“Ever Onward,” and then some…
With Mike Foldes
Tice Lerner is studying engineering in upstate New York, but his interest in photography is in his DNA. Lerner’s ability to capture and present the “body and soul” of friends and acquaintances on the streets of Binghamton (his home town), reach far beyond the rolling hills of this once-thriving industrial community now painfully on the mend. His first show, at Anthony Brunelli Gallery, made it immediately apparent Tice Lerner has something powerful to share.
Q) It says in your bio that your father worked in the press room at Newsday and was himself an amateur photographer. Did you spend time with him in the darkroom, and did he teach you any of the techniques you use in your work, or about his work in the newspaper business?
A) Unfortunately my father passed away when I was three so my knowledge of his time working in the press room and taking photographs remain within stories and negatives. I remember as a child sifting through countless boxes full of negatives studying each image. Even though my father was gone, those images were a way for me to know him. I also spent many hours reading large archival books full of newspapers. The papers were from the WW2 era taken from the Times (both my father and grandfather worked there prior to Newsday). I would stare at the photographs in those papers for hours forming all types of stories.
Q) What was your first camera, and do you remember the subjects you took as a child photographer?
A) The first camera I used was one of my fathers old cameras, the Pentax ES II with a Takumar 50mm f1.4. Early on, I didn’t have any particular subjects that I focused on. I would just photograph anything that I liked. It wasn’t until much later that I started to explore specific genres.
Q) Where did you go to college and did your studies include any visual arts or photography courses?
A) I went to Binghamton University, but never took any visual arts or photography courses.
Q) What did you study, and did or does that have an affect on your work?
A) My academic studies are in engineering and there are definitely some crossovers. When I first started doing serious photography my primary focus was in high magnification insect photography. I love solving the complex technical problems that arise from working at that magnification. I can artistically capture a scale which people walk by every day and teach them a bit about our natural world. A fusion of art and science. My street photography is something very different. It balances me back to the humanities, allowing me to seek a wider social perspective.
Q) Other than your father’s, whose work do you relate to most? Do you have any “favorite” photographers or artists?
A) Three photographers that have really captivated and driven my work are Lennart Nilsson, Shelby Lee Adams, and James Nachtwey. Nilsson was someone that inspired me early on having a diverse background as a Swedish photojournalist and renowned for his scientific imaging. He captured the first image of an HIV virus with a SEM (scanning electron microscope) and is known for achieving SEM images with artistic composition behind them. Shelby Lee Adams does documentary photography with a 4×5 Linhoff view camera in the Appalachia region of Kentucky. His portraits of the Napier family never cease to move me. James Nachtwey I think most people know as one of the most decorated war photographers capturing human sorrow like no other. Adams and Nachtwey cover two very different subjects but share a common link which puts them on top of my list. Their kinship with their subjects. It’s easy doing this work to remove yourself and to pretend you are uninvolved. To take the time to talk to a person, get to know them, and at least attempt to understand them is something I admire and personally strive for.
Q) The Brunelli Gallery show last spring put a face on you as a photographer, as well as on your subjects. How did you come to make the size and type of prints that make your work stand out?
A) The style of colorized black and white developed over time. I tried to find a balance between traditional BW photography and the life which I see in color photography . My intention is to give the viewer an experience that makes them feel like they could walk through the image on to the street. The printing method I chose is something I’ve used for a long time and remains to be an easy choice for me. The process allows my digital files to be printed as true c-prints and much sharper than enlargers allow.
John Brunelli and I collaborated very closely with the sizing and framing/mounting. For a few months I proofed numerous prints at different scales and we would review test strips. The day I brought a 20×30 and 40×60 to the gallery, we both looked at them and knew instantly that was it. We just felt drawn into the photographs. Even with a great print and scale the framing can make or break the presentation. The final choice was to float the smaller prints behind museum glass and the diasec process for the larger prints to really hold the clarity and contrast.
Q) What kinds of cameras or lighting equipment do you use? Are you equipped to make your own prints? If not, where are they done?
A) My two primary cameras are Canon DSLRs with a 24mm lens. I shoot under natural light with a wide aperture lens so additional equipment isn’t needed. Unfortunately, the printer used for laser developed c-prints is prohibitively expensive to own so I work closely with a print house in Colorado.
Tice Lerner / Ever Onward
There are people we see every day but never greet. Streets we pass but would not walk on. My impetus is to walk on those streets and interact with such individuals. Street photography is not watching a crowd, it’s becoming part of the crowd. I don’t think there is a better way to truly appreciate the people I photograph until I have walked on the same pavement that they have. Each photograph is a glimpse of my personal experience with my subjects – up-close and candid, for better or worse.
My photographs are from an on-going series, EVER ONWARD, that chronicles my up-close and personal encounters with the inhabitants of Binghamton, NY. This area, once well-off manufacturing town for defense during the cold war and founding city of IBM, has long been economically depressed. It was well known that in the heyday of Binghamton IBM had some of their largest factories nearby. In that bygone era, large companies were cradle to grave multigenerational employers that were more like countries than corporations.
Binghamton “IBMers” would show their pride by singing their corporate anthems daily—one of which was called “Ever Onward.” IBM, like the rest of these large companies, has long left Binghamton, leaving behind chemical spills and economic disparities.
“There are people we see every day but never greet. Streets we pass but would not walk on. My impetus is to walk on those streets and interact with such individuals. Street photography is not watching a crowd, it’s becoming part of the crowd. I don’t think there is a better way to truly appreciate the people I photograph until I have walked on the same pavement that they have. Each photograph is a glimpse of my personal experience with my subjects – up-close and candid, for better or worse.”
Q) You moved from St. James to Binghamton when you were 5, around 1990. Much of the deconstruction of the old City of Binghamton had taken place by then, and the county seat was left, you might say, a shadow of its former self. Since that time, much has been tried to revive the city center, but the poor economy and shifting population trends often impeded progress. Your photographs reflect the suffering and struggle that afflicts — has afflicted — the community at large. Do you see things “getting better” for this once powerful fertile crescent of technology, and if so, what will you be looking for — or do you expect to see — in future photographs?
A) There are certainly improvements but a lot of it revolves around Binghamton as a college town rather than focused on any specific industry. This can potentially limit the type of businesses that wish to operate locally. Binghamton houses many multi-generatonal families, many which are part of the afflicted. In addition there is a constant flow of new residents seeking low income housing from various locations up and downstate. Broome County has done very well to accommodate those in need offering many options for food and housing. This is something I like to capture in my photographs as it represents a very unique mixing pot not normally associated with the “rust belt.” Natural gas, whether we are for or against it, also appears to be an inevitable industry around here. This will bring in a brand new sector of jobs and workers. Many of these work sites, housing units for employees, etc. are certainly something I would look to start a future photo essay on.
Q) Can you see taking up photography full-time, or are there other avenues you intend to pursue?
A) I have no plans to abandon engineering but for now I am focusing primarily on my photography and fine art endeavors.
Q) Do you have any other shows in the works, and if so, where will they be?
A) In 2012 there will be additional showings of my current work. September 20-23 I will have work in Art Greenwich aboard the Seafair yacht. In November I will have work in an exhibition at Lightwork which is for the grant I won this past May. Lightwork is a non-profit photo organization located in Syracuse. The opening will be November 8. I will also have a single piece at the Know Theatre for the 9th Annual Playwrights And Artist Festival. My piece was one of three artworks selected for playwrights to interpret and submit a short play. These plays will be performed on November 16th, 17th, 18th, 23rd, 24th, and 25th. The 2013 lineup I haven’t set up yet as I will be spending this fall/early winter season processing and proofing my next series, but expect much more soon!