Watson finds success behind the lens
Looking around Brant and Mark Watson's living room, it's not too hard to tell what the brothers are studying in school. Paintings, prints and photographs line the walls of their antique rental house on a tree-lined, brick street in Lawrence, just blocks away from Kansas University's campus.
The Watsons, native Eudorans, are majoring in printmaking, but photographs are what have earned Brant Watson a spot at the Society for Contemporary Photography in Kansas City and on the walls of the Paradise Cafa downtown Lawrence restaurant.
For Watson, the reproductive processes of printmaking and photography demonstrate many of the same properties.
"You've got to make a negative and work through it to make a final product," he said.
For Watson, photography is about the process.
"It's not the final product that matters," he said.
That's why his photomontages are composed in the darkroom as he layers negative upon negative. When he's making photographs, Watson said, he's not necessarily thinking about how he's going to use them.
"When I'm taking pictures it's hard for me to figure out what the final image may look like," Watson said.
Watson's darkroom is in a former roommate's windowless bedroom. When the roommate married and moved out, Watson furnished the facility with lots of hand-me-down equipment and an enlarger, which took awhile to pay off, he said.
"There's so many things you can do in the dark room," Watson said, "happy accidents where you don't know what happened."
Having a darkroom at home comes in handy.
"You can wake up in the middle of the night and work on stuff," he said.
Although Watson works primarily in black and white, he's a fan of color slides. On some of his pieces he used a process called Polaroid transfer, which uses printmaking techniques and gives a muted, soft color.
A well-known photograph from photography's beginnings inspired Watson to create montages out of his work. "Apocalypse 7," the piece Watson will show in Kansas City, uses several images layered over one another. In the center is a statue of Christ, an image the artist captured at a Catholic cemetery in Atchison. The image also features a window pane Watson thinks came from a window at Red House Recording in downtown Eudora. The piece got its name from a leather-bound Bible Watson once flipped through that referred to the book of Revelation as the Apocalypse.
"I'm feeling pretty lucky," Watson said of getting the piece accepted into the society, which only features about 60 artists.
Watson still shoots his images with a Ricoh KR-10 SE, a camera his father gave to him as a child.
"I've just been snapping off photos since I was 7," he said. "I've dropped the thing a thousand times."
The pieces Watson hung at the Paradise Cafonday included many that had different images sewn together with X-shaped stitches.
"Maybe it's because I'm from a small town, but quilts just rock," he said. "Mark and I's grandma would crank out, like, five quilts a year."
One of the images at the Paradise show is called "Making Comebacks." It features the color image of an American flag, black and white photos of basketball player Michael Jordan and terrorist Osama bin Laden.
"I don't know how this one will go over," Watson said of the piece.
His artwork doesn't stop at the end of the photographs. The ash frames surrounding the images were made by Watson, who in addition to taking photojournalism before he graduated from Eudora High School in 1996 also spent time in shop classes.
"I think it's all part of the process, starting with nothing and ending up with a final product," he said.