Work of the Week: Dan Estabrook

If you’ve seen the work of Dan Estabrook, then you know he gets his hands dirty creating contemporary photographic works with 19th century photography techniques. Dan uses many traditional processes including gum bichromate, ambrotypes, calotypes, salt and albumen printing. Coming from a painting and drawing background Dan manipulates his photographs adding final touches of paint, watercolor, gouache and/or pencil.

Two Hands, 2005 © Dan Estabrook
Two Hands, 2005 © Dan Estabrook, From the Night & Day series

Throughout Dan’s work he transforms body parts, objects and anonymous portraits into quiet, timeless stories about the moments between conversations, when silence is the loudest. Using and emulating early printing techniques, Dan makes visible the very physical materials of which photographs are made, attempting to transform anonymous imagery into personal objects. In Dan’s work, we are reminded that volumes of information can be conveyed through nuance and subtlety as he explores intimate issues about love, sex and death.

In his series Night & Day, Dan presents images which obscure the division between the cognizant and dream states, as figures emerge and disappear into fading backgrounds, body parts levitate and dreams sprout visibly from a woman’s pursed lips. In Dan’s sleep state, one loses control, exposing secrets and flaws only realized upon waking.

In Nine Symptoms, Dan tackles the emotions he has experienced falling in love. With pieces titled Shortness of Breath, Heart Rate Increase, Fever and Loss of Appetite, Dan evokes old medical photographs to directly confront the passion, obsession, apprehension and excitement brought on by love, as well as its loss. By employing the techniques and metaphors used by nineteenth-century practitioners, Dan is able to comment on the timelessness of his concerns and the enduring fascination with love, sex and death.

The Clown, 2012 © Dan Estabrook
The Clown, 2012 © Dan Estabrook

My ideas and influences are absolutely contemporary, though, and I always maintain that my work is not about recreating the past in any way. It’s about how we look at the past from a distance of 160 years or so – how we get it wrong, and project onto it our own fears and fantasies and obsessions. It’s a present-day obsession with what came before, and what little we actually know. That sense of loss and nostalgia doesn’t exist without the distance of time. – Dan Estabrook

Fever, 2004 © Dan Estabrook
Fever, 2004 © Dan Estabrook, From the Nine Symptoms series
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