Last fall Sarah and I commissioned our dear friend Larry Ellingson to make a sculpture out of a collection of old cameras that had were non-working relics from my father’s shop. I have been a fan of Larry’s artwork for a long time and had seen him make wonderful pieces from fragments of people’s lives and had admired the sculpture he had done for another photographer friend.
We met to hand over the cameras and to talk about the rough size and design ideas for the sculpture. Larry wanted to know if I would be okay if he had some of the cameras sliced apart. While I cringed a little at the thought of such permanent destruction to these cameras I really didn’t want to put any limitations on Larry’s creativity so I decided to hand over the cameras with only one rule: “If you are excited about the design I’m sure I’ll be excited too.”
Several months passed and I remember getting a call from Larry as I pulled into the dark driveway this past Winter. He told me he had scrapped the original idea and had moved on to another one. Once again I asked, “Are you excited about the new direction?” He responded with enthusiasm that he was. He sounded much more excited than before which made me excited. He said the project had gotten bigger! We chatted about the creative process and how too much preliminary planning can stifle creativity. He talked about how he just had to get them into his studio and start playing with them.
Finally, about 4 weeks ago I received a call telling me that it was done! We discussed whether we should wait for the Covid 19 shutdown to pass before he delivered or could we make arrangements to maintain social distancing for the unveiling.
Sarah and I were excited to See Larry and his wife Jan. They are two of the most wonderful people we know and after a month of quarantine it would be nice to at least hear their voices. We all agreed to don masks and gloves and I would have the barn doors to my studio open where he could unload the sculpture while we watched from a distance. It was like having an Amazon or Pizza delivery.
I cleared off my desk in the studio and Larry carried it in under wraps. It was much larger than I had anticipated and it required an outlet. While I couldn’t see his smile behind the mask his eyes told me everything I needed to know about this piece. It was going to be amazing.
He plugged in the sculpture and pulled off the cover and pulled out the massive industrial light switch to illuminate the piece in my darkened studio. Sarah and I were instantly in awe of what he had done. He had converted old flash bulbs into LED lights and had embedded lights inside of cameras allowing light to spill out through the lens. His art honors the very nature of photography which means to “write with light.”
Larry had captured the essence of Photography and Art Deco design that embodied the old film cameras and had managed to create shapes that reminded us of the designs in the Fox Theater downtown which happens to be the largest example of Art Deco architecture north of San Francisco! I could recall seeing movings in that theater as a child so the tribute brought back even more sentimental emotions.
As another bonus I learned that Larry’s design required more cameras than I had given him and that he had filled in the blank with some donated cameras from his friend Don Hamilton. Don is a phenomenal photographer and filmmaker that I have known for over 20 years and I was delighted to have something from him added to this work.
Larry describes the piece on his website as, “A knot of photographic technology. The light comes from within: ten cameras, all with shutters locked open, LED lighting inside each. Oil gauges converted into lanterns, wood forms for steel gears, film reels, globe ring, fine photography laminated on driftwood, 3 flash units and working light meter.”
We paid Larry for the Art and made promises to get together as soon as the stay home order was lifted. I left the sculpture in the studio for several weeks as I tried to figure out where the best place to hang it would be. That was a problem. The piece ways over 30 pounds and hangs on a French cleat. We had to find a wall that we could mount the cleat directly to a stud and it would have to be centered within the space it hung. Our old house didn’t seem to have any studs in the right place for hanging the sculpture!
I thought about hanging it in the studio where it looked stunning against the backdrop of studio lights but there would be challenges running power to the only part of the studio where it would fit and then it wouldn’t be seen on a daily basis by Sarah who doesn’t spend as much time out there as I do and our dinner guest wouldn’t see it either.
After three weeks of contemplation I finally decided that the best place to hang it was downstairs in my office outside the darkroom door and the guest room/wine cellar. It inspires me as I work each day and Sarah gets the pleasure of seeing it whenever she goes to the wine cellar to collect a bottle. Since this space is between two doors I knew there was a stud wall in the center and sure enough it was there! I also had an outlet for the cord to hang straight down.
It has already gained a lot of attention as it sits in the background for every Zoom video chat I do. The first meeting I had after hanging it I asked my colleagues if they had any questions after a presentation and the first question was, “what is that fascinating object in back of you!”
When Larry had dropped off the piece he asked if I had seen the video profile that was done on him a few months before. I hadn’t seen it and as it turns out it’s a good thing too. It would have spoiled the surprise! I just watched the video for the first time yesterday and it was wonderful to see the way he fabricated the piece.
Sarah and I really love this piece and we both share in the joy of artmaking together. Larry’s artwork provides a wonderful backdrop of inspiration to us both.
Here is the video profile of Larry and his work.
To see more of Larry’s work go to: https://larryellingson.com