Every month an exclusive edition run of a photograph by an artist featured in Don't Take Pictures magazine is made available for sale. Each image is printed by the artist, signed, numbered, and priced below $200.
We believe in the power of affordable art, and we believe in helping artists sustain their careers. The full amount of the sale goes to the artist.
We are pleased to release June's print, Untitled from Timothy Pakron. Read more about Pakron's work below.
Purchase this print and from our print sale page.
A Studio Visit With Timothy Pakron
New York City is always changing, or so I am told. The Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, once a rough-and-tumble community, is now a safer area of converted artist studios at the leading edge of Brooklyn’s gentrification. The buildings on Stewart Street, where I met Timothy Pakron, feature striking graffiti murals that suggest a different purpose than the machine shops and warehouses of years past. Pakron too is not who he first appears to be. Initially, I was surprised that this artist who creates delicate and emotive portraits would be of such an imposing stature. But like his artwork, his demeanor is more sensitive than his looks.
“Striking” and “minimal” are the first adjectives that come to mind when viewing Pakron’s work. By using a refined “selective development” technique, he strips each portrait of its background and most of its detail to reveal the essence of his subjects. Large, white sheets of paper are interrupted with delicate drips, revealing elegant and powerful portraits. Surprisingly, his studio space contains none of these qualities. Shared with three other artists, the large paint-splattered loft is packed full of objects and works-in-progress, and overflows with energy. We move into Pakron’s corner of the studio, separated by temporary walls he built himself, and take refuge in the quietness of his work. Oil paintings occupy the walls. Pakron explains that he considers himself a portrait artist, and primarily a painter. This connection is easy to see as we spread the photographic prints across the floor, each one a unique object like the paintings around us.
“The portraits,” he explains, “are a different kind of painting.” Much like a painter will sketch his ideas before picking up a brush, Pakron too begins with a sketch. The initial portraits of his close friends and relatives were shot on 35mm black and white film. He photographs their faces in harsh, natural light for high contrast, using a fixed lens that requires intrusion into their personal space. After developing the film, Pakron carefully studies each negative, combining his knowledge of his subject and the truths revealed on film about their emotional state. After enlarging the negatives, Pakron uses a variety of paint brushes to apply the developer chemical to the paper. Mindful of its fluidity, he maneuvers the developer tray to control its path down the paper until a face begins to emerge. After several attempts at sketching with developer, the original photograph gives way to the final product, a one-of-a-kind silver gelatin or “silver drip” portrait. Pakron is left with a photographic print that shows a distorted version of the subject that might easily be mistaken at first for a line drawing. It may show the eye or mouth from the original negative, but through brush strokes and clever use of negative space, he transforms the subject’s facial expression. This new portrait is one that shows the true identity of his subject as he saw it in the moment the photograph was made.
Though he now resides in Brooklyn, Pakron grew up on the coast of Mississippi. His work is represented by Castell Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina, and he received his BA from the College of Charleston in South Carolina, where he focused his studies on painting and photography. As is evident by his studio walls, he often combines mediums to find new ways of depicting the human form. His style exists at the intersection of portraiture and abstract work. A portrait artist at heart, Pakron simply uses whatever materials he can to create them. His use of painting—the act, if not the medium—allows him to selectively bring forth the image rendered in film. The choices that he makes to create a photographic portrait, while simultaneously rejecting the traditional use of photography to establish “reality” as an unbiased representational medium. When asked about this process, he said, “I have always been fascinated by portraiture. Instead of creating a realistic, straight-from-film portrait, I am more interested in exploring how the original image can be brought to the surface in alternative ways.”
A successful portrait has presence. It has weight. As we look through his prints, Pakron lifts them tenderly, pausing to look at each one as though he is seeing it not just as an image, but the person it represents. I remark that there is an element of melancholy in the work. He is quiet for a moment before mentioning that many of the portraits were made during a difficult time for his family, when they were being impacted by addiction. This hint of background opened up an entirely new perspective for me. I began to see the images not just as outlines of faces, but as expressions of anguish formed from the silver gelatin, of faces being physically and metaphorically pulled down by the drips that look like tear-stained pages. In most instances, Pakron has left the eyes intact. He draws much of his inspiration from this one feature, altering expressions with the chemistry in order to accentuate the emotion he finds in their eyes.
Photographers have an inherent desire to preserve. The traditional role of the camera and the photographic print is to record and archive what is in front of the lens, whether as moments, faces, or experiences. Because of Pakron’s unique method of printing, his images are one-of-a-kind. “My job as an artist,” he says, “is to challenge the viewer. To make [them] see differently, think differently, and most importantly, feel differently.” I sit on the concrete floor of Pakron’s studio, surrounded by unknown faces emerging from their white voids, and I cannot help but think that, like the studio and the artist, each portrait contains more depth than is apparent at first glance. It is amazing that these images, largely devoid of information, can evoke so much emotion. Leaving the studio together, we walk past the graffiti-covered warehouses and talk about his next project. He will turn his attention to painting for a time, while always keeping his camera close at hand.
This article first appeared in Issue 4.
Kat Kiernan is the Editor-in-Chief of Don’t Take Pictures and a recent Brooklyn transplant.