Artist Profile: Raynor Czerwinski
Finding the perfect imperfection
by Seth Mensing
Film isn’t just a part of Raynor Czerwinski’s photography. It’s central to his artistic experience. In a time when the world can be seen instantly and all at once on the phone in your pocket, photography waits. It waits for the right place and the right time. The right light. The right composition. The right artist who can understand and capture a scene’s various elements. And now a camera can offer instantaneous feedback for a photographer through an LCD screen, displaying the need for another shot, or not. But for Raynor, the feedback’s not what it’s about at all. It’s about understanding a place for the reasons we photograph it. And it’s about understanding a photograph for the reasons we look at it and hang it on the wall.
That understanding started with Indiana Jones and the National Geographic magazines that were lined up on shelves in the basement of his parent’s home outside Tacoma, WA. As a boy, Raynor wanted adventure and to see the world in unseen ways, to explore and document places he could otherwise only get to in his imagination. “We were always at the ocean or the mountains… in the wild,” he says of his childhood. “It was a fantastic way to grow up.” He discovered the work of Galen Rowell, the famed climber-turned-photographer, and Minor White, a contemporary of Ansel Adams whose photographs were known for having a unique quality of light in a mundane scene, like one famous shot of frost on a windowpane.
In the 90s, with the grunge scene raging all around him, Raynor struck out with a band, recording three albums and playing more than 150 shows up and down the West Coast, from Seattle to L.A. As a guitarist, he was drawn to the sound of his instrument filtered through an old tube amplifier and played his songs on analog equipment. When his band recorded, they did it with two-inch tape on a reel-to-reel machine. “Generally, there’s a warmth, there’s a life to analog that I really enjoy,” he says.
When he wasn’t playing, he was taking pictures of his band and his friend’s bands while they played, reigniting an old interest in photography. And as with many parallels between Raynor’s music and his photography, his affinity for the old way of doing things translated to film in cameras at the onset of the digital age. It’s not that Raynor has never used a digital camera. He did and did it well for more years than he’s now been using film. But slowly, over a decade of serious photography, film won him over.
Film, like the camera itself, is an integral part of Raynor’s art. “Film leaves room for variation, room for the unknown to happen, and that’s where some incredible things can happen”. The Japanese have, for centuries, understood the value of “wabi-sabi,” or “perfect imperfection” and Raynor has similarly been able to embrace the inconsistencies that film can create. “I’m trying to be an imperfectionist, really, in my photography, in my art, to leave rooms for mistakes or anomalies. That’s where the real beauty comes from,” Raynor says. “Of course, strive for greatness in your craft. But perfection … it’s not for me.”
His equipment can seem old and heavy. But each is a masterful work of craftsmanship, sometimes without even the need for a battery, only a forefinger and a thumb to turn the watch-like gears and advance the film to the next frame. “I feel like the more sophisticated the tool becomes, the less involvement it requires of the user,” he says. “I’m not sure if that’s such a good thing. [Film] forces me to be a better technician, because my tools are very rudimentary.” Even with a camera that uses film, the lens can feel like a barrier and Raynor says it’s taken him a long time to travel for the sake of photography and still experience the place that makes truly intimate photographs possible. “When you photograph a lot, you can go and miss that connection, that interaction with a subject,” he says. “It’s taken me a long time to know when to put the camera down.”
Although he admits to missing his share of shots and making a bad exposure here and there, the film keeps him grounded in his art. The time it takes to click the shutter forces him to slow down and make better shots. “For my photographic journey, film works for me. I have to be more present in the moment and that pushes me to be a better photographer, because the consequences of not having everything the way you want it could be a missed opportunity that you won’t get again.”
When he travels to shoot, he can spend a week or more at a single location to wait for the right light. In that time, he gets to know a place and its moods, finding angles for his photographs that can be almost too subtle to recognize as being deliberate. But those lines draw us in, attract us like a certain kind of symmetry. “Some of my pictures will take me years to get them,” he says. “Just going to the same location multiple times, waiting for the right light.” Once the shutter clicks and the film is sent away to be developed, it can be two weeks or more before he sees the pictures he’d taken.
“It slows me down,” he says. “This is such a rapid-fire time. Film forces us to be a little more patient. I’ve been doing this seriously for 15 years and I’m just starting to grasp all the technical aspects of photography. It’s just more and more enlightening all the time. It’s being in the moment and being present, almost meditative,” Raynor says. “And then, when it all comes together, there’s a real feeling of gratitude.”
You can see more of Raynor’s work or learn about his photography tours at the Ingham Fine Art Gallery at 403 3rd Street in Crested Butte, or on his website, LucidLandscape.com