by Kara Q. Smith
San Francisco, May 2013: I met Jason Kalogiros at Building 11, an old warehouse-type structure at Pier 70, near the Port of San Francisco. Surrounded by an assortment of functional and non-functional factories, fences and loading docks, it was built in the early ‘40s by the government to support wartime production and now houses studio space for a selection of artists.
We first travel to the back of the studio so Jason can show me his Agfa Repromaster 310 from the late ‘70s. It's an old process camera, also called a copy camera, which was used by printmakers and graphic designers to do layout work and offset print production before more modern technology replaced it. Jason uses it to create unique copies of his source material, which these days often comes from books and magazines, turning mass-produced print material into one-of-a-kind objects. Our conversation illuminated why this camera is so important to Jason’s practice.
Jason Kalogiros, Blue Cheetah (Inverted Nude), 2013; unique chromogenic photograph; Courtesy the artist and QUEENS NAILS, San Francisco.
Kara Q. Smith: Talk to me about your process; how did you arrive at this interest in using outdated equipment and found materials in your work?
Jason Kalogiros: When I started undergrad, I was taking tons of photographs. I carried my camera around everywhere, but it didn’t seem to add up to anything, you know? It was about me carrying a camera around and spotting things and I began to really hate making photographs in that way, which drove me to stop making them. I had some years off between undergrad and grad and I had begun to make more sculpture. I was making a lot of cast sculpture.
It got to a point where I was more attracted to the molds I was making than I was to the actual thing I would make in the end, and that’s kind of where I was when I moved out here. I did not plan on making any photographs ever again, really. But through that initial thing that happens when you’re in grad school, where you need to present your work nine billion times the first semester, the language that I would use to talk about the sculpture was completely wrapped up in the discourse of photography. It was all about procedural methods; negative and positive…
KQS: There is a nice symmetry between the language of reproduction between photography and sculpture…
JK: That’s essentially what I honed in on was how similar a mold was to a negative for that matter. It seemed like a similar go between: the thing you need to make the other thing. So through just talking about the sculptural work I worked myself back to making photographs. It seemed that since I was using that language and I was talking about the sculptural work in that way that I should just try to make some more photographs. But I found myself at this point then where I still had the dilemma of what to make photographs of, you know, so I just tried to forget pretty much everything that I had learned and I just tried to start over making photographs. What’s the most rudimentary simple way that I could render an image? Way before undergrad during a summer camp I had a made pinhole camera, you know, how everyone’s made a pinhole camera. So I thought, okay I’m going to make pinhole photographs but what’s the subject matter going to be? I’ve always had this interest with the history of the medium itself and I just decided to start making these little pinhole photographs of images out of history-of-photography texts. So it was a way of using the beginner’s method to look at the beginning of the medium itself, you could say. That project got me thinking about photographs again but I felt like I just didn’t want to be making these appropriated images out of already made photographs – which is what I’m doing now [laughs] – but that led me to actually think about that vessel that was making the images. That was the archetypal Quaker Oats container [turned pinhole camera].
KQS: The pinhole camera is a sculptural object in itself. I think the first work of yours I became familiar with was your pinhole sunsets.
JK: Completely. I liked how that object was being repurposed. It had a previous use-function. I was perplexed by the fact that the Quaker Oats box is the go-to vessel for making a pinhole camera; it just seemed odd that the thing had a portrait on it, had a set of eyes [laughs], so I thought about making images using its eyes. So I poked out both of its eyes and I had no idea what the image would look like in the end. I was still considering: what do I take photographs of in the world? What’s the most exhausted image I could possibly think of? What is the most clichéd thing? What is completely exhausted of all possibility? I thought: a sunset! So I started printing these double sunsets out of it; what I thought I would end up with would look sort of like a ghost, with the two landscapes sort of superimposed on each other. But what ended up happening is when light was coming in each one of those apertures [eyes], it would just kind of overlap so you would have the sunset and the landscape and then you would have this other plane of image that would come into the camera and it would line up here. [The landscapes would almost seamlessly line up with each other.] So it looked like the only thing that was actually repeating was the sun because the water was continually moving and the landscape would bleed together and look like one, and the sky would do the same thing.
Jason Kalogiros, Double Sunset no. 11, 2010; c-print, edition of 5 with 2 proofs. Courtesy the artist and QUEENS NAILS, San Francisco.
KQS: Let’s move forward. I’m looking at the work you’ve selected for NADA, ArtPadSF, and your upcoming show at QUEENS NAILS. I want to ask you about the Sports Illustrated image, but I can’t stop staring at the image of the cheetah.
JK: I go through a lot of old printed material and look for images I can use, and when I found the cheetah it was in some fashion magazine from like ten, twelve years ago. I looked it and I thought: this thing is completely seductive; it’s supposed to be, it was in a fashion editorial spread. At the end of last year I started making these watch ad photograms and unique photographs and there were some Cartier ads that I had; Cartier would use baby cheetahs in their ads a lot – they still do – and it’s just like this sign of luxury and at that point it has nothing to do with that animal whatsoever. It's just a sign for something else: it’s a sign for luxury, it’s a sign for speed, it’s a sign for all these other things so I’m interested in how that thing that I’m using got divorced away from its original make up or message or identity.
KQS: Well, there’s sort of a sleek and svelte relationship between the image of the cheetah and a basketball player – this idea of a well-trained, well-fed, fast human and how these athletes stand out in culture when they are great at sports. They become our heroes; they become replicated constantly in our visual culture and millions of people are going to see them or have pictures of them in their house or on their McDonald’s cup. Why Sports Illustrated?
JK: Well, that’s Michael Jordan on the cover of Sports Illustrated and there’s another basketball player whose image I use a lot. His name is Dominique Wilkins but his nickname and his playing name was “The Human Highlight Film.” He developed that nickname while he was still in high school because opposing coaches would talk about all of the film that they would have to watch on this guy because they didn’t know how he was doing what he was doing. They’d watch more film on him than anybody else combined. They couldn’t learn how to defend [against] him.
I had this poster of Wilkins on my wall throughout childhood, which I recently rediscovered during grad school when my parents moved. Right when I was beginning to think about photographs again, I thought about his nickname. My favorite player growing up had everything to do with photography. What an absurd nickname and what an absurd relationship that I can make to that now. That reminded me of Muybridge in the sense of sequential images and being able to [picture] things beyond our vision. It’s photographs and reproductions of an event or thing to show you what you can’t see with the naked eye.
There are things that we can only see through reproduction; that is continually fascinating to me as an idea, which is wrapped up in my use of Wilkins’ imagery and Jordan is wrapped up in that as well. I think I am just trying to use these things that I know I’m influenced by somehow, or that I’m interested in. I mean, I’m actually interested in sports, so it seems logical for it to creep into the work or to make work about it.
KQS: On the wall, some of these images are framed, some are not and I notice that the cover of one of the Sports Illustrated images appears upside down. Is that intentional?
JK: I like what happens when they are framed; it intensifies their object likeness and they begin to look like photographs but also like objects. I want someone to have the feeling of how, [for instance] we are looking at these photographs on the table right now; some of these might happen to be upside down, so I want it to be upside down on the wall too. Though it also reverts back to the idea that when light travels through a lens, it flips upside down and backwards, so I want to keep that procedural conversation happening. Turning an occasional image upside down is one way of doing that.
Jason Kalogiros, Building 31/One Bad Apple, 2013; unique color photogram; Courtesy the artist and QUEENS NAILS, San Francisco.
KQS: Building 31/Bad Apple depicts an upside down barrel of apples, which could have been inverted in the photographic process or hung that way intentionally. It’s also an intriguing title. What is the context for this image?
JK: I have a real interest in the 1972 Munich Olympics for some reason. One reason is because one of the few books I had growing up was the World Almanac from 1972. [laughs] I can tell you a lot of shit that happened in 1972, but anyway, the images of that Olympics have always stuck out to me. I stumbled upon this two-page spread in a Sports Illustrated that was printed during the Munich massacre, talking about the hostage situation. On one side there was a guy in a red jumpsuit with a sniper rifle and the other side of the page was this sort of full-page blown out telephotograph of Building 31, where the Israeli athletes were being housed. I turned the page and there was a two-page ad for Chrysler Dodge Ram truck. The left page was this basket of apples and on the right page it said something like: “Dodge Ram Truck. One Bad Apple Spoils the Whole Bunch.” You don’t often find two images with absolutely zero text produced back to back in magazines. But I like the absurdity of both of these things being in contact with one another. The apples are lit like a Master’s painting and if you look closely at the image I produced, you can still see some of Building 31 in the background.
KQS: I’m cheating here because you already told me this, but Josef Albers did one of the posters for the 1972 Olympics and you did a series of Albers images as well.
JK: I found two portfolios of Albers’ work in the CCA library and it came in a point in time where I wanted to make less images from photographs and I wanted to transition into trying something else. And these things were paintings, so I wanted to make photograms from the paintings. What I thought would happen is that I would get inverted versions of each one of these Albers images. I didn’t have that long to work with them. They are valuable portfolios, each around $20,000, so they weren’t going to let me borrow them. So I said, you know, if anything happens, I’ll buy them. This actually happened post-grad while I was a faculty member in the photo department. So I worked something out with the CCA insurer where I could have one portfolio for eight hours and then bring it back and take the other portfolio out for eight hours. So in trying to quickly work with these images, I ended up just having to expose them with the room light instead of the light of the enlarger which I wasn’t planning on doing. But I wanted to work with his images because he made abstract paintings. There’s nothing more representational than a photograph. I liked that tension. I couldn’t make an abstraction, so I was making photograms of abstractions to develop the conversation. After that project, I wanted to use other Albers-derived stuff and one thing that I found was this poster he was commissioned to do for the 1972 Olympics. That’s the first point in time when there was a huge push by the Olympics committee to sort of brand the Olympics and create memorabilia. They went out and commissioned all these artists for posters and Albers was one of them.
KQS: Why is creating unique photographs important to you when working with source material?
JK: Everything I’ve made throughout the past three to five years has been 1:1. I enjoy how the artwork goes out to the world [like Albers’ work], is culled from the world [by me, in a different way] and it goes back out into the world as the same sort of mass or the same sort of volume as it was/is. The viewer would have the same relationship to the artwork size as, say, if they stumbled upon the original source when viewing my work – it’s the same relationship happening, which is important for me.
—Kara Q. Smith
ArtSlant would like to thank Jason Kalogiros for his assistance in making this interview possible.