Artist of The Week: Ansen Seale, From The “Make-It” Drawer

Ansen Seale on a cultural exchange in China with his slit scan camera 

Ansen Seale on a cultural exchange in China with his slit scan camera 

In Ansen Seale’s childhood home, his mother kept drawer known among the family as the “Make-It” drawer. She would stock the drawer with household miscellanea: old alarm clocks, marbles, string, disused eyeglasses, felt, batteries, tape, glass jars and other various objects.

For the young Seale brothers, these ordinary treasures were the materials and inspiration for creative projects.

For Ansen – who considers himself an artist, scientist, and “maker”— a “Make-It” Drawer is the ideal kit to advance an artistic predisposition. The freedom of expression kindles an artist’s creativity. The variety of physical properties kindled a scientist’s intellect. And, the challenge of knickknackery kindled a maker’s inventiveness.

His house was an old farmhouse in an orange and grapefruit orchard in the Rio Grande Valley, 10 miles from the Mexican border in Texas. He and his brothers would explore the rows of trees, a space which he shrewdly calls, “a microcosm of the rest of the region” and “a man-made ‘natural’ landscape laid out on a grid.”  

Ansen photographing rock art in West Texas.

Ansen photographing rock art in West Texas.

This South Texas landscape was equally as stimulating for the photographer’s young talents and mind. He describes the space in symbolic terms, as if sheer anticipation of his later career, saying,

“[The landscape] forged the basics of my own artistic and compositional sensibilities: long horizontal lines and the sensuality of the river – punctuated by the stark verticals of tall palm trees. This vision is deep within my memories. The horizontal becomes absolutely feminine and the vertical, masculine. They become the two most basic elements of all composition.”

With the creative cultivation from inside of his house, paired with the complex and beautiful inspiration outside of his house, Ansen would grow up to become the photographer and inventor he is today.

Ansen and the 18-feet long camera that he used for years. 

Ansen and the 18-feet long camera that he used for years. 

Now based in San Antonio, Texas, he has, over the past 20 years, developed his own photographic technique called “slit scan photography.” He invented his own camera – a modern and digital cousin of the panoramic camera – that has the faculties to invert many of the traditional rules of photography. With his technique, unlike traditional photography, unmoving objects are blurred and moving objects are rendered clearly.  

“It is important to understand that my images are not artificially manipulated. This is truly the way the slitscan camera sees the world,” he says.

While he is a photographer, and he does capture reality, it is important to note that he is most influenced painters. In fact, he likens his work to that of the cubists in the way that it unearths the weirdness of reality, or in his words, “the strange world [that] exists right in front of us.”

Perhaps, Ansen’s photographs, could be a thesis in valiant defense of abstract painters. His photographs suggest the work of the cubists, pointillists, and other abstractors known to kick up the visual field, are not zany extrapolations or even versions of realities: they are, in fact, realities.

Of his own work he says, “I tease out this unusual reality lurking just beneath the surface of our everyday visual experience in the same way the cubist painters created dynamic tension by exploiting the interplay between what the viewer expects and what she gets.”

In a way, his photography is the “Make-it” drawer projected onto a larger, grown-up scale. Where nature (incidentally, a figure who has on more than one occasion been called “mother”) presents ordinary objects which Ansen represents through his inventive ingenuity.