John Guider is a quiet man, introverted, yet amicable. His gentle voice sounds like the soft warbling of an old soul. He is the kind of person who immediately puts you at ease; an air of peacefulness seems to hover around him. Talking to Guider and experiencing his art is like peeling back layers of onion skin. I entered his studio surprised by his shyness; I left impressed by his bold approach to life and art.
Guider is part alchemist, part Odysseus. He has spent years toiling over various chemical solutions and compounds to improve his photographic art. He has also lived the last ten years with a spirit of adventure, braving the Mississippi, the Gulf of Mexico, and the uncharted territories of his own emotions in the solitude of a lonely boat.
For over thirty years Guider worked as a commercial photographer but slowly began to realize that he wanted something more. “I couldn’t justify doing it for money anymore. I sold my studio. I wanted a project that would be solely my own. I wanted something that would challenge me not just intellectually but spiritually.” Guider found that challenge in a small boat and later in the technique of platinum printing, and his life has never been the same.
In 2003 Guider pushed his small boat into a stream on his property. He followed it out to the Cumberland River and on to the Mississippi River and New Orleans. He spent hours in solitude photographing nature that often goes unnoticed. His experiences were raw. Guider describes sitting in his craft during tornado warnings and lightning storms. Once, his boat was attacked by an alligator. “I can’t tell you how many electric storms I’ve been in. You hear the sizzle and wonder when it’s your turn.”
When Guider returned to Nashville to begin processing his photographs, he found the images he had worked so hard to capture seemed to fall flat. They did not measure up to the emotional caliber of his personal experiences. So he set off on a new adventure. “For a year after the journey, I printed. Nothing that I came up with emulated the emotions that I felt as I made each image.”
Finally, Guider discovered the art of platinum printing. He threw himself into mastering this new form. “I spent more time learning the art of platinum printing than I did on the journey.” For Guider, both aesthetically and emotionally, the rewards of platinum printing have been as rich as the metal with which he works. He is one of only ten or so individuals working in black and white platinum printing on a large scale, bringing a world-class art here to Nashville.
Guider explained to me the complicated technical process by which he must work. Most photographs capture only an infinitely small range of values compared to the perception of the human eye. Through platinum printing, Guider can achieve a scale of light to dark that is hundreds of times more varied than the traditional photograph. He must work on metal-free paper that has to be imported from France, and his materials are so sensitive that he has to record the ambient air temperature, humidity, and drying time when he develops. Guider does not work in a darkroom like most photographers. He explains, “Platinum and palladium are so light insensitive that you can do it in room light.” After immersing his prints in the platinum and palladium concoction, Guider places them on a vacuum easel beneath a five-thousand-watt bulb.
The result is something truly amazing. My interest was piqued by the technical qualities of Guider’s process, but when he showed me his platinum print of the Statue of Liberty, I was blown away by an image I have seen thousands of times. The tone and dimension of the composition are unparalleled. I literally felt my jaw drop.
Whether he looks at a rushing fountain in Paris or a still, hot swamp on the Mississippi, Guider tries to communicate the beauty that he sees around him to those who are lucky enough to encounter his photographs. “I try to recreate the emotion that I felt when I saw it, those moments when I am looking at the simplest things. I want to make those simple things important—somehow make them as beautiful as I sense that they are.” One glance at a John Guider photograph reveals that he does in fact live in a beautiful world.
Johnguider.com All images © John Guider 2009.
by Sophie Colette
Above Photograph: Seagull, tierra del Fuego, 2007. I made my way to Ushuaia,
hoping to catch a ride to Antarctica. the air coming off the Straits
of magellan felt so fresh, I felt like life was beginning all over again.
Tree Roots, Harpeth River, Williamson County, Tennessee, 2003.
The first seven days of my ninety-day journey solo by canoe was
spent on the Harpeth. the intimacy of that very special river and
the time I had to myself combined to create one the most spiritual
experiences I had ever felt.
Tennessee State Capitol, Nashville, Tennessee, 2009.
Platinum/palladium print, 24” x 36”. This piece was commissioned
by Lois Riggins-Ezzell and Leigh Hendry of the Tennessee State
Museum to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the building of
our state capitol.
Statue of Liberty, New York, New York, 1983. On vacation with my
kids, we visited New york City, leaving nothing out of our itinerary.
Moai, Easter Island, 2007. On a lark, I flew
out of Santiago to this diminutive special
island. Arriving after dark, I found that all
the hotels were full. A frustrated cab driver
drove me to somebody’s house and told
me to stay there. For the next four days
I roamed the island I had once thought
would forever lie out of reach.
Kendra, Nashville, tennessee, 1999. In
casting a poster for the tennessee Repertory
theatre, I was introduced to Kendra, who
had just recently returned from myanmar,
having studied to be a Buddhist nun. She
agreed to reshave her head for this image.
Hostas, Washington, D.C., 2005. I discovered this simple
garden of hostas tucked in between all the iconic monuments of our
Varanasi, India, 2002. At daybreak,
we were loaded into an arcane wooden
rowboat and set adrift on the Ganges River.
Staying close to the banks of the holy city,
we saw humanity come alive in ways I had
never witnessed before.
Canoe at Water’s Edge, mississippi River,
2003. After a hard day of fighting the currents
and whirlpools of the tricky river, I’d often
land on a remote sandbar, set up my tent,
and collect myself as the evening drifted into
a blissful calm.
Amish Farmhouse, Etheridge,
tennessee, 1992. Bill mcNew, a friend and
Harvard-trained historian, was asked by
the Amish to research their community
and report his findings. Amazed by what
he found, he asked me to tag along and
photograph. We’d leave before sunrise to
catch the good light, and he’d tell me their
stories all along the way.
John Guider, photographed by Anthony Scarlati