Musings on Photography

Elton Bennett

Posted in books, business, the art world by Paul Butzi on March 24, 2008

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Let us say that art is art only when it is in a mind, either at the creating or the beholding it creates (when it is successful), a new ordering of the mind. At this point, whenever it occurs, it is art – that is, it is functioning.

Elton Bennett (From Elton Bennett – His Life and Art, by Archie Satterfield)

I got a copy of this book from the library after MIke Mundy mentioned him in this comment. From reading the book, Bennett sounds like quite the individualist, steadfastly swimming against the ‘art establishment’. Such things are hard to judge from just the one viewpoint provided by a single book, of course, but I imagine that Bennett’s steadfast insistence that his prints sell for no more than $15 probably had something to do with the rejection and heat he took from the galleries. That and the fact that Bennett doesn’t seem to have been a person who had a very tolerant view of anything he saw as pretentious behavior.

What I found interesting is that Bennett seems to have slowly built up his distribution channel until he was dealing with retailers all over the country and having difficulty dealing with the workload his sales imposed. And he did all this back when the internet and the www were not yet even a gleam in anyone’s eye.

The book is pretty breezy and loose, as opposed to being a dusty tome of scholarly effort, but a sense of the sort of person Bennett was and the philosophy that brought him to his decision to produce art that sold at prices average people could afford come through very clearly. Nice reproductions of Bennett’s work, as well.

2 Responses

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  1. Mike Mundy said, on March 25, 2008 at 6:10 am

    I have the Elton Bennett print Rain on the River hanging on my wall: birds sitting on a log in the driving rain, moody and atmospheric. The image size is approximately 16×22 inches. I purchased it in Berkeley in the early 70’s . . . it could very well have been $15.00! (I was going to U.C. on the GI Bill.) Bennett at one point took to adding color to his prints in order to increase salability (as shown in the book). Luckily MY print has no added color–much better in my opinion.

    The rain is represented by a series of crisscrossing vertical lines, as in a Japanese woodblock print. I’ve often wondered how one could achieve the same effect in a photograph.

  2. William Viertel said, on April 16, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Elton Bennett’s Rain on the River, as you know, shows the rain as light streaks in front of the logs, gulls, and sky. His scenes are much more complex in the creating than most people realize. He first drew the artwork in black pen and ink on clear acetate, one acetate for each eventual screen used to create each color segment of the scene. Even the scenes with muted colors you describe and prefer as more realistic had multiple colors and multiple screens. He then transferred the artwork to a photo-sensitive silkscreen, one for each acetate, by exposing the photo-sensitive silscreen to light shining through the acetate. Sometimes the original artwork was used as a positive and the silkscreen therefore became a negative. Sometimes he photographically reversed the original artwork before exposing the photo-sensitive silkscreen to it. That way the second acetate was a negative of the original artwork and the silkscreen became a positive again. Clearly, he had to figure all this out in his head in advance, no mean feat. To create Rain on the River, EB had to use 2 straight acetates and 2 reversed acetates to get the mill pond logs and the rain to all come out right. Now, how to get this same effect in a photograph: I believe one would have to use a slow shutter speed and tripod and then either depend upon the natural lighting of a “sun shower” or use artificial light, the exact angle of which would have to be determined experimentally, to illuminate the rain in front of the scene.
    Bill Viertel 4-16-08


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