|Photo Credit: Arnée Carofano|
"Broken Dreams" portfolio is published in "LensWork" No. 104, January - February, 2013
|"Two Arrows, Arizona", 2004|
|"Airstream, Mojave Desert, CA", 2003|
|"Graveyard, Trona, CA", 1994|
|"Lotus, Santa Barbara", 2004|
|"Machado Lake #14"|
|"Fire & Tree, Santa Barbara, CA", 2010|
|"Cuyamaca Fire #1, San Diego County, CA" 2003|
|"Point Fermin, San Pedro, CA", 2010|
|"Opera House, Havana Cuba", 2002|
|"Oil Tank, Taft, CA", 1997|
I am most grateful to Ray Carofano for allowing me to
feature his work here on my blog.
feature his work here on my blog.
Feature by Nell Campbell from the Fall, 2004, issue of "Photographer's Forum":
On a warm Southern California winter day my friend, photographer, and fellow bookaholic, Tom Moore, and I drive south from Santa Barbara to visit and interview Ray Carofano. Ray and his wife, Arnee, live and work in a former Crocker Bank building on Seventh Street in San Pedro, California. San Pedro is a harbor and fishing town located south of LAX off the 405, as we say here in southern California. Probably one of the few if not the last California coastal town that hasn't been totally gentrified. Seventh Street is a somewhat funky and interesting street of art galleries and shops. A nostalgic reminder of the way Southern California coastal towns were thirty years ago before inflated real estate values forced out local businesses. The night deposit drop on the front of the building tells us that we are in the right place. We soon learn that Ray now uses the night deposit drop for film pickup and delivery. The photo lab driver has a key that allows him to retrieve and return the film. The former bank which the Carofanos purchased six years ago serves as their home, studio, darkroom, and as an art gallery, Studio 478. Ray and Arnee are very active in the San Pedro art community, particpating in First Thursday when the galleries have open houses in the evening. According to a recent newspaper article in Random Lengths by Taso Papadakis, Studio 478's opening night parties are legendary for their good exhibitions, live music, and warm atmosphere provided by the host and hostess, Ray and Arnee.
Ray and Arne have been together for about thirteen years. Arne is a painter, SX-70 photographer, former TWA flight attendant, and an active participant in their combined artistic lives. Arnee is responsible for the digital post-production on the commercial shoots. Ray is a commercial and fine art photographer who readily acknowledges Arne's contribution to the success of his career. Ray says that, Arnee is one of the best things that happened to me in my life. She supports my work and what I do. She takes care of all the paperwork in dealing with galleries, consignment forms, where prints are and where they are going. Which allows me time to be creative. There was a period of time in the eighties when I did very little personal work. I was shooting commercially everyday and there wasn't much time for personal projects. When I met Arnee, she was looking at my personal work and said what is this about? How come you are not doing this anymore? At that point, I asked myself that question and started to get back into shooting for myself.
Ray grew up, an only child, in Connecticut, north of Camden in Mount Carmel. As an only child Ray said, that he had periods of loneliness and that he would create diversions, building forts and tree houses, fishing, and exploring the woods. Woods where he once was lost and which he describes as mysterious. Carol McCusker in her text for Carofano's exhibit, terra phantasma, at the Museum of Photographic Arts quotes Carofano, Today, sometimes when I'm working in a wooded area, I relive that experience, and when looking through the viewfinder, I try to isolate things to get that feeling of a strange and mysterious landscape...which allows the viewer to sense what I feel.
Carofano is almost entirely a self-taught photographer. He attended Connecticut State and took one photography class at the Pierre School in New Haven, Connecticut. It was in the sixties when Carofano started getting serious about art. He was going in to New York City almost every weekend to visit the museums especially the Whitney and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
1967 was a seminal year for Carofano. He was starting to photograph seriously and as many of his generation did he moved to California. Ray says that he had long hair (he now wears his gray hair in a short braid) but that he didn't dress like a hippie. He did photograph a love-in at Elysian Fields in Griffith Park. In 1968, he returned to Connecticut for a year before returning to California for good. Ray worked at the Riviera Camera store located on Pacific Coast Highway in Redondo Beach. At that time, manufacturers of camera equipment offered sales people deep discounts on their products as a sales incentive. Ray was able to purchase a Nikon at ten percent below dealer's cost. The store owner helped Ray by displaying his photographs in the store and by introducing him to the owner of an advertising agency which specialized in real estate. One of his first jobs was in Santa Barbara photographing an ocean front property slated for luxury condominiums. Ray's job was to photograph oceanscapes at the site. As Carofano's work increased for the advertising agency he reduced his hours at the camera store. Ray was working out of his house in Torrance. His next step was to convert the garage into a shooting area. When he out grew the garage, he rented an industrial space in Gardena for twenty years, until moving to San Pedro. Carofano's commercial speciality was product photography. He has shot everything from automobiles to computers. Through his early product photography for All-Trade, a manufacturer of hand-tools, he became known for tool photography and has shot for Makita. Carofano is still very much involved in commercial work. He says that, commercial work really pays the bills and allows him to pursue his personal work.Ó Ray says, I didn't even plan on becoming a commercial photographer. I had this fantasy that I could make a living back in the sixties selling my own personal prints. That fantasy came to a screeching halt with a pregnant wife. When Ray's first wife was pregnant, there were very few or maybe no photographers who were able to make a living selling prints of their personal work. In December of 1970, I saw Ansel Adams' Moonrise Over Hernandez for sale for one hundred and seventy-five dollars at the Focus Gallery in San Francisco. I think that even Ansel Adams, who was and probably still is the most widely known photographer in the United States, wasn't able to make a living from print sales until late in his career. Carofano's personal work does sell very well as evidenced by thirty print sales at his 2003 solo exhibit at the Couturier Gallery in Los Angeles. He is aslo represented by the Staton-Greenberg Gallery in Santa Barbara.
Around 1994, after thinking about Arnee's questions about his personal work, Ray made a conscious decision to devote more time to his personal work. When we visited Carofano in February, he was preparing for an exhibition, Ray Carofano/Ten Years, to be held at El Camino College Art Gallery in Torrance. The exhibit consisted of one hundred prints covering the time period 1994-2004. Carofano has a large body of work organized into seven (at this time) series. The titles of the series and the year that Carofano began some of them are, Abstracts (early 1990's), Landscapes (1994), High Tension (1994), Faces of San Pedro (1998), Cuba, Desert, and the Mojave Series (2003). All of Carofano's personal work is shot in black and white. He still primarily shoots film for his personal work but has digital equipment for commercial jobs. He makes his own prints in the darkroom but also prints some images digitally. For the El Camino exhibition, he made thirty-three 8x10 silver gelatin prints of the series, Faces of San Pedro. The black and white silver gelatin prints are split-toned with sepia and selenium. The 8x10's were then scanned and printed digitally as 22x28 inch prints on the Epson 9600 printer. These prints were exhibited in a large grid for the recent El Camino College show.
The Faces of San Pedro series has two distinctions from the other six series. This series is the only one with people as the subject and the only series that was shot in the studio. Carofano shot the portraits with a Mamiya RB67 and strobe lighting. Faces is a portrait series of local San Pedro residents whose faces reflect their hard lives. Carofano met and became friends with some of the subjects in a San Pedro bar that is a meeting place for the artistic community. In the Random Lengths article, Carofano is quoted as saying that, ' Most of the sessions were late at night sometimes two or three after the bars had closed. I think the fact that my subjects and I had a few drinks made for more casual shooting.
Bill Kouwenhoven, the editor of photo metro magazine, wrote about the Faces of San Pedro series in a brochure for Carofano's 2003 exhibition, Personal Alchemies, at the Couturier Gallery in Los Angeles. Kouwenhoven writes: "The Faces of Pedro is a huge investment in time and energy on the part of the photographer and his subjects. San Pedro was always a tough town, and the collapse of the fishing fleet and closing of the canneries have left a deep void on those living there that the expansion of the Port of Los Angeles has yet to fill. In a way, it seems a town that Steinbeck or Chandler would have written about: hard, proud, mule stubborn, and hard pressed by the outside world." As Carofano tells it..."The faces tell a story, a sort of history about San Pedro like nothing else I have photographed."...Carofano's portraits are haunted by the haggard visages and dark shadings that speak of those moving through long nights looking for something that was, and might never be again. They are portraits of characters, not caricatures. Carofano transcends the risk of letting the images fall into cliches, and that is very hard to do.
The High Tension series begun in 1994 which Carofano continues to work on when he finds a film worthy subject is one of my personal favorites. Using his selective vision and creative darkroom techniques Carofano makes luminous abstract images from a subject that one usually thinks of as a blight on the landscape. Karen Sinsheimer, Curator of Photography at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, has written about this series: Delicate yet strong with design dictated by function, these man-made structures become architectural abstractions of near beauty. On his website (www.carofano.com) Ray writes about his landscape work, "...seldom interested in the overall landscape. It's the bits and pieces that make up the landscape that is of interest to me."
Approximately four years ago, Carofano began experimenting with the plastic Holga camera. If you google the Holga camera on the web, you will get 33,100 results. Out of these thousands of possibilities, I was able to learn that the Holga is made in China and production began in 1982. One of the attributes of the Holga is that the lens is plastic which makes an image that is sharp in the center while the sharpness falls off on the corners. It is this quality that appeals to photographers interested in altering the reality of their images. The Holga is an unintentional successor to the Diana which was another Chinese -made plastic camera popular with artists in the 1970's. As a little sidenote, I googled the Diana camera and got 752,000 possibilities. The Holga costs approximately sixteen dollars and is available in camera stores and on the web. The Holga only has one shutter speed and that is 1/100 of a second. It has two aperture settings, f8 and f11. It uses 120 size film and can be formatted as a 6x6 centimeter or as a 6x4.5 centimeter image. Carofano owns six Holgas. Multiple Holgas allow him to use different films at the same time. Because of the single shutter speed Carofano will use a tripod in low-light situations and trip the shutter repeatedly, sometimes as many as sixteen times, in order to build up exposure. Neutral density filters are helpful to cut exposure when working in bright sunlight. Ray also owns a couple of Holgas that have been modified to allow the shutter to remain open, like a B setting, for time exposures.
Carofano's most recent work, The Mojave Series, was shot exclusively with the Holga. On a November 2003 trip to Montana, Ray took his new digital camera, a Mamiya 645, a Leica, and the six Holgas. He says, "...it was too confusing. When your eye sees something, you have to make this decision of which camera to use. On the last four trips to the Mojave, I only took the Holgas. Then, I started seeing that way. After the trip to Montana, I found myself in the computer room, spending hours and hours working on an image, trying to make an image from an eight thousand dollar camera look like an image from a sixteen dollar camera."
With the new Mojave Series, Carofano tones his prints with selenium for permanence. Then, he tints his prints with tea, a combination of Lipton Tea and Berg's Organic Yellow Dye. He experimented for over a year and a half to achieve the best results. In the beginning he ran into problems with staining and unevenness. He discovered that a metal tea pot was one of the problems and he switched to glass, which helped and then he started using distilled water. Tinting, as opposed to toning, affects the whole image not just the silver parts as in toning. Carofano is very open and generous with his technical knowledge. He has taught workshops about his techniques and feels that even using the same techniques photographers see differently and will not come up with identical images.
Carofano is a master printer and over many years of experimentation has developed many sophisticated burning, dodging, and flashing techniques which give his prints their luminous other worldly quality.
He works with two Beseler enlargers. He uses the second enlarger to burn the edges of the print with pieces of plexiglass. This diffusion and burning process gives him the bleeding black effect in his prints. At one time, Carofano was flashing his prints with a 2000 watt second power pack after the print was fully developed and fully stopped but before being moved to the fix. The strobe head was about three feet above the print. He would blast the print four times. This technique gave the print a kind of peach color. If one was to flash the print in the fix, it would become solarized. A four hundred dollar Metrolux II timer which Carofano uses to program nine time sequences allows him to keep track of his complicated print manipulations. My friend, Tom, found it ironic that Ray uses a four hundred dollar timer to make prints from a sixteen dollar camera. The Holga with its soft focus and light leaks has freed Carofano from some of his complicated darkroom manipulations.
We ended our visit to San Pedro with a late lunch with Ray, Arnee, and an artist friend of theirs, Ron Linden. Ron teaches at Long Beach City College and Los Angeles Harbor College. Ron is part of the Carofanos' circle of artist friends and had come to help Ray hang the upcoming show at Studio 478. We ate at UtroÕs, a restaurant overlooking the main channel of the Los Angeles Harbor. We could see the huge cranes that are used to load and unload container ships. Ron or Ray told us that a good crane operator could move one hundred containers in an hour. We talked about art, politics, life in San Pedro, and the possibility of returning for a First Thursday evening.
On the way home Tom and I stopped at Hennessey and Ingalls, an art and architecture bookstore in Santa Monica to satisfy our photography book yearnings. Tom bought a book of Harry Callahan photographs. I bought a book of photographs all taken in 1968 by Magnum photographers, 1968-Magnum Throughout The World, which seemed appropriate considering that both Carofano and I had photographed events of the sixties in our early days.