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John Dugdale

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John Dugdale
(1960 - )

John Dugdale was born in Connecticut in 1960.(1) He became interested in art in high school and began to learn photography around the age of sixteen. By his senior year in high school he was pursuing photography full-time. In 1980, Dugdale entered the New York School of Visual Arts to study photography. He became intrigued with the history and development of the medium and began to recreate, step by step, the various techniques that had been used since its invention. Dugdale also bought books on famous photographers and copied their methods and styles.
After graduating from the New York School of Visual Arts, Dugdale began a successful career as a commercial photographer. He continued to work at his fine art photography as well, and received his first solo exhibition in 1984 at Paul Bridgewater Gallery in New York. Though Dugdale was diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and began to suffer from a series of AIDS related illnesses and complications, he continued to actively pursue both his careers as a commercial photographer and an artist. During the late 1980s, he participated in a variety of group exhibitions in New York, and by 1990 his work had begun to gain public recognition. The first published review of a Dugdale show appeared in Photo/Design in May of 1990. Around the time of his diagnosis, Dugdale also purchased and began restoring an old 19th century house, called Bethany Farm, near Stone Ridge, New York. The house and its surroundings often appear in his photographs after 1985.
In 1993, Dugdale suffered two strokes in rapid succession which affected his eyesight. Also that year, he was diagnosed with CMV Retinitis, an AIDS related illness that causes loss of eyesight and often total blindness. Dugdale rapidly lost vision entirely in his right eye and retained only thirty percent of the sight in his left eye. He was forced to give up his career in commercial photography, but refused to give up on his fine art photography. He began using a 1912 Kodak view camera that allowed him to take fixed photographs, and he avoided the complications of the modern developing and printing process by creating cyanotypes.(2) The simplicity of the cyanotype method enabled Dugdale to continue taking and developing his own photographs. Since the camera was now fixed, he began to do primarily still-lifes, nudes, portraits, and landscapes. He began composing his photographs from memory, through touch, and through the help and advice of friends and assistants, particularly his brother and sister. A high power magnifying glass was used to study and critique his finished prints.
Dugdale currently divides his time between New York City and his home in Stone Ridge, New York. His sight continues to worsen, though he still actively creates and exhibits his cyanotype photographs. Recently, many of Dugdale's still-lifes have concentrated on nineteenth-century objects that he has collected and used to furnish his home. In 1994, he did a spread on his lusterware collection for Martha Stewart Living and his recent book, Lengthening Shadows Before Nightfall, is composed almost exclusively of photographs taken at his home.(3)

Dugdale's work has been exhibited across the United States including Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Washington, D. C., and New York. He has participated in group exhibitions since the mid 1980s and has received a number of solo exhibitions since 1991, most notably at the Center for Photography in Woodstock, New York in 1992 and the Houston Center for Photography in 1996. Also in 1996, his work was exhibited internationally for the first time at a show in Frankfurt, Germany. Dugdale's photographs have been acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.
Since 1993, Dugdale's work has focused on cyanotypes in both blue and sepia tones, though he also has recently produced a portfolio of platinum prints. Prior to losing his eyesight, he experimented with a variety of photographic techniques and developing processes. As mentioned above, he now composes his photographs primarily "...from memory--out of my thoughts...I imagine the photograph before I take it"(4). His assistants help him arrange the photographs, focus the camera, and provide feedback on lighting and composition.
Though he has experimented with a range of photographic styles, Dugdale has said that his primary influences were the late nineteenth-century and early modernist photographers.(5) His works are characterized by simplicity of composition and a sense of careful symmetry or balance. These elements are apparent even in his earlier commercial photographs and give his works a spare elegance. Dugdale's cyanotypes also are surrounded by an aura of nostalgia and timelessness created by their blue tone, soft focus, and often the choice of subject, though most include an element or elements that remind the viewer that these are contemporary works.(6) Dugdale has taken for his subjects the things and people that are dear to him, though he also produces photographs which have autobiographical or allegorical meanings. When Dugdale was first diagnosed with HIV, he planned to produce works which directly addressed his illness: "I thought I should make photographs that tell about my illness and loss of sight. And I tried to do that. But I was so not taken with them that I realized this was not the point at all. So I did what I wanted to do, make beautiful pictures.(7)" Instead, references to Dugdale's illness, when they do appear, are generally subtle.

(1)Biographical information has been compiled from the following sources: Artist's vitae on file, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts; Vince Aletti, "Dark Victory", Village Voice, November 8, 1994; Ferdinand Protzman, "The Artist's Inner Eye", The Washington Post, August 5, 1995; brochure for Dugdale's platinum print portfolio, Wessel O'Connor Gallery, New York, 1996; Joan Duncan Oliver, "Images for the Soul", New Age Journal, 1996; Clifford Pugh, "A Man with a Vision", Houston Chronicle, May 24, 1996; Lis Bensley, "John Dugdale's World is Filled with Blue Nostalgia", Pasatiempo, Santa Fe, New Mexico, July, 1996. For additional reviews of his work see "Photo Short List", The Village Voice, November 29-December 5, 1995 and Helen L. Kohen, "Blues in the Night", The Miami Herald, April 28, 1995
(2)The cyanotype process was first described in 1842 by Sir John Herschel. The process is based on the photosensitivity of ferric salts. Contact with light reduces the salts to a ferrous state in which they can be combined with other salts to create an image. A solution of ferric salts is applied to photographic paper and the paper is then exposed to light. Prints are washed in water to halt the developing process. When first invented, the process was used primarily to reproduce botanical specimens. It did not come into popular use until around 1890. In the 20th century, it has mainly been used to duplicate industrial drawings (Naomi Rosenblum, A World History of Photography, Abbeville Press, New York and London, 1981, p. 197).
(3)John Dugdale, Lengthening Shadows Before Nightfall, Twin Palms Publishers, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1995
(4)Brochure for John Dugdale's platinum print portfolio, Wessel O'Connor Gallery, New York, 1996
(5)Aletti, 1994

(6)Protzman, 1995; Bensley, 1996
(7)Protzman, 1995

M. Bullock 12/4/96

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