Thursday, July 19, 2007

Matthew with Sousaphone
robert gullie | hand-tinted black and white photograph

Appears on the cover of the July 2007 Chronogram Magazine

Article written by Tim Cahill

"There is a distinctive wry humor to the work of Robert Gullie, a deadpan, tonguein-cheek wit tempered by a satisfyingly unsettling weirdness. His pictures offer the same cock-eyed pleasure of Monty Python, not just the boisterous absurdity of the famous skits but the tinge of dark humor of Terry Gilliam’s animation as well. Gullie’s picture of model Matthew O’Brien with a sousaphone (a parade tuba designed for, not by, John Philip Sousa) is typical of the off-kilter mirth that pervades his work. O’Brien, a
New York theater actor and director, is a friend of the photographer’s daughter. Four years ago, when O’Brien graduated from Syracuse University, Gullie offered to take his portrait to commemorate the event; when the day of the shoot arrived, Gullie showed up with the borrowed sousaphone as a prop, and not much idea of how he planned to use it.

“I like to have a prop,” says Gullie. “It’s my challenge to bring a prop into the picture and then see what I can do with it.” The object becomes a third collaborator both artist and model are compelled to play to. The more incongruous the prop, the better. Gullie has convinced his models to pose with, variously, a stuffed barracuda, Cleopatra headdress, and lion mask. He operates like the head of an improvisation troupe, giving very broad directions, then letting his people play around inside the frame.

“I have some idea what I want, but it’s spontaneous,” says Gullie of his process. “I really don’t know what it’s going to look like until I see what they’re doing. When I see it in the camera, I know, that’s it, this works.”

“With Matthew, I had the sousaphone and we brought it out. He was striking poses, and I said, ‘Why don’t you try something more formal?’ He’s a dancer too, and the way he stood, the contrast of the big hand with the soft face, looked pretty good.”

Gullie has a degree in African Studies and what he terms “half a masters” in Transcendental Meditation; he works in the vast bureaucracy of New York State designing application forms for social-service agencies. His interest in photography grew out of a collection of images he owned by Wallace Nutting, a kitschy artist-entrepreneur who, in the first half of the last century, massproduced hand-tinted photos of picturesque Americana. Gullie has adapted Nutting’s technique of adding color to monochrome photographs and given it a pleasantly unreal edge.

“I try to almost fool you, because they look like color photographs, but they’re soft. They look kind of surreal, kind of dreamy, like they’re from another realm. Somewhere between reality and dreams, that’s the way I like to look at things.”

Gullie’s portfolio can be seen at www.robertgullie.com.


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