Back to Writing / 11-14-2006

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Like seductively dangerous siren songs, Rik Garrett's photographs beckon the viewer and envelope us in a soft, moody, darkly complex dreamscape. His images of collaged body parts and fragmented flames are all produced meticulously by hand in the darkroom. We spoke with Garrett about the ethereal black and white world he has created in which shadow often overtakes all light.

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Sez G: You recently moved to Chicago from Washington state. What led you to the windy city?

Rik Garrett: The main reason for my move is that my girlfriend lives here. In addition, there are so many more galleries, museums and other things related to the arts, so it seemed like a logical move. With the exception of only one year, I'd lived my entire life in Washington State.

Sez G: You don't do any digital work on your images; they're all physical prints using a variety of artistic techniques and tools, including collage, India ink, acrylics, graphite --

Rik Garrett: -- yes, but I've strayed away from mixed media in the past couple years. I'll do mixed media pieces on occasion, and I enjoy this very much. But now my photographs are photographs.

Sez G: So do you have a concept of a finished product you're trying to achieve before beginning a piece, or does it develop organically?

Rik Garrett: It changes. I used to plan everything out in graphic detail, but it's pretty seldom that I do that now. Sometimes I might have suggestions or vague ideas; sometimes it's just an indescribable feeling to convey. I like a certain amount of spontaneity in making photographs now. I think that this has lead to a finished photograph that feels a bit less posed, something a little more fluid and genuine.

Sez G: What's the first step for you? A photo shoot? Then what?

Rik Garrett: Then sleep deprivation. The darkroom.

Sez G: So what's the creative exploration like for you in the darkroom?

Rik Garrett: The darkroom is my natural habitat. The darkroom is my ritual chamber. The experience is a very solitary one where I try to balance technical skill with artistic vision. The darkroom is where I mix chemistry, spend a great deal of time in the dark by myself and hopefully emerge with something satisfying, something I find beautiful.

Sez G: Do you have much collaboration with your models?

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Rik Garrett: Oftentimes, yes. This is why I don't pay random models to pose for me. I like to photograph people I know, people I can speak to, people I wouldn't mind talking to even if there was no camera involved. This leads to better communication, among other things. If I can easily express what I'm thinking, then the person I'm photographing might then be able to help get that across, and a bit more of their personality might then make it into the finished image.

Sez G: You must spend a lot of time (and exercise a lot of patience) in the darkroom. How do you feel about artists who rely heavily on computer software and digital retouching?

Rik Garrett: It's not for me. I enjoy the darkroom, and a large part of why I love photography is the tangible aspect of it all. There's something very tactile about working in the darkroom, using film and everything else that goes along with the 'analog' photographic processes. In addition, I like the look of film and photographic paper.

Sez G: Your mother was a photographer, and you grew up with a darkroom in your house. What kind of work did she do?

Rik Garrett: My mother did a variety of work, but mainly focused on portraiture. She gained quite a reputation locally for family portraits and the like before closing her studio to focus on other things. My work has always been incredibly different from my mom's, but it's still something that I was able to speak about with her. Two years ago my parents and grandparents went to one of my shows in Seattle, and my mom told me that she was impressed with the quality of my prints. This was very flattering to me.

Sez G: Did you go to school for art or are you self-taught?

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Rik Garrett: I never went to school for photography. I went to college for one year to study filmmaking, but quickly found it not to my liking. Most everything I know about photography I've learned by speaking to others who know more than I do, reading, or massive amounts of trial and error.

Sez G: Your art is like a dreamscape. It's wordless, complex, a little unsettling and seductive. Have you always created ethereal images? What would you say is the evolution of your artistic direction?

Rik Garrett: Thank you. I think that's a very good way of explaining what I do. People have been describing my work as 'ethereal' since I first decided to get serious about photography around eight years ago. I don't believe that this is likely to change any time soon, but I do expect to start pushing things a bit more.

The past two years have been a very particular time with my work, and the things I've made during this time all fit together in some way. I expect to push that a bit, continuing in the same direction but advancing things.

Sez G: You recently had a show in Zurich. Congratulations! How did you hook up with the Museum of Porn in Art and how did the show go?

Rik Garrett: I was in New York a year and a half ago to show with my friend and sometimes collaborator Steven Leyba. He told me how he'd been showing with the MoPiA and offhandedly mentioned that I should contact them. I didn't even remember the comment for a month or two. I sent them a letter and was surprised at the enthusiasm that I was greeted with. It was a great show and everyone treated me very well. Switzerland is a beautiful place.

Sez G: What's next for you?

Rik Garrett: I'm going to continue to work and progress as a photographer and as an artist. I'd like to find some new places to show my work, and I'm always planning a book proposal that eventually I'd like to shop around to publishers.

Mainly, I just want to continue making things that I enjoy.

To learn more about Rik Garrett, visit

Rik Garrett - by Sez G.