution to the art world which I count as about 40 unique pictures. My lack of strength and stamina and the unpredictability of the carbon process, especially for a new practitioner, severely limit the number of quality prints I can produce and making new images seems out of reach at this point.
The carbon transfer photographic printing process was developed in the late 1860's and was practiced through the first third of the 20th century with some fair amount of popularity, however, the advent of advances in silver photography, the development of the miniature 35 mm camera and the introduction of color photography quickly eclipsed this extremely time-consuming and disaster-ridden practice and carbon printing materials disappeared from the market. Now one is required to make her or his own materials entirely. The technical aspects of chemistry and computer modified images have added to my attraction to the craft of photography. I am now printing images that I made along the California coast and the High Sierra 25-30 years ago. 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 cause the viewer to connect with their spiritual nature through allegory and symbolism. Sobriety saved my life and it is my deep desire that my art and my social contributions through the good works of Freemasonry have made it a life worth saving.
Fred A. Dusel III
January 29, 2016