Clint Baclawski creates seemingly endless environments with ethereal light installations

FRAME 120 – After some early adventures in advertising, Clint Baclawski embarked on a career in art. To his new field he brought a love of the backlit billboard image, adapting the advertising mainstay to create his distinctive installations. His latest installation, Zephyr, features a brilliant panorama of wind turbines that seem to stretch into infinity. Born in Williamsport, a small town in Pennsylvania, Baclawski studied at Rochester Institute of Technology and Massachusetts College of Art and Design. He now lives and works in Boston.

From advertising photographer to artist – how did that happen?
CLINT BACLAWSKI: Actually, becoming an advertising photographer was never really my ambition. I was studying technical photography at Rochester Institute of Technology and I opted for advertising photography as it offered the best technical experience in shooting large-format film, strobe lighting, still-life methods and so on.

What was the most important thing you took from the ad world?
That it’s all about getting the one shot. Once you get it, don’t waste any more time shooting. In fact, I typically only capture one image when I take photos. I either nail it, or I don’t.

Plus the billboard aesthetic, of course.
That started at RIT when we did a critique of each other’s work every week by looking at prints on light tables – I always found them completely mesmerizing. Later, as a grad student at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, I began making large-scale light boxes to display my photos, and I learned to wire them myself. One day, I was working on a box when one of my prints fell onto a tube light and sort of draped over it, and that’s how I got the idea for my tube installations.

You shoot on an analogue camera. Why not digital?
I love the graininess you get with film – that’s what makes it so beautiful. And on a purely practical level, film gives me the freedom to enlarge my images beyond the dimensions a normal digital camera would allow. I like the fact that my work begins as an analogue process during image capture and then morphs into a digital output. I’m happy that I can embrace technology, and all its possibilities, while still preserving craft.

How do people react to your work?
It doesn’t sound modest to say so, but people are generally pretty blown away. I love seeing people interact with my installations. The image comes together, then dissipates, and the eye reconstructs it in front of you. For this reason video does my work more justice than photos.

Is there a size limit for your installations?
My biggest piece so far is 8 x 30 feet – it occupied a narrow hallway. But I have a proposal out now for a larger piece of 10 x 40 feet that would be permanent. The biggest tubes I use are 8-feet tall but there’s no reason you couldn’t stack them on top of one other. The only limit really is how small they can go, because the bulbs are never shorter than 6 inches.

What would you like to work on next?
I think there are a number of directions to develop. For example, in many pieces, like Lush, I use the bulbs horizontally, or the image runs horizontally across a space. I’d like to create a piece where the images runs vertically up a wall, so you’d view it from the ground looking up. The tube still seems to offer infinite possibilities to me – it’s a process of discovery.

To read the full interview with Clint Baclawski, pick up a copy of Frame 120.

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