CHESHIRE — On the walls of Alexander Harding’s home studio, photographs of objects only inches large in real life are enlarged and transformed. Grains of salt become the night sky full of stars, water droplets caught in the cross-hatch of a window screen gain a luminescent weight and water flowing from a showerhead is suddenly the view from a spaceship in hyperdrive.
The extreme close-up still life photographer moved to Cheshire six months ago from Wallingford, where he lived for several years. He teaches photography and art history, among other subjects, at the University of New Haven and the University of Hartford. He also works at the Yale Art Gallery in the Modern Contemporary Art Department, helping curators put together exhibitions and aiding visiting artists.
Harding said he only recently transitioned to digital photography. Before, he was using 8 x 10 inch film, which was expensive and took a long time to process. Now he shoots on a high-tech $25,000 digital camera.
Harding’s subjects are common, everyday objects. From an oil spill in the street to the way light reflects in tinfoil, Harding is able to draw meaning from the mundane. Most of the pictures he takes are from no more than six inches away and abstract in nature.
For some photography consists of discovering interesting objects and shooting them, Harding takes a different approach.
He starts with an idea and sketches ways in order to create it in a notebook. He then sets up the shot, which is often a “labor intensive” process, full of test drives and tinkering.
It can take up to two weeks just to produce one image.
“I don’t make a lot of photographs a year,” Harding said. “The ones that I take take a long time to make.”
The one thing Harding says he’s never done is portraiture.
“I’ve never photographed a person before, ever,” he said.
A close-up of his wife’s hair shining in the light is the closest he’s ever come.
“My wife has nice hair,” he said. “I start to think of it as a drawing.”
His most recent project is attempting to create photographs that look like drawings and finding new ways to capture fire.
Assistant professor of photography at the University of Hartford Michael Vahrenwald works with Harding and described his style as “unassuming,” in a good way.
“He’s sort of a master of understatement,” Vahrenwald said. “I think he finds meaning in things that are on first glance meaningless and I really like that.”
Vahrenwald said Harding is popular with the students and commended his ability as a teacher.
“Al’s a great teacher. He’s super charismatic; the students really seem to love him,” Vahrenwald said. “He’s a really patient person which I think is a really good quality.”
Harding says he really enjoys working with students.
“I really like teaching; it’s the one thing that doesn’t feel like work,” Harding said.
More of Harding’s work can be found at his website: alexanderhardingart.com.
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