Who: Frank Relle
Where: Uptown, aka “Faubourg Bouligny”
Artist’s chosen location for interview: He didn’t really get to choose since we were also working on a piece for WWNO, so we will leave this one a mystery. We met, however, in the studios of WWNO.
Q: When do you forget about time?
A: You don’t forget about time when you open a gallery in the French Quarter. That’s when you don’t forget about time.
As a kid, I would have that experience of flow—when you’re almost in a trance, thinking very clearly, and time disappears—when I looked at birds or when I was looking out the window of my mom’s station wagon when we’d drive the causeway.
When I wake up before dawn and I get to go out and watch the world wake up, I have that feeling. And canoeing. When I’m hiking I feel like such a human, there’s a sack on my back and I’m trotting along. When canoeing, though, you can carry all the stuff that being a human necessitates, but you can glide. It’s one of the places where I can lose myself in the natural world. You feel less like a human animal and more like a wild animal. You get to move at the speed of the natural world or the non-human world.
And when I take a day off in New Orleans. When you take a weekday off in New Orleans and start wandering you end up walking the city, eating something, you run into a friend, you walk to the park, and you somehow end up at somebody’s house. When I can have one of those days I can really lose time.
And when I bathe at night.
Wait, you take baths?
Oh come on. I take a bath everyday.
What? Really? Are there candles involved?
Sure. Hurricane lamps. Take a hot bath in the heat. Big claw foot. Window open. This is the secret to my whole thing; although, now it’s not a secret anymore. And here’s the other secret. You can buy 50-pound sacks of Epsom salt from landscape stores. Don’t bother with those little pints for $11 in stores. How about for $9 or $15 you can get 50-pounds of Epsom salt? It’s in a big bucket right next to the tub.
Q: I don’t know how we’re going to move on from that, but we’re going to try. Okay, where do you want to stay an amateur?
A: I am an amateur singer and dancer. I would like to stay an amateur dancer, but for the sake of others I would like to become a less amateur singer. With song and dance I can be ridiculous and free in that place.
The other day, Lacey Wood and her two girls came into the gallery, and we had a dance party. The girls were dancing, and there were people in there from Seattle, and they did not want to leave the gallery. A seven-year-old was DJing. That gallery is made for dance parties, so I’ll have to figure out if there are limitations on that in the lease. I don’t feel like there will be.
In photography, it’s more difficult since you’re recognized as a photographer.
Yesterday I posted a picture on Instagram, and I just wanted to say something about the weather. It wasn’t a great picture, and after I posted it I wondered, ‘Should I have posted a not great picture since I’m recognized as a photographer?’ There are a lot of head games that can go on with that, and that’s why I use social media as a place where I can push and play around with those boundaries.
My night photographs are more easily recognizable and distinctive, so there can be a pressure to not make a regular picture. That happens with a lot of people in regard to whatever art or work they’re in. Social media is a way for me to break out of that.
Q: What’s something in nature that you aren’t able to photograph the way you want to or the way you see it in your mind?
A: I went to the Audubon zoo a lot when I was a kid, and the bill of a Toucan captured my imagination and stopped me in my four or five-year-old tracks. My memory of this is somewhat clouded by my mom’s retelling of it, but it was definitely powerful.
I started collecting birds, waterfowl in particular, when I was eight years old. I was so visually fascinated by them. I didn’t take photographs then, and I couldn’t really draw as a kid, but the light, the color, and also the expressive personality of waterfowl was something that really captured my imagination. I had over 35 or 40 species by the time I was twelve years old.
There is a feeling that I have about those birds that I’ve wanted to capture, but bird photography ends up looking like…well, bird photography. I’m actually envious of some painters who can paint the expressiveness of a bird with more nuance and character than I think a photograph delivers.
But, one day I’m going to capture this. One day it’s going to happen. I’ve been scheming on it. I can’t make that perfect duck photograph. Yet.
Q: If you could put any kind of lens (permantly) on your eye, what would you choose?
A: One of my early experiences as a kid was looking at a cross section of a plant underneath a microscope. That was one of those soul moments for me. If I could have a microscopic view, I would have that.
There’s this great book called On Growth and Form by Darcy Thompson, and he talks about pattern formation in nature and the repetition of patterns that you’ll see—in a tree, from an aerial photograph of a river delta, and the neurons in the brain. Those pattern repetitions that you see on a macro and microscopic level create a trance state for me. I feel like I can go into this other world.
If the lens is on my eye all the time, though, that would be pretty intense. I would be that guy that everyone was asking, ‘What’s up with Frank?’ Then they’d know, ‘Oh, he’s just all up in that microscopic eye.’
Maybe I could wear a patch.
Frank Relle’s new studio is at 910 Royal Street (open everyday from 10 AM until 7:00 PM) , and you can also check out his work on his website. To keep up with his projects and exhibits, you can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.