An Interview with David Bartlett

David Bartlett is an exhibiting artist in PCNW’s 23rd annual juried exhibition, curated by Kris Graves.

Bell Tower, 1995/2020
Archival pigment print
Film capture (large format, 8×10)
Please contact Erin Spencer at with questions or to purchase.

Tell us about yourself, where you’re from, and when you first discovered your love of photography.

While completing an academic graduate degree I began to miss the more creative side of life that I had found in an extracurricular theater program while an undergraduate. Amply imbued with the liberating impracticality of youth, I entertained the possibility of a career as a film director. Seeking confirmation of my new prospect, I went to see retired Uncle Guido who had made some documentary films while a photojournalist. I am forever grateful that Guido, scrutinizing his young relative with his one good eye and perhaps gazing upon his own past with the other, did not tell me to get a haircut and a real job. He advised me instead to get a camera, take some pictures, and see how I fared dealing with the world visually as well as intellectually.

I bought a used 35mm film camera, enrolled in a Photography course at a local community art center, and began photographing. I fell in love with the process and the boundless exploration it allowed. Though my pictures, in retrospect, were awful, my enthusiasm fostered dedication, discipline, and improvement. I studied the history of the medium at the local library. Eventually, my beloved little Pentax was replaced by a 4 x 5 view camera, a step inspired by the work of notable zone system photographers I encountered in books.

I eventually headed back to graduate school, this time on a new path without reservation, which led to a long rewarding teaching career.

Tell us about the work that was selected to be included in Distinction by Kris Graves.

One below-zero January Sunday, after weeks of observation, the hoped-for backlighting of the subject in question presented itself. I kept telling myself that frost-bit fingers were worth the effort, and they were. Aside from the drama of the visual image, I have often thought that the workers involved had created their own Christo-like work of art.

Is the selected work part of a larger body of work?

While I did not at the time of shooting have a project in mind, this image eventually became part of a body of works depicting structures under construction or in the process of decay. Such images potentially enable a sublime experience of space and time.

Who / what are your biggest influences?

I think the influence of the West Coast large format black- and-white photographers – Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Minor White and others – is still with me, though I have become more of a pictorialist with the development of digital means and even then in a way still consistent with their approach to the medium.

PCNW’s annual juried call for entry provides exhibition opportunities for artists and directly supports our programs, scholarships, and labs at PCNW. This helps ensure access to photography for many future generations of creatives. We know you have many options for submitting your work, so please tell us why you chose PCNW? What are your thoughts and experience with submitting your work to different calls?

I look for clarity, timelines, and congeniality of all documents and communications regarding the exhibition. I also take into consideration the credentials of the juror(s), usually but not always, preferring those that are non-local. The physical character of the exhibition space, which I check out on Google, is also a consideration. The profile and reputation of the gallery and sponsoring organization also comes into play – I try to evaluate to what extent my possible inclusion in the exhibition will benefit my CV.

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