Nicole and I had the opportunity to photograph a dear friend, Colin McNulty, for our Execution series at the Eastern State Penitentiary. Colin is a Captain in the United States Army, a world traveler, a graduate student at Villanova, and aspiring Public Historian.
We asked him to write a short synopsis on the project and his experiences, and he had this to say:
When Dan and Nicole initially asked me to be part of this project I was hesitant. Not because I doubt their skill at their craft. Rather it was a matter of me having to face the truths that this project makes one face, namely risk of failure. Their original idea was to display me riddled with bullets and I was very uncomfortable with that scenario. Having been over seas. They very graciously worked with me to develop the series of photographs that we ended up with.
I returned from Afghanistan in March 2011, the ray of light I held onto while
overseas was my application to Villanova for Graduate School. My intention was to study Revolution exclusively at the time of enrollment. What ended up happening was, well very much a common event on the road of life. I picked one course that satisfied my concentration and another that was an unknown. The unknown was public history. Around the same time I moved back to Philadelphia off of Fairmount Ave. A hulking monster on the street was this medieval castle that I came to understand was Eastern State Penitentiary Museum. Despite all my museum going over the summer I avoided the prison for the simple fact that it is a prison and it creeped me out.
Class started in late August and one of my first assignments was to visit the prison. I fell in love with its immense beauty and narrative of humanity immediately. I am currently neck deep in a project regarding the enlistment of inmates from Eastern State in World War 1. I feel that their story should be known. This project challenged me to move from behind my papers to in front of the lens and for that I am grateful.
About the pictures:
In the pictures I am wearing clothes that I had handy. The pants were set on fire among other things. The shirt is a tuxedo shirt that I acquired for fancy dress, I cut the collar off and it was put on a piece of plywood while we attacked it with, tomahawk, bowie, sword, and filth. The point of the picture was to pit me against this tremendous wall. The wall is part of the northern most wall of ESP. In my left hand is sword of civil war trooper. It flows with blood from either my wound or that of my foe. In my right hand is a compass, the cord ran around my palm three times. The choice of the compass in the right hand is three fold. Right being my dominant hand would be the hand I would use to get a steady reading. The metal sword and scabbard would interfere with this so they end up on the left. Lastly the right hand is the future and that is why implements of war are not in it. Instead I hold a navigational tool, as we all must find our way in this world. In addition, my time overseas has taught me that the left hand is always the backwards hand; and perhaps an aversion of the left hand now lingers in my mind.
Regarding Ambrotypes and the modern era:
Famous Samurai Miyamoto Musashi was already commenting on the hasty value placed on finished or rushed works in the 1600’s. “If we look at the world we see arts for sale. Men use equipment to sell their own selves.” This is true today as it was in the day of Musashi, except now in the digital era; many forms of art seem truncated. The master samurai would agree that simply printing a picture or even taking a well-placed shot is not what makes value. The end product does not out weigh the egg that hatched it. “As if with the nut and the flower, the nut has become less than the flower…trying to hasten the bloom of the flower… They are looking for profit.” This very ancient sentiment describes perfectly an aspect of the beauty of this project. Each ambrotype is a story that has been years in the making. The acme of Dan and Nicoles skill has been masterfully sharpened through their years of schooling in the arts and subsequent years of producing fine art. These ambrotypes are the perfect medium for this project. The involved, demanding, and disciplined process that is involved in making each glass print is in itself a ceremony. This project allows the artists at Linked Ring to produce the caliber of art they need to. The opportunity to own a piece of or be involved in this project is one that should not be passed up lightly. – Colin McNulty