F295 Interview by Tom Persinger

Keith Taylor (F295, 2008) is a British expatriate living in Minneapolis, MN. He’s a terrific artist and one of the finest platinum, gum, silver, and polymergravure printers working today. I’ve been keeping up with Keith’s various projects since first working with him in 2008. I was fortunate to have a chance to sit down and chat with him recently about his latest series Dark Matter.

Tom Persinger – What is Dark Matter?

Keith Taylor – Broadly speaking, the universe as we know it is made up of 5% ordinary matter, such as stars, planets, asteroids, and everything on Earth, 70% dark energy and 25% dark matter.

Dark matter neither emits nor absorbs light and is therefore invisible, yet scientists know it exists because of its ability to exert gravitational forces upon those things we can see in the form of gravitational lensing. Lensing has the effect of bending light that has been emitted from a distant source and seen by an observer on Earth. Scientists know it exists, there’s just no scientific proof of its existence yet.

How did you become interested in the exploring Dark Matter – something that is invisible and by definition defies being photographed – through a photographic series?

There is a disused iron ore mine in northern Minnesota where the University of Minnesota has a lab that is searching for scientific proof of dark matter. The lab has to be a quarter of a mile underground because the rock filters out everything except for dark matter.

The Star Tribune newspaper in the Twin Cities profiled the lab and its quest, and that it gave public tours, albeit limited in access, of the lab. One weekend I made a trip, not knowing what to expect, and came away with many interesting images.

At this point I didn’t really have a particular series in mind, but soon after I applied for, and was accepted into, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts/Jerome Foundation Mentorship program. This is a year long program that takes six artists of different disciplines with no prior experience of the book arts and immerses them into all aspects of bookmaking; paper making, binding, letterpress, typography, silkscreen printing etc. It was this mentorship that really formed the idea of project and the physical shape of the work.

Was there a process to your photographic investigation of the phenomenon and how did you decide what to photograph?

There was no particular process, but the images were all photographed within the mine or the immediate surrounding area on the surface, so there was a self-imposed restriction which helped concentrate the focus within a small area.

The project is based upon the fact that dark matter is invisible and scientists continue to spend long days, months and years searching for it, unable to see it, yet so far with no scientific success. And so this is my conceptual idea of what form it might take if it were visible. I’m using the negative space in the images, shadows and very dark objects, to imply the presence of dark matter which is constantly passing through every object on Earth.

Being a conceptual project meant it was very different to the subject matter I would normally have chosen or how I would work and completely removed me from my comfort zone. The restricted public access to the lab also meant I had to grab what I could while taking the public tours. This changed after I met with the lead scientist and a theorist at the University and presented the idea to them. Not only did they give me unrestricted access to all areas of the lab, which really made a big difference, but they had some wonderful ideas as to what I should photograph based upon their studies of gravitational lensing.

As I understand it, the final portfolio is intentionally sequenced. How did you decide on the sequence?

It is and it isn’t. Initially I had intended the prints to be bound and locked into a particular order, but while working on the portfolio I would show the prints to others and noticed that everyone would deliberately, but quietly, reorder the sequence to their own liking. So I decided that it would make more sense if it took the form of a suite of twenty unbound but sequenced prints. There would be no identifying marks – image numbers, page numbers etc. – on the prints and this would allow buyers of the portfolio the ability to create their own ‘story’ through varying the sequencing of the prints. There is a page at the very end of the portfolio that lists my original sequencing of the images should anyone wish to keep them in my order.

The final collection of images consists of 20 exquisitely presented hand-pulled polymer photogravures. Why did you choose photogravure as the medium to present the images? How does the process help articulate your vision?

Polymergravure is a modern method of printmaking that gives similar results to that of traditional copperplate photogravure. While the latter involves acids and a long, involved workflow, the modern polymer method uses water to process the plate, is more environmentally friendly and is a lot simpler to work with. While I could have used any of the three processes I work with for their different qualities – silver gelatin for its sharpness, platinum for its softness or photogravure for its deep blacks – I chose polymer-gravure because the resulting prints are incredibly tactile and have the ability to achieve very deep blacks while still retaining detail, which is very important with this project.

Practically, it also allowed me the option of a wider range of papers that were more suited to bookbinding and letterpress printing for the type.