CCA Comics students draw stories from the housing crisis on 48 Hills: Drawing the Crisis: Tony Cha and Liam Lee on the eviction epidemic
David Brenkus started working with photography in 1989. Over the years he has designed and created multiple photographic projects based on original forms of experimentation. His first experiment was to make his own camera lenses from broken glass in order to create deformations in the image. He then combined this technique with the use of multiple exposures and later introduced the use of a Mylar mirror to create abstract photographs that exploited the infinite number of images that can be created through the complex reflection of light. Later again he taught himself computers and programming to release the image from the restrictions of gravity and physical space, thereby increasing the number of possible images that can be created from any single set of objects or images.
What if you had a lens that could change shape, what would happen if you didn’t just use the regular lens, but could alter it and move it – what would happen to the image? This is the question that led David Brenkus to his first photographic experiment:
“I started to experiment right away. I took pieces of glass that I had lying around, I froze some water and held it up to the camera and I discovered that certain pieces of glass could work as lenses – I found that the bottom of wine glasses were basically lens shaped. I would break off the stem and use the different bottoms of wine glasses as lenses. I would put multiple pieces of glass in front of each other and by moving them around in relation to each other I would get deformations in the image that expressed more than the static shot. My thinking was that we all see life differently - why is there just one way to see in photography? People don’t see what is right in front of their eyes. So much of what we see is emotional. One person walks into a room and sees one thing and another person sees something else. People see life differently and I hoped to show that with my photography. Every time I took a photograph I tried something new.”
David started by shooting simple portraits of people he knew or who he met in cafes, both outdoors and in his living room using lights. To make the image more interesting he would have the person to raise one of their hands into the frame. He also experimented with different films, chemical development, printing and toning until he ended up with a process that he liked.
“When I began doing this I was neither a photographer nor an artist, but a carpenter taking a class at City College. What began coming out right away so excited me that I knew I was on to something. Since then I have never looked back.”
“Things began to happen. Deformations evoked feelings or ideas in me. Lucky accidents began to occur. I also assembled my first series out of several images. In this image of Jorge, a poet from El Salvador taken in an alley next to a cafe, I thought I was seeing the Shroud of Turin. Or the texture of the print became almost like a charcoal drawing, like in this image of Sonya I photographed in my living room.”
Encouraged at how the portraits were coming out, David decided to do a few nudes. This began a long period in which the deformations were expressed in the body as well as the face.
“I thought I might be able to do something different with the nude. In photography you often see pictures of nude women without their faces even showing. I resolved to always alternate between shooting men and women and to always show the face of the person. I learned that when it went well these sessions were a collaboration. The best example of this was a series I shot with Valerie. She was enthusiastic and we kept doing more sessions together. Many interesting photos resulted though I reduced them down to a series of 21 pictures.”
“In this photographic series I tried to show in the selection of the images what it felt like to be 21 – all the different things that are in motion in becoming an adult.”
Next, David began working in color and with multiple exposures on sheet film.
“I thought of photography as similar to painting. You have realistic painting and you have abstract painting – in photography you can have both too.”
“This one is a multiple exposure - of Guy who I shot in my living room combined with an image from the top of the towers of Saints Peter and Paul Church in North Beach. I went and got permission to go up in the towers and I shot pictures there using my wineglass lenses. I liked this one very much because it looked almost like an El Greco of the city.”
“This is a multiple exposure – there is Timbo who modeled in my living room, a rainy street, a man with his umbrella and another shot from under the freeway – at least three exposures.”
David gravitated toward using reflective materials as they also could be used to alter the image. At one point he gilded one of his walls to serve as a backdrop. However he fell in love with Mylar because of its wonderful reflective qualities.
These are some of the first Mylar pictures that I did – part of a series called Mother Earth – there were three, this is number one. Meeka is lying down on Mylar and so the background is made up of Mylar reflections. What I liked about the Mylar was that it evoked all kinds of ideas.
The next project steered David's work more and more into the realm of abstraction. He made a large shapeable mirror out of Mylar and began making a series photographs shot into the Mylar reflections.
“I added the Mylar mirror because it is a fabulous substance for reflecting light. Mylar breaks up the light. Although its reflection is similar to water, in my mind it is like a lens. A lens collects light and it focuses the light that hits a scene and it puts it into your frame of reference. But what this kind of lens does is different, it takes light from all different places and it is not logical. It’s a lens that is giving you a greater idea, something beyond. Every angle you look at it, you see something else. That’s what’s magical about it.”
“I found the Mylar mirror so useful that I also did a series of shots using a 'normal' 35mm camera. I would go back and forth between altering the mirror, the objects on the floor or my point of reference when I took the shot into the mirror. One of my favorites that came out of this was The Fates. The reflections of cut pieces of paper take the general shape of a hand but there are all kinds of interesting faces and figures in it. This one, the Lion’s Lament, was done using colored cloth.”
After the experiments with Mylar, David got fascinated with computers and with 3D special effects and he started working with a 3D modeling and rendering program to see if he could create a Mylar mirror in the 3D program that would allow for more freedom of movement.
“I replicated the setup with the Mylar cloth digitally. My interest is in making as many different types of pictures as I can – part of the joy is to see what is going to come out. Ideally I get 20-30 different types of images that don’t even look like they came from the same set up. In a 3D model, you could put the camera anywhere, you could change the mirror into impossible shapes. The problem you have in working in real life is there is always gravity. The Mylar mirror wants to fall to the ground; it wants to assume certain shapes and not other shapes. In 3D there is no gravity unless you simulate it, so you can make impossible shapes. I started to do a series of shots where I changed the mirror and simulated a lens with reflective and refractive properties so that the light would bounce around. I did a series of shots where I altered the mirror, altered the lens and moved the camera around.”
“Then I tried to render the images and that takes time – it took me 3 weeks to do one image. I rendered it first at 4K and then at 16K when the computers got faster. I wanted very high resolution to print large with beautiful detail. I decided I wanted to print the photographs on film to have the depth of the blacks and the luminosity of photographic paper. Light has to hit a photograph in a certain way for it to come alive. I got a film recorder, at a time when the digital revolution was complete. I was trying to do something digital, but analog. It was difficult – I spent several years trying to calibrate the film recorder but along the way I learned to program.”
“These images were created with digital Mylar. They are all taken using three objects– a sphere, a torus and a cube – and an image of the sunset. It’s a simple set up that gives a lot of different results. The virtual Mylar acted as a lens – it created what you see. The image is computer generated, but you set up the mirror, you set up the shot, and then the computer does all of the calculations pixel by pixel, line by line.”
“I see things in these images – I see many different figures and images in each photograph. You have to find what you see in the images yourself. One of the beautiful things about these abstract images is that you can turn it any way you want and you’ll see something different in it. In one of my exhibits I did that, I wanted to create a motor that would flip the images upside down because an abstraction should work more than one way."
David's latest project also uses his own computer programming to select and merge digital photographs into works of art. This project builds on his enjoyment of programming and his theory of photography as selection:
“I wondered if I could do something with digital snapshots. Digital cameras are nice, but the pictures I took were just snapshots. I wanted to make art from these snapshots. And I have been working on a software that will digitally composite these snapshots into artwork. We’ll have to see what comes from it. With any luck this year I will start generating some new work as part of this project.”
“To me a photograph is a selection process more than anything. Whatever you do to create a photograph, whether you just hold up a camera you shoot or you do something very elaborate, in the end, you end up with a choice – you end up with a choice of this picture or that picture. Out of these twenty, thirty pictures or a thousand pictures, which is the picture that speaks to you? And that’s really what a photograph is, it is the choice that says it is this and not that. That is the essence of a photograph; it is the selection of it. How you make it and what kind of camera you have is not important. If your eyes are good, you’re going to make the best photograph or best work of art.”
“The former landlord allowed me to rent the basement and use it as a space for my carpentry and as a gallery and studio where I could shoot images and make cabinets. I made all the frames for my photographs here in the basement out of recycled wood that I pulled out of a dumpster just across the street. Renovating and rebuilding the basement is something that almost ruined my back. I put the walls in, the floors, sandblasted the bricks and the wood and the doors. But it was worth the hard work because I saw the potential of having a place where I could do work and now I have the option to set it up as a gallery. I hope people will be able to come and see the images in real life because they look so different in real life than when you see them on a computer. They are not meant to be seen on a computer.”
“I have a lot of my artwork up now because of the eviction. Normally I don’t like to publicize my work, but I want people to see that I have been working here without any financial gain. I don’t know why we artists do these things, but I have been doing it for so long. I just have to do it. I just can’t stand to leave it.”
They have their own private, for profit psychiatric hospital. She is the President and CEO, he is the VP and Medical Director.
Harsha Behavioral Center
1420 East Crossing Blvd.
Terre Haute, IN 47802
They also have something called the Harsha Cognitive Center at 1050 W Johnson Dr., Terre Haute, Indiana 47802. That website is http://harshacognitive.com/.
They have a second location for that business at 1900 Stringtown Road, Evansville, IN 47711She is also the President of Clinco Research, at the East Crossing Blvd address with the website: http://clincoresearch.com.
Prh, Inc Terre Haute - real property, medical doctors office
Clinico, Inc.Paras: counsellor, southeastern-illinois-counseling-centers-inc
Complaints and reviews
current: Co-Founder @haystacktv
Addy Mobile, Inc (2009, inactive)
He just went around the world and posted pictures
March 2015 – Present (1 month)Washington D.C. Metro Area
February 2013 – Present (2 years 2 months)
October 2012 – January 2014 (1 year 4 months)San Francisco Bay Area
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February 2010 – October 2012 (2 years 9 months)
Koloa, Hawaii - listed on eviction papers, but he appears to live in Washington DC.