Michael Eastman in Deep Observation

As an artist, Michael Eastman has always created new work. During this last tumultuous year, when he yearned for creation and expression, he turned to the cyanotype and created a series that captured the color blue’s fathomless beauty. Eastman demonstrates that art can encourage us to change perspectives and adapt. With the boldness and beauty of his cyanotypes, he finds solace in a connection both to nature and a feeling of serenity. For his latest body of work, American photographer Michael Eastman explores his interest in forms and deep observation by creating a series that delights the viewer, presenting something exceptional. 

5 Decades of Seeking and Exploring

Self-taught photographer Michael Eastman is a seeker and explorer. For the past five decades, he has captured landscapes, architecture, horses, and abstraction. Eastman explores these subjects with mastery as an artist, essentially drawing profound meaning from the myriad details in his pictures. In one series, an interior room with dilapidated walls and empty chairs references the glory of a faded Havana’s forlorn elite. In another, the striking, hand-painted lettering used in the facades of mid-century shops and businesses recall the early prestige of America’s abandoned main street. 

Engaging with Eastman’s Photographs

Eastman once said that photographers, regardless of their intent, are ultimately mostly historians. What are these places he captures? Who inhabited them? And what stories hide within the walls? Every form, shape, and color provide inspiration. The viewer engages Eastman’s photographs rich treatment of architectural surface and space, questioning what is in front of them.

 

Michael Eastman, Cyanotype #21
Michael Eastman, Cyanotype #21

The Cyanotype

For his latest series, Eastman explores an alternative photographic process, the cyanotype. The cyanotype was popular in construction and architecture throughout history, a subject matter that Eastman often examines. Cyanotypes have a long, rich history. It was created initially for scientific purposes by Sir John Herschel and popularized by Anne Atkins to keep records of botanical specimens. The cyanotype became an efficient way to make copies and create long-lasting photographs.

“The cyanotype is a form of photography recognized by its lush Prussian blue color, which is achieved by the use of iron rather than silver as the light-sensitive material. It is most familiar from the blueprints and bluelines, commonly called the “blues,” used in the building trades and architecture.” – Mary Warner Marian, 100 Ideas that Changed Photography.

“The cyanotype process is much cruder and immediate than other forms of photography. Early fine-art photography taught us the beauty and coolness of a dramatically rendered black and white photographic print. The blacks were so deep, rich, and lush, and the black and white transformed a color scene into a completely other world. I have always strived for an impactful and transformative print. With the alternative photographic process, the emulsion is applied by hand. This application is very much a part of the process. The artist’s hand and intent are very visible and very important. Being able to see the marks made by the brush add to the impact, power, and handmade nature of this printing process.” – Michael Eastman.

 

Michael Eastman Cyanotype #10
Michael Eastman Cyanotype #10

Michael Eastman: The Printmaker

Eastman has always been a printmaker. It’s through the cyanotype process that Eastman can explore his interest in the natural landscape, both real and imagined. When he observes details in his images, arising from architectural facades, Eastman now focuses on his expertise as a printmaker. He highlights the lush hues of blue and white, the raw, tactile nature of the work on paper, and the expressionist details created by his hand gestures while preparing the cyanotype print. In his cyanotypes, Eastman captures a unique painterly quality different from previous work. These explorations became homages to nature. 

“The cyanotype process appealed to me during covid because it could be done independently in my studio. I needed nothing from the outside world. With the pandemic, I had an abundance of time, unused energy and not many distractions. So, I had to work on something I could still do and still be safe. These cyanotype landscapes are printed in a negative fashion as opposed to my other landscape work. There is something very haunting and eerie about these white trees against deep dark blue/black skies. It’s not about covid or climate change, but it is definitely informed by these forces that we are facing. It is above all about beauty and finding a new aesthetic to explore and a new narrative.” – Michael Eastman.

Michael Eastman, Cyanotype #16
Michael Eastman, Cyanotype #16

Understanding Art History

Michael Eastman understands the practice of cyanotype belonging in art history. His work references the study of great art, such as Man Ray’s photograms, Robert Rauschenberg’s transfers, Edward Curtis’s palladium color palette, Karl Blossfeit’s botanicals, Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades, and Kurt Schwitters’s collages. In fact, Eastman is one of the few contemporary photographers who have chosen to concentrate on the organic process of creating a photograph through 19th-century processes and 21st-century technology. A unique combination of art and science, of time and space, but above all, the work is about beauty, and that is a timeless goal for any artist.