Ryan Bush In conversation with Kathryn Dunlevie
Ryan Bush’s series of 3-D multiple-exposure photographs, titled Visions: Photographs from Another World, will be shown at HCP from February to April 2015. Kathryn Dunlevie sat down with Ryan to find out more about the series. (Images are best viewed with red/blue 3-D glasses.)
Kathryn Dunlevie: Let’s start with the title, could you say more about what you mean by it?
Ryan Bush: These photographs are about the visionary experience—the awe, mystery, and beauty that we can feel in the world of visions, and dreams, and other altered states. For example, in a dream you might see an image that’s powerful, beautiful and numinous, but so complex that it feels like it’s always just a bit beyond your grasp. That’s the feeling I try to evoke with these photographs.
KD: How did you get the idea for this series?
RB: I had done multiple-exposure photographs of trees for a number of years, but after having a powerful dream of a tree one night, I realized that my photographs didn’t have that same mysterious, captivating feeling. You need to overwhelm the senses with so much richness that you get that sense of awe and mystery...
KD: You give up trying to control it intellectually.
RB: Yeah, like with James Joyce’s Ulysses, you let go and you’re immersed in the experience. I tried a number of ways to get a richer experience, before realizing that 3-D was a perfect fit. Not only does it add a lot more complexity, it also allows me to explore abstract themes like the physical world and the ‘subtle’ world, the mixing of the human and the divine.
KD: The glasses let you go back and forth when you take them off or put them on again, rediscovering the third dimension, with a recurring sense of wonder.
RB: Absolutely, I think of the glasses as a metaphor for consciousness. We’re often caught up in our thoughts or whatever, and don’t really see the beauty that’s right in front of us. But when we wake up to the here and now, everything is suddenly so much more vivid and alive.
KD: When I put on the glasses, it felt like the space of the photograph was expanding in all directions, and up and down is an illusion. It’s a magical experience to be in this space, because you’re simply at a point and you can look out in all directions infinitely.
RB: Yeah, I wanted the world of the photograph to feel almost familiar, but not quite. Space is curved, time stands still, and shadows are cast from below as well as above. If you try to touch the images when wearing 3-D glasses, everything but the surface of the paper is teasingly out of reach. I want the works to be very experiential, and viewed in many ways. Try looking at them upside down!
KD: I understand these are hand-held multiple-exposure photographs, done in-camera rather than just copying the image in Photoshop. Is doing it by hand an important part of your process?
RB: Definitely. For me it’s a very meditative experience, concentrating on one tiny point out of the whole tree, getting the technical things right, and staying in a relaxed, Zen-like state throughout all the exposures. Lots of little asymmetries creep in, from the trees swaying, or from me moving, or losing my concentration. Imperfections are such an important part of our human world.
KD: What draws you to trees, especially? You’ve worked with trees in some of your previous bodies of work.
RB: As a child, the woods next door were a magical, mysterious place, and have been in my dreams ever since. I love tree’s musical rhythm and grace, and their symbolism—like the world tree, and the tree of life. In winter, trees are pared down to their essence, but there’s so much life still in them, just waiting to burst forth. Similarly, as artists we may go through periods of creative blocks…
RB: (Laughs) Yeah, that creative energy is still there, and will come out when the time is right.
KD: In terms of the influences on your work, I see that some of your pieces have a mandala-like, meditative quality.
RB: Absolutely. Buddhist mandalas were a big source of inspiration. Harry Callahan has always been a big influence on me, and there’s Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s Fourfold Vision series. Sculpture and architecture (like the work of Bernini) helped me to think in three dimensions. Besides art, there’s the music of John Adams and Zoe Keating, ideas from Jungian Psychology and from the 12th century mystic Ibn Arabi...Everything is related sooner or later!
KD: What are you working on next, or will it be ‘winter’ while you gestate?
RB: I’m working on two series. One series, Presence, involves themes of consciousness, the shadow, and the self (one of those images is in this issue’s List of Contributors, see page X). I’m also working on a series called Satori, of color 3-D photographs of trees in summer. I love coming back to the same trees again and again, it’s like visiting old friends. Besides trees, the world of 3-D photography is wide open, and there are so many options. I’ll keep looking to my dreams to see where I get led next.