What is the Curious Basement? by Ron Cowie

When I’m left to my own devices, I’ll be in the basement making prints or outside making pictures. It’s where I’m happiest and most creative. I’m also passionate about the community of artists who use photography. The Curious Basement refers to the fact that most home darkrooms are located in basements. It is the place for the most creative exploration in my life. The Curious Basement brings all this together.

I’ll be selling photos at affordable prices on my site here and sharing the process on my instagram channel.

I’m tired of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. My work and passion involve making things with light and precious metals.

Collodion Chloride Printing Out Paper (POP) by Ron Cowie

  • This is my favorite silver process because of all the variation I can get with toning. I took a workshop at the George Eastman House with Mark Osterman.

  • I can print by inspection which allows me to really dial in the exposure time.

  • I can make the emulsion myself. Recipe is fairly simple.

  • Toning is made either with gold or platinum solutions. The concentrations are pretty small which also makes the prints very archival.

  • Exposure times are between five and fifteen minutes (depending on the negative density)

URI Master Gardener Tours by Ron Cowie

My wife and I visited a variety of gardens throughout Rhode Island over the weekend. It is inspiring and fun to see what people do to make their worlds a little more beautiful.

Beacon Academy: School Portraits by Ron Cowie

I have had the pleasure of working with Beacon Academy since their first year. Here is their mission, which I fully support:

Beacon Academy uniquely challenges the achievement gaps in Boston by emboldening intelligent and determined urban students to push past limitations, forge a lifelong community, and achieve their full potential in competitive high schools and colleges, and in all opportunities throughout life.

For your consideration. by Ron Cowie

Art history is full of people who lived and created in obscurity only to be discovered later (like hundreds of years later). They had interesting and connected lives and made stuff for the joy of creation.

A lot of artists who enjoy(ed) fame in their lifetimes are/were real assholes to the people around them.

All social media is one gigantic status game.

A sense of style is not about doing one thing over and over.

Wanting validation for your efforts while doing them is a great way to get nothing worthwhile done.

God blesses effort.

Lack of Curiosity Kills by Ron Cowie

The example of an overflowing teacup to illustrate my resistance to learning is apt. I’m so full of everything “I already know” I become unteachable.

On the second day of my material and processes class (M&P), at the New England School of Photography, I was talking with the teaching assistant about film and specifically which film was “better”. I had my brand and he had his. When he challenged my brand, I could feel the grandiose “lizard-brain” rise to protect me. The next thought I had saved my academic and professional career. Instead of doubling down on what I “knew for sure”, the idea of acting “as-if”  I don’t know anything about photography arrived. I gave myself permission to be a beginner. I had the chance to actually learn stuff I already thought I knew.

The freedom and ease from not having to keep up the “know-it-all” act saved a lot of energy and stress. What I missed in grandiose posturing, I gained through humility. I also had a lot more fun.

I will never be entirely free of this self-defeating behavior but, every day provides new opportunities to learn and practice the alternative. For this, I am grateful

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Process Not Perfection by Ron Cowie

I attended Fotofest in 2001. I had the chance to talk with with Burt Finger of Photos Do not Bend Gallery. He and his wife Missy sold me my first piece of art: Keith Carter Dog Ghost.

We were talking about life and art during a break. I was 31 at the time and very much into being a deep and profound artist. Burt was patient, kind, and quick to laugh. Still is.

I’ll never forget what he said, “When I came back from Vietnam, I swore I’d never be petty. I’d never take anything for granted, Every day will be a gift. You know what, Ron, it didn’t take too long for me to get right back to being petty and taking everything for granted.”

In 2001, my first wife Lisa Garner, was still alive and in the next room. I felt I had the world at my feet. The only really painful stuff I had experienced could be chalked up to witnessing the normal progression of life: deaths, breakups, 8th grade graduation.

I’ll be 49 this year. I’d like to say I’m more more reflective and less petty. I have experienced a portion of joy and pain associated with being on the planet and loving people while I’m at it. I take it all for granted more often than not. It’s part of being human. No one among us can maintain perfect spiritual balance all the time. That isn’t my  problem. My problem is thinking that I can’t function until such is the case.

I’m a 48 year old confused artist who hasn’t really made anything of comment for a while who says “I’ll never take anything for granted.” while watching movies about a dead artists who couldn’t take anything for granted.

However, just for today, I’m not going to take it for granted (fearful) and say “I’ll take pictures or write tomorrow.” Today, I remember that conditions are never ideal to work. Creativity needs something to work against.

Keith Carter, wrote on one of his cameras “It’s your job”. Just take the damn picture and forget how you feel. The obstacles and distractions are not there to punish you for having an idea, but there to direct your actions to the parts that need more attention.

In that spirit, have a great day.

Teaching a Tintype Workshop by Ron Cowie

Teaching Tintypes.

I was in a darkroom teaching a tintype/wet plate collodion workshop at the New England School of Photography. I’ve been teaching at the NESOP for about twenty years and it never gets old.

Teaching tintype is the epitome of “slow photography” and that is important. Students left with under ten finished plates each and that was a successful weekend. In a fun twist, when wet plate collodion and was the “latest and greatest” technology of the day (1860’s), it was the fastest process being used.

Why teach (or take) this workshop?

  • It’s good to slow down.

  • Learning the history of a medium builds a deeper understanding of its present iteration.

  • The sound of running water in a darkroom is peaceful.

  • It’s fun.

I often think of the classes I teach as “play-dates” for adults. While they can inspire larger bodies of work, most of the time, it’s just a fun weekend of trying something new.

The most successful students are the ones who just have fun splashing around, asking questions, and making stuff for a few days.

I always leave these weekends a little tired but energized. The curiosity of the students is contagious and delightful. While I know more about the mechanics of the process I’m teaching (I hope), I’m still learning how to teach it effectively. That journey never really ends. For that, I’m grateful.

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Getting back to basics by Ron Cowie

Art-making has been about confronting personal issues that stand in the way of whatever message moves through me. The creative roadblocks are self-generated. Admitting I need to relearn film, I’m bringing myself to right size. I’m slowing down and being mindful. I’ve never been very good at outrunning the process, so I might as well align my pace with it and trust that the lesson I need to learn will reveal itself in due time.

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Food Photography Lecture by Ron Cowie

Food Photography

Ocean State Improv Festival 2018 by Ron Cowie

I’m happiest working with creative people. The Ocean State Imrpov Festival is hosted by the Contemporary Theater Company in the heart of Wakefield, Rhode Island. Improv groups from around the world have come to this very popular event that takes place in the beginning of summer. 

The improv workshops and classes at the CTC are great for anyone wanting to access their creativity. Improv is different than other forms of theatre because it made up on the spot and completely unscripted. The foundation of all improv is the statement “Yes, and…” which focuses on supporting your improv partner, being positive and present in the moment. 

It challenges the performer to remain flexible and generous.

It was Kaisa Kokko, and internationally known Improv actor and teacher, who said “You can’t break improv. Improv goes on forever.” 

I like being around people whose aim is to focus their creative energy for the benefit of others. 

Fashion Photography: Cleverhood Beach Cape by Ron Cowie

This photo session took place on Narragansett Beach, one of the best places in the whole world.  

The fun thing about fashion editorial photography is being able to improvise with what the environment provides. Narragansett Beach in the evening is when the locals come out to surf, have dinner, swim, and relax. It was no surprise to bump into some of my friends (and some of their friends) and have them model for us. 

What started as “all business” turned into a laid-back hang with friends on the beach. Great light, location, people, and product made for a memorable photo session.


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Summer Vacation! by Ron Cowie

One of the very good things about summer is hitting the road and seeing new things. My wife, her dad and I did that very thing. We took a music tour of Memphis, Muscle Shoals, and Nashville. A good time was had by all. 

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Matunuck Family Portrait by Ron Cowie

Summertime is when families gather from far and wide and often want a portrait made. As the variables of ever expanding families and schedules; coupled with easier modes of long distance communication, make it a very rare thing to have everyone under one roof at the same time. marking the occasion with a portrait is smart.

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