Dan Powell The Letter
Fine Art Photograph Collections
Dan Powell: The Letter series
Color negatives, hand marked and colored prints, 1982-83
Browse series in new window
After struggling to pump new life into the Pattern Seekers series, I decided to abandon these ideas and turn to a new imagery that was pointed to in one of the last of those prints, "Pattern Seekers, The Letter" (I don't think there is a copy). This image was an accidental double exposure of letters and writing, which created a translucent mesh of paper and words. I decided to turn to the color process (color coupler prints) for a new series roughly based on this idea.
These images were photographed in a studio where variously colored mat board, actual letters, and other mementos were arranged very intuitively. A 2¼ camera was used and color film, printed painstakingly with a roller base and tube, the prevailing color process of the period. After printing, the images were marked on, or rather written on, with wax pencils. The images served as tablets or writing surfaces that combined with the writing. In areas of bold color, the writing was prominent and in other places, such as white or light colors, the marks were more camouflaged, and almost could only be seen from a side view, as in a daguerreotype, seen and not seen. There was a synthesis of these two elements, image and text, that was intriguing and elegant. The work was really autobiographical, speaking to my dependence on communication in an isolated new environment (Iowa) and a long distance relationship that was disintegrating. I was intrigued in this work also with the idea of the image being both taken and made, as they were essentially just blank slates before being written upon: An acknowledgement of the photograph as both surface and image. The writing was mostly mute, referring to the generic notion of writing, text, communication, and seemingly its opacity. Often the words from the letters themselves could be read, and I would mark out the words I didn't want the viewer to read.
This series was a transition between the Pattern Seekers series and later work done in the '80s like the Studio C series. Some things were preserved, others greatly changed, such as a simpler formal construct rather than the complexity of former work. An attention to beauty of surface and image was also seductive for me and something that compelled the work that followed. The Letter series was quite successful at the time and was exhibited a fair amount. Being somewhat graphic and rich, I sold more images over the years from this series than any other (mostly through Olson/Larsen Galleries in Des Moines). It was a small series of only around 13 images.
Image shown: The image shown above is "The Letter #9," 1983, a Type C color print with pencil, from The Letter series, PH297_TL_09, Dan Powell photograph collection, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403-1299. All rights are reserved.