03 Jul Medium & Moment: The Wood Prints of Photographer Matt Mornick
By Adrienne Gerard
Contact Light recently had the pleasure of shooting a video for Matt Mornick Photography. Labels like wedding or landscape photographer don’t work with Mornick; he’s a thoughtful and passionate artist who has recently developed a process of printing his subjects on planks of wood. Scrolling through his online portfolio, I found his prints to be so hauntingly beautiful that I questioned why the use of wood as a canvas for a photograph had not already been widely experimented with. But, I came understand after spending a day in the life that the beauty of Mornick’s technique lies in his meditative process, rooted in a complete trust of his senses.
7:00AM: I meet Mornick at his first stop: an industrial lumber yard in Santa Ana, California. He’s here to find a canvas for his latest photograph — a winter-scape of the Colorado Rockies. He knows exactly what he’s looking for before we even enter the massive maze of wood that feels more like sacred ground — his sanctuary. Planks and beams from timber across the country are stacked in towering piles like the canyons of wooden crates at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, blanched in light spilling in through the ceiling. We spend a good hour as Mornick takes his time wandering through the aisles — silent in thought — stopping every once in a while to examine a piece and run his hands across the grain. Watching him, you can see his mind churning with a repeating mantra: “what do the knots offer — what does this swirl provide — how can this shade set the proper tone?”
9:15AM: Mornick’s made his selection and we’re on our way to his next stop. I learn during the ride about his process with the camera — how his pieces come to life with the decisive click of the shutter. In a digital age where limitless card space encourages photographers to shoot first and question later, Mornick is somewhat of an anachronism; channeling the spirit of Ansel Adams, he chooses to wait for the moment to arise as though he’s still working with a finite roll of cellulose. As he composes, he imagines how the grain on that to-be-determined plank of wood will play with and enhance the dynamism of his subject. Only when he’s convinced of this potential mutualism does he shoot.
10:00AM: We arrive at Sign Design, an unassuming but cozy industrial space in Fountain Valley where the owner, Keith, a chummy family man greets Mornick. There’s a warmness between the two men, an evolving history of cooperation, mutual respect and appreciation. As Keith begins rasterizing the image on a computer, Mornick opens the garage door and carts out tables and tools into the parking lot baking under a hot, summer sun. In minutes, he’s shed his photographer skin and morphed into a carpenter — an expert craftsman who bevels and sands his recent acquisition, prepping it for its impending union with snow-capped mountains.
12:00PM: Back inside, there’s a tension in the air. Mornick lays one of two planks on a massive printer bed, carefully ensuring it’s position; there are no “do-overs” here. The computer is programed, a button pressed, a couple of switches flicked and the mechanical leviathan springs to life, beginning a repeating journey across the plank. Mornick monitors the action as close as he can get to the machine — his eyes hypnotized by the precision of spraying ink, a rhythmic swish-swash which sends him back to that mountain top. When the rhythm is broken, so is his trance. Carefully, he lifts his work off the bed and rests it on a table where he examines his efforts for the first time. Mountains and grain each complementing the other like a Lennon/McCartney harmony. Neither is complete without the other. The two have become one.
To date, only a small portion of Mornick’s photography has been printed on wood. The process is time-consuming and intense; care, emotion, a full connection to the senses left Mornick feeling satisfied but exhausted at the end of my day with him. Mornick’s work is rooted in this ability to see, feel, listen, touch — an acuteness of senses. Attend an upcoming exhibition of his work and you too will feel this awareness as landscape and grain combine, revealing familiar scenes in fresh and thought-provoking ways, encouraging us to take in forests and snow-capped mountains as though we were seeing them for the first time — a perfect blend of medium and moment.