Bonsai Tied

© Charles Grogg, Bonsai Tied

Charles Grogg is known internationally for his fractured photographic images. Printed in silver or platinum/palladium on handmade Japanese paper, he stitches their components together with tethers, sutures or other three-dimensional material. The resulting works address issues of growth and restraint, hesitation and power.

The poet and photographic historian John Wood observes:

Charles Grogg’s photographs are hauntingly beautiful. And they are strange… Strings and wire are often an integral part of a Grogg photograph… wire, string, tendrils, roots, veins, all the connecting tethers of life, become his metaphor…

Where, one might ask, is the beauty of a mud dauber wasp’s nest, a stapled envelope, a cracked egg, or a woman with a tree’s roots on her head? It is all in the making. The very fact that Grogg can make beautiful photographs of such subjects speaks to the selectivity of his eye and the power of his craft.

Born in 1966 in Gary, Indiana, Grogg did not become interested in photography until 1999. His interest was spurred by a gift from his father, a Leica camera purchased in 1954 in Germany. He describes the years 1999-2005 as his apprentice period — a time spent studying and reading about photography, going to art exhibitions and teaching himself black and white film techniques. While Grogg is primarily self-taught, an independent study with Bill Hendricks at Ventura College in California allowed him to use the college’s darkroom and studio. He gave himself a technical education by studying and copying the techniques of Michael Kenna, Ruth Bernhard and Flor Garduno.

Grogg employs both traditional and digital photographic techniques to achieve his imagery. He uses black and white film, currently preferring Ilford FP4 Plus in 4×5 and 120 sizes. Polaroid 55 P/N, a film once favored by Ansel Adams, was also a favorite of Grogg’s before it was discontinued. A Hasselblad 501 and a DLC Canham — a handmade aluminum 4×5 field camera — are his current cameras of choice. He says, “Because I tend to be hyperactive, I like the stillness of the 4×5 camera.”

Four images from his recent series, After Ascension and Descent, were shot using an Epson V750 Pro scanner as the camera. The image titled “Repair,” which depicts a feather in a vise grip, was shot by turning the scanner on its side. Other images photographed using the scanner are images of a cracked egg, a wasp nest and a snakeskin.

More of this article can be read in the Winter 2011 issue.