Boston – 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. Taking large-format photos – images purged of ad-world glamour and glitz – he slices them into strips. Wrapped around LED bulbs contained in plastic tubes, then mounted in sequence on mirror Plexiglas, they become three-dimensional and dynamic, glowing landscapes that change as the viewer moves around them. For example, His installation Zephyr features a brilliant panorama of wind turbines that seem to stretch into infinity.
A native of Williamsport, 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 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 large-format film, strobe lighting, still-life methods and so on. During my senior year, we visited New York City to meet with some of the top ad agencies. That trip already convinced me that advertising wasn’t my scene, but after graduating I moved out to Oregon where, in between capturing action shots for several snowboard camps, I had the chance to do some advertising work. I did a shoot for a sunglasses company and was paid in sunglasses, which kind of confirmed that advertising wasn’t for me.
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 capture only one image when I take photos. I either nail it, or I don’t.
Plus the billboard aesthetic, of course.
That started at RIT, where 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.
How do you put your tube installations together?
I start out with a photo I’ve taken. I get the image printed on inkjet backlit film and figure out how to slice it up. Then I wrap each image segment around an LED bulb and place it in a plastic tube – of a standard design, cut to size. Finally, I mount the tubes onto mirror Plexiglas. I collaborate a lot with others during this process – on the fabrication or electronics, for example. I can’t do it all alone, even though I have a finger in all the processes.
What inspires the images in your pieces?
I don’t chase after specific images. I prefer to notice things in the moment, whether I’m driving home from work or travelling abroad. I like to visit national parks, photographing an abandoned camper for Death Valley, a church in an Indian village in the Grand Canyon for Pink Church, and so forth. I guess I’m looking for a different view. I gravitate towards images of nature, or images of places that people inhabit but are free of advertising. If I have a ‘dream image’, it’s one that requires very little touch-up work.