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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Interview, Part III

Here is a little history, as told to Shannon Gallagher, and rewritten by her from our latest interview:

Darryll Schiff’s college career began at the University of Illinois.  At that point, he did not have a clear idea of where he was headed. “I was searching, trying to find myself. After a few years in liberal arts there and at the University of Miami, I tried design and art, which is something that ran in my family.  I found my calling.”

He transferred to Chicago’s Institute of Design, a reincarnation of the influential German Bauhaus design school. “I went there with the aim of being a graphic designer,” Schiff said. “For me, the Institute was a unique environment, where everyone, instructors and students, could talk to each other, look at work, and suggest ideas, all on a positive level.”

In design, Schiff had two teachers, Cosmo Campoli and Jack Weiss, that were particularly influential and impactful on his work. “I had a sophomore level design class with Cosmo that was largely concerned with color theory and relationships, and I learned so much from him. He also expected a very high degree of precision, which certainly affects how I view my art now. Everything has to be exactly right. Okay does not work, it has to be perfect.”

The curriculum at the Institute of Design had a requirement that every student take at least one year of photography, based on a fine art approach to the medium. In the first year there, Schiff found photography much more exciting than graphic design, and switched gears. “I guess you could say I was hooked,” he said.

In photography, he was taught by Aaron Siskind and Arthur Siegel (who was the head of the photography department at ID). “Arthur was sort of an irascible figure, but for some reason, he took me under his wing. I really considered him to be my mentor. He was also someone who really demanded the highest degree of perfection in one’s work. I’m thankful to have learned from teachers like that, because it gave me discipline and a desire to achieve excellence.” 

Even though the photography department had a strong, classical foundation, they encouraged free thinking and experimentation amongst upperclassmen. It was then that Schiff was truly free to explore his creativity. “To work from an artistic point of view, and not be confined to past norms within photography was very inspiring.  Although I learned more about the technical aspect of the medium when I worked as a commercial photographer, the artistic foundations I learned at ID were most important and even now permeate through my artwork.”

Although Schiff possesses extensive knowledge of photography, composition, and digital technology, he has no interest in teaching photography on a full-time basis. “I’ve taught seminars in the past, and find it pretty rewarding. But I need to have time to create my own work. That is most important to me.”

Monday, February 4, 2013

Interview, Part II

Darryll Schiff began studying photography at the Institute of Design in 1969.  At the time, the overwhelming majority of fine art photography was in black and white. Soon after he began studying there, color began to making inroads to the realm of fine art photography, through the work of artists like Stephen Shore and William Eggleston. Schiff, whose vibrant images now pulsate with color, worked largely in black and white until he began doing commercial photography, which led to experimentation with color in his fine artwork.

“When I started working digitally, more of my own artwork began to appear in color. That changed the images, and as an artist, the way I had to think about them. Certainly, the main consideration in taking a photo is still the quality of the light and composition, but with color, a whole new factor enters the picture.” Although Schiff does still occasionally work in black and white, color has taken precedent in the digital age. “Back then, when you shot color, a lab would print it out for you, doing things like contrast adjustment and cropping under my direction. Today, I have an array of printers, and with my computers, the possibilities are endless. I wholeheartedly expanded into color a number of years ago. I can refine my images so much more digitally. Although 95% of what I do to capture the basic image is in the camera, technology has dramatically changed the game.”

He recalls the printing process with film. “There were so many steps to achieving the final image I could not justify the time doing it myself.  Now I have my own digital printing “lab” and I have a greater appreciation of the whole process.  I certainly spend more time working on the images now than I ever did in the darkroom, black and white or color, even with my assistants helping out, but there are just so many more options with computers than there were with enlargers.”

The key, according to Schiff, is knowing when to step back from the computer, when to stop.  He calls it “the tyranny of Photoshop”. It does not mean that he never goes back to a piece a month later, or even a year later, and wonders if he should have changed this or that, but he avoids overworking the piece.  Schiff stops when he is at peace with the image, and when he feels the original intent has been expressed. “The rewards are definitely there. When I step back and look at the final print, my overall feeling is I’ve realized my vision and ambition.  Sometimes the result is even better than I had originally conceived, which is very satisfying.”

Schiff has traveled the world, taking photos in many exotic locations, but has a special attraction to Spain.  The culture, the landscape, the food, and the way of life are inspiring to him. “There are a lot of places I would love to visit, but as of now, I’m still very much fascinated with Spain.  In Madrid, a huge city full of life, the people are very friendly, and seem to go out of their way to help you. I feel very at ease there. I love the Spanish culture, and I’m fairly fluent in the language.  Although Spain is a “Western” country, their pace of life is much different than ours.” “The Spanish aren’t as concerned with hustling and hurrying, like many Americans tend to.  Many Spanish people still take a long break in the middle of the workday, or spend 2 or 3 hours at dinner without worrying about anything besides enjoying a meal and conversation.  It’s great.  After 2 or 3 days there, I get a different perspective on what I’m doing in my artwork, and how I’m trying to meld what I’ve been seeing and experiencing of another culture with what I’ve been working on previously.”

           Schiff tends to generally stick to the larger cities, because he is “a city boy at heart.” The last time he was in Madrid, visiting the Prado Museum, he was particularly taken by the Goya “Black Paintings” and the collection of Rubens. “Those pieces just enthralled me, they are so stimulating!  Although my work is very much a reflection of modern times, the works of the old masters are exceedingly inspirational.” When on vacation, Schiff makes it a point to go out and devote a lot of time to taking photos and working on current projects. “It can be very exciting to be in a different culture, and the experience has an effect on my art.”