A lollipop, a shoe, a bisected pomegranate, or a thistle might come to mind when you think of photographer Craig Cutler. Or maybe it’s his unusual point of view that get you to see museums, parks, or the Eiffel Tower in a new way. His range is impressive, and if there’s one thing you can expect from this conceptual photographer, it’s the unexpected.
To understand this piece is to understand Cutler and his background in industrial design and architecture. The interactive, wooden sculpture he built commands attention—it’s big, and its unusual construction allows for manipulation. “Peg” is simple and complex, permanent yet temporary. And it’s personal.
Cutler envisioned a single, moving structure that he could move into a variety of shapes and forms—and then delete to start over again. Think Buddha Board (the Zen-like Etch-a-Sketch), only three-dimensional with shifting cylindrical pins.“The main unit was constructed with two identical 88” square platforms that enabled the pegs to stay parallel to one another,” Cutler explains. “The 1 1/4” oak pegs are raised and lowered between the platforms to create various peg fields; organic, geometric, and architectural.”
While “field” may seem like an exaggeration, there are a total of 484 pegs that rise and fall, mimicking a range of objects: the massive pipes of an organ, a dense forest, a cathedral’s statuesque façade, or an urban cityscape. They remain for a short time before being erased. “Peg” is an industrial piece of art. There are bolts and screws; the surface is crude. It’s mesmerizing.
“I start with a blank, clean platform, then spontaneously sketch the form I want to create,” Cutler says. “It’s important that the idea for the sketch be fresh and raw, not premeditated.” His sketches are natural, impulsive, a window into how Cutler thinks. Once satisfied with the composition, he and his assistants translate that vision onto Peg.
“Film was always the intended medium to photograph the project,” he says. “Peg” is the exact opposite of digital; the process of designing, creating sketches, and building compositions forced Cutler to slow down. Therein was the solution. He would go back to the craft of photography. An 8×10 large-format camera, a handmade Goerz Apochromat Artar 19” lens (manufactured between 1937 and 1945), and a single light source produced these beautiful, rich photographs. No gimmicks, no Photoshop.
As a response to Peg’s moving parts, Cutler created “Sphere.” Its heavy, concrete orbs offer a simple counterbalance. “The most difficult part,” he admits, “was maintaining the conceptual restraint and honoring the simplicity of the compositions.”
Set against a blank background and lit by a single source, the spheres create dramatic shadows. Not polished, but textured. The large-view camera captures the natural nuances in black and white, and the shadows become the hero.
In a move that honors the photographic process, Cutler created 20 x 24” platinum prints with the help of master printer Martin Axon, who has made prints for Robert Mapplethorpe, Richard Avedon, and Annie Leibovitz. “You can’t appreciate a platinum print on Instagram,” says Cutler, “no matter how many likes.”
“Peg and Sphere” opens September 17 at Smashbox Studios in Culver City, California.