John Gleason, Jr.

“I have photographed under the pseudonym, Probus for almost forty years. My influences have included Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and Duane Michals. I am self-taught, which explains the unorthodox nature of my imagery. My photography relies on movement and the surreal effect that is captured on film. Initially, I shot interiors of abandoned houses with haunting intent. I advanced to large format, but was unable to recreate the same results or emotional connection. I started my journey with pinhole photography back in 2009 when I purchased a Finney Pinhole Camera. I hadn’t taken it seriously as a form of expression until I took a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 2015. My criteria for that trip was a quick light weight setup, as I was traveling with my family (whose patience and attention span does not measure my own). There I was able to reconnect with same passion of years past. I started mining from the same moody place as before. My new subject matter has been ancient trees in various forms of decay. I am disturbed by the amount of dying trees not only in my city but everywhere I travel. The long exposures and blurred movement captures the pain and suffering of these old sages. Their death portends a serious message for us all to heed. My work is still captured on film but exists in digital scans of my Instagram and Flickr accounts. I plan to slow down and get back in the darkroom to print by next year.”

Who are you? 

My name is John Gleason, Jr. I have been using the pseudonym Probus for over forty years. I chose this as a way to separate my work from my private life. I am a physician by trade, but have enjoyed photography as my expressive outlet. I am 58 years old. I live in Louisville, KY. 

In your own words, what do you do? 

I am a fine art photographer. I have never pursued commercial success, as this has been a personal and private endeavor. I photograph in black and white because it is a process that I am most comfortable and familiar with. 

Why do you do what you do? 

Photography has been my avenue of self expression. I am always observing people and manifestations of disease in my professional life. It is difficult to remain objective and detached from the people you care for. You must be empathetic to the plight of your patients so that you can establish a relationship with your patients. Photography allows me the ability to express my feelings that would otherwise stay dormant during work hours. 

What is integral to your practice? 

Strong lines, subtle patterns and tonality are most important for my imagery. Coming from a background of large format photography, I feel that tonality is lacking in pinhole photography. Most pinhole images appear flat, lacking emotion. I choose to overdevelop my negatives in order to gain better contrast. The pinhole camera’s depth of field dictates the need for dramatic tones and contrast. This may seen counterintuitive for pinhole photography, but it is what makes my work unique. 

Why pinhole? 

When I seriously pursued pinhole photography, I wanted a lightweight view camera which would provide me with the optimal depth of field without getting bogged down in the details of tilt, focal length and composition. I found the technical process of composition distracting with large format photography. On trips (and also important for family harmony), I take less time setting up my camera and shot. Also, pinhole cameras have less moving parts, which makes it a practical decision. There is little to break down and repair. Photographic tape (or the equivalent of duct tape) is all I need for most repairs. 

Are there any particular themes you pursue with your practice? 

When I first began photography, I chose long exposures to capture blurred movement within abandoned houses. I desired to capture the apparition within the house in order to tell the story of the former inhabitants. With pinhole, I am able to capture the movement or spirit of decaying trees. This has become a personal exploration for me as I am concerned about the tree loss in my city parks. 

Has your practice change over time? If so, how? 

I continue to use trees as my main subject. As I have acquired more pinhole cameras (which seems to be a common thread amongst pinhole photographers), I am choosing subject matter differently depending on the individual camera’s focal length and angle of view. Traveling outside of my home town allows me to explore new themes. I am experimenting different films and developers to capture a different tonality and sharpness. Lastly, I am concerned about the affect darkroom chemicals have on the environment. I have been using chemicals that can be safely disposed of. 

Is there a specific piece you’re especially proud of? And why? 

It’s an early self-portrait entitled “Probus Pears In”. It’s a pivotal piece that started me on my journey with abandoned houses and ghost-like figures. I feel this set my style and themes for the next 4 decades. 

From whom do you draw the most inspiration? 

Ralph Eugene Meatyard has always been my inspiration. He was a Kentucky artist who photographed blurred movement and abandoned houses. I think the lush darkness of Kentucky lends itself to this spiritually moody imagery. Also, reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky provided me with an interest drama and attention to details. 

What is your dream project? 

Photographing trees is my current dream project. Eventually I want to read more in depth about tree classification and environmental effects on trees. This will add an additional dimension to my work. Since I have a 8x10 pinhole camera, I would like to create some portraits with natural light. These images would be great for contact printing using the cyanotype method. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? 

Two things: 

1. A good piece of art work deserves a good title. 

2. “I believe that when we think very fast we pass over the verbs and emphasize the adjectives. In my opinion, that’s the way people with cold dispositions think. Myself, I see things.”—Berthe Morriset. I came across this quote recently, but it has stuck with me for its emphasis on careful observation.

Burkhard Bierbaums.

My name is Burkhard Bierbaums and I’m 54 years old. I live in Augsburg in the South of Germany. I take pictures to learn to see better. Often I try this with double exposures to get closer to the secret of a place.

I’m interested in everything that has to do with slowing down: I love films by Andrei Tarkovsky. When I travel, I enjoy it when I get lost and am forced to make a detour. The pinhole camera gives me the opportunity to slow down and be more accurate. 

Why do you do what you do? 

I try to connect the visible with the invisible. Two years ago, I photographed the interior of a church. The photo of its interior emanated a mysterious silence and I have often looked at it. A year later, I visited this church again and was disappointed at first, because when I entered the church I could not immediately see this mysterious atmosphere that I had captured in the photo. The atmosphere was invisible to the eye. Only through the photo was it visible. I try to enchant the world again with my pictures.

Why pinhole?

I like the picturesque aspect of pinhole photography and the waiting while photographing. Time may be the most important factor. The slowness of pinhole photography comes pretty close to my nature. Although I’m not the most communicative type, I’ve come to appreciate the conversations I’ve had with  people passing by while I’m taking pictures.

Are there any particular themes you pursue with your practice?

The connection between interior and exterior space is a recurring theme in my work. Often I have the words of the old Genesis song (Carpet Crawlers) in mind: “We’ve got to get in to get out…” 

Has your practice change over time? If so, how?

My practice may not have changed much, but practice has changed me. When composing a double exposure, something arises that I may not have seen but instead, felt. It is then I have managed to capture some of the magic of this place.

“The fact that (in a conventional sense) technically incorrect photography can be more emotionally effective than a technically flawless image will be shocking to those who are naïve enough to believe that technical perfection alone constitutes the true value of a photo.” Andreas Feininger.

What is your dream project?

Perhaps to photograph in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in East Germany, at the places that were the source of inspiration for his paintings of Caspar David Friedrich.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? 

I am immune to advice. I prefer to make a mistake a thousand times.

Alberto Álvarez.

My name is Alberto Álvarez and I turned 49 years old in February, this year. I live in a small town in the province of Segovia in Spain. 

In 1989 I suffered a serious car accident (I was only 20 years old), which took me a year to recover and left me in a wheelchair; a paraplegic. Since then my main goal has been to keep myself alive, literally. Not to succumb to grief, pain and situations that derive from being different in a society as difficult as ours. 

The first thing I did when I left the hospital was buy a Nikon F-801; I did not really know what the reason was, I just had a huge need to save the places, landscapes and people I passed through. Where I enjoyed and who I knew before life left me.

In 2012, I started experimenting with pinhole cans looking for pictorial values ​​in my shots, trying to emulate the pictorialist techniques of Julia Margaret Cameron, Alfred Stieglitz, Henry Peach Robinson, Rejlander and the use of photography by French painters at the end of XIX and beginnings of the XX, and the “pre-raphaelites” English. 

I think that the pinhole shots give very dreamlike results, like mirage images. They are without definition and millimeter details, like images created with spots, not with detailed strokes. 

This is perfect for the topics that interest me most. Such as the landscape, the trees and their surroundings. Since ancient times, there is where I live a tradition of the trees that grow here (oaks and ash trees above all). It consists of pruning their branches every 20 or so years, which transforms the tree into a very thick trunk with a head of thin branches. Some take the appearance of supernatural beings. They are living sculptures in beautiful landscapes. This has always interested me, the tree; and the characteristics of the land where I live.

As I said before, I started with cans of canned fish that I used to make a pinhole; the exposure was done on photographic paper, but I found that the graycale of the paper was very limited and there was not much that could be done to improve it. So the first thing I did was to transform an old Zeiss-Ikon bellows camera into a pinhole camera that could be fitted with filters; I basically disassembled the lens and put in place a sheet with a pinhole, using the shutter and the thread of the lens. 

[Below are shots taken on the Zeiss-Ikon bellows camera with Velvia 50 film]

The next thing I wanted to do was to obtain a panoramic camera, but at that time I only found an artisan company that made them on the internet in Poland, called VermeerCamera. It was a format of 6 x 17 with possibility of placing filters.

[Below are shots captured on Alberto’s Vermeer 6x17 Panoramic Camera]

Later, I built cameras based on old relics like Agfa Clack, for example. Now, on the internet, it is very easy to get pinhole cameras already built and even meet people who make pinhole cameras with very high quality - I own some models.

I always make my shots on film in black and white. Although sometimes, very rarely, I shoot with color too! The films that I shoot with I choose very carefully, I especially like the Rollei IR400, Rollei Retro400s, Ilford HP5 Plus, Rollei Ortho 25. As you see some films are quite difficult in their exposure and development but I’ve had experience with them for a long time now. In color, Velvia 50 seems insurmountable. 

Only nature inspires me, landscapes; I am a very reserved and solitary guy that loves nature. Of men, I am only interested in the impact that he creates with his work. My dream project is an exhibition that takes my work and pinhole photography to the top of the artistic avant-garde, such as the Salon of the Impressionists of 1874 or the photo-secession group of Alfred Stieglitz.

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