At last weekend’s annual Kerowacked Festival that featured open studios, live music and artist vendors, there was a black truck parked at the entrance to one of the bays with its doors and hatch open to display some remarkable black and white photos. The truck and art belong to Brian Cattelle, a local photographer who has been traveling the country to capture images that recall Robert Franks gritty portraits of America taken in the 1950s (currently on display at the Palm Beach Photographic Center). The images dive into a forgotten world of graffiti strewn interiors, stray black dogs with one blind eye, overgrown farmhouses, all captured in striking visceral black and white.
Next to the truck there were two sculptures –one made from a shopping cart piled with funky old television sets playing a loop of his photos, another had a shelf painted with the phrase “If you search you will find beauty in the decay” along with shoes, a jacket, old spray cans, a license plate, buckets and loose screws. On the hood was a box with metallic markers asking people to “Tag my truck”, literally to write anything they wanted on its matte black paint job. A mailbox on the hood served as an art exchange if anyone wanted to leave him a piece of their own art. He was livestreaming all day from the site, panning to the crowds and zeroing in on his art.
This inclusive, impromptu, unusual roving display is just part of the overall plan for exposing his work. Cattelle has driven all over the country in this black truck – which he will soon be replacing. He did a series called Bare USA where he went to all 50 United States and hired models at different stops cross country to pose in the nude at abandoned houses and factories. He parked at Lake Tahoe and captured the cosmic desert meets the lake rocks. At Salton Sea he zeroed in on the fish casualties that result from the sickly water quality. Stooped old men get the visceral treatment, every line on their face and beat up ball cap tells a world weary story. Even his nudes look somewhat de-eroticized as they find their place among rotting infrastructures.
Cattelle himself is a lanky working class vision with his white t-shirt, jeans and truckers cap. On his website he says: “My life has revolved around photography since my early teens. I remember developing my first black and white photo in my high school dark room – the ominous red glow of the light, the stink of chemicals, the trickling water in the background, and the anticipation as, moment by moment, my picture materialized. From then on I was hooked. During high school and college, I had the luxury of fully equipped dark rooms, but my circumstances changed after college. I strayed away from photography for a few years. Then one day, I found myself behind the lens of a decent camera again, and it was like being reunited with an old friend. Once again I was hooked, and hooked I remain. This is my life. Capturing moments in time. In those moments, I feel complete.”
“I’ve always been attracted to old things,” he says by phone a few days after the Kerowacked fest. “I’m a junker, trash picker, archeologist. I like places that are off limits, I have a fascination with that feel. It’s about holding onto the past, places that have a story. Buildings are better as objects because they are not just something you look at, they surround you. I’m nervous approaching people, so I think my fear of rejection from people is stronger than my fear of being arrested from breaking into an abandoned building site. I like black and white photography better, color to me is a distraction. I know when I’ve got the right image at development, something just clicks and connects.”
Photo Gallery: Brian Cattelle’s Road Show
His next project will find him on a bus going cross country, stopping at random small towns to connect with the people and places there. He’s also making retro hand held View Finders for The Box Gallery using his landscape images. “It’s a new way to present as an artist,” he says. That goes for the sculptures and truck display he bombs around to festivals with.
He’s won awards for his work including being named the Grand Prize winner of the “Marlboro Black Book – Get the Gig” photo contest.
Marlboro wrote “As a black-and-white purist, Brian uses tone, shadow and his Floridian surroundings to weave stories into simple compositions. Through light and carefully crafted silhouettes, Brian runs his audience between the layers captured within the frame—a technique that showcases the moment but allows his subject matter to speak to the mood, place and adventure that now lasts forever, frozen in time.”
He was the recipient of a Juror Award of Merit in the Street/Documentary Category in the International Fine Art Photography Competition for an image entitled “Venice Beach Study.” This was a real honor as his work was chosen by jurors as one of their ten favorite images out of 5,000 submissions in the category.
I went by the Kerowacked Festival around 5:30 and the event was scheduled to continue til 10 pm. By nightfall, around 8 p.m., most all of the vendors and artists had all packed up and gone home. Cattelle had promised the festival organizers and in his event posts that he would stay til 10 p.m. and he did, standing alone in a darkened warehouse bay alley with his truck display.
“This is what stubborn looks like,” he posted.
When I asked about that he chuckled and said “Yeah well you never know, that last late night customer may drop $400 and make the wait worthwhile. For me it’s about what lengths will I go to for my art.”
To learn more about the art by Brian, visit briancattelle.com
Beauty in the Decay: Brian Cattelle’s Road Show. Brian Cattelle, a local photographer, has been traveling the country to capture images in black and white.