“The quietude that people respond to in my pictures is, in part, because of the way the pictures are made: no flash; no harsh electric light; not even the sound of the shutter—just a lens cap removed, and then gently replaced. This encounter provides, for me, a metaphor for looking.”
John Dugdale’s photography, as well as his lifestyle, reflects his penchant for antiquity and relationships. He lives and works at Bethany Farm, an authentically restored 18th century farmhouse in upstate New York. Both his photographic equipment (he uses an old 8 x 10″ view camera) and his printing techniques (cyanotype and platinum) date from 1840 and were widely used till the turn of the century and stem from his deep admiration for the earliest of the 19th century photographers. His images; still lifes, portraits, nudes, and landscapes are deceptively simple. They are also intimate glimpses of private moments and personal spaces. There is a tranquil and timeless quality to his work.
The cyanotype process uses iron compounds as its light sensitive material. The emulsion is applied by brush to hand-made watercolor paper, and the resulting print is blue in tone. John Dugdale’s cyanotypes are rich and saturated; they are a brilliant Prussian blue. Combining with these images a hand made picture frame with imperfect antique picture glass, the pieces give the feeling that this series could have been done at the turn of the century. His images are influenced by 19th century imagery, as seen in his dream-like portraits or in his ordered still-lifes. From image to presentation the artist hand is apparent from start to finish.
Dugdale’s theme is one of survival and the triumph of the creative spirit; his vision is of umbrous beauty, emotionally rich and sensual. A successful commercial photographer, he was diagnosed HIV positive over ten years ago and nearly struck blind. Life forced him to see and photograph in a new and closer way.
In a review of his 1993 New York exhibition, Village Voice critic Vince Aletti commented, “Dugdale continues to skim the beautiful surface of his deeper concerns – spirituality, death, interior decoration – so his ultra refined Neo-Victorian sensibility and exquisite prints can be quite seductive.”
Recently having a solo exhibition at the Houston Center of Photography, Dugdale has received critical acclaim for his cyanotype images, images from this series also featured in a new publication entitled Lengthening Shadows before Nightfall. This series all photographed in his farm house in upstate New York combines vintage and modern techniques creating a unique blending of his subject matter, including family, friends, life, death, through images of portraits and still-lifes.