Haunting black-and-white elegance in 'Michigan's Great Lakes' by Jeffrey Gaydash
Feeling stressed, and longing to quiet your mental clamor? Here's a prescription: Spend half an hour (or more) wandering "Michigan's Great Lakes: Photographs by Jeff Gaydash" at the Detroit Institute of Arts, up through May 3. This handsome show of large black-and-white images is calming and stirring both, and a reminder of the piercing beauty to be found in infinite gradations of gray.
The Detroit News caught up with Auburn Hills resident Gaydash -- who has a raft of prestigious photography prizes to his credit including the 2013 silver medal from France's Prix de la Photographie Paris (PX3) -- to talk digital vs. film, the power of the fine-art print, and the competing attractions of landscape vs. industrial beauty.
Your current show at the DIA focuses on the Great Lakes, but wasn't a lot of your earlier work industrial in nature?
Jeff Gaydash: "Yes. In the mid-90s at the College for Creative Studies, I was fascinated with industrial landscapes and the Rouge and Michael Kenna’s work, as well as Charles Sheeler's classic stuff from the Rouge in the 1920s."
But you seem to have moved away from that, into something more like landscape photography.
"Years ago, I’d shoot all over with a large-view camera. I’d set up, and nobody’d bother me. But post-9/11, the second you get a camera and pointed it anywhere, you’ve got security guards on you. It’s a whole different world. I’ve had guys with machine guns come up to me around Zug Island."
"No, it’s really wild. We’re in a world where everybody has a phone with a camera, and points it everywhere. If you want to shoot something to do bad stuff later on, you’re not going to do it with a tripod! Security issues have definitely made shooting industry harder. I got kind of frustrated."
Still, some industrial structures are visible in "Michigan's Great Lakes."
"We included those, like images along the water with Zug Island, because industry is part of the story of the Great Lakes. We thought it was important to make that connection in the show."
How long did you work on "Michigan's Great Lakes?"
"It probably represents 8-10 years' work. It wasn't that I set out to document the lakes per se, but I'd shot throughout Wisconsin, Chicago, Detroit, and a lot of the shoreline around Cleveland. But I didn't have anything from L. Ontario, unfortunately, so that's why we branded it 'Michigan's Great Lakes.'"
What were you aiming for with the lake shots?
"I use the Great Lakes as background and setting. I wanted to do long-exposure work, with the water and sky as background for subjects I was trying to capture in a kind of minimalist fashion -- juxtaposing the lakes with man-made objects in the water."
There's a remarkable depth to your shots, despite being somewhat monochromatic.
"I have this love for the dark room and the fine-art print. That's what photographers used to do. They made prints. Printing now is an afterthought. People go out, shoot, and post online. Nowadays, they don't really know how to make prints. But when I'm out shooting, I'm thinking about the print. I tell photographers, 'Think about the quality you're trying to get. You're going to hide a lot if you just go with a little jpeg image online."
Why use the tripod and long exposures on days that are bright enough for snapshots?
"I look at it as a reductive process – like a sculptor looks at a rock, removing the rock to create the sculpture. You're removing background distractions. Long exposures allow you to smooth out the sky and the water, remove all the waves, and create a more ethereal look – and this sense of time passing."
'Michigan's Great Lakes: Photographs by Jeff Gaydash'
Through May 3
Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward, Detroit
9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Thurs; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Admission free to Macomb, Oakland & Wayne county residents
Others: $14-adults; $9-seniors; $8-college students; $6-kids 6-17