Snap, crackle, pop!

Sep 9, 2009 at 12:00 am

Get yer old-skool 3-D glasses out ... now! Most astute observers have no doubt seen local artist Chris Dean's work somewhere around the city, whether it's on those 1800 Tequila billboards or on the walls of the now-defunct CPOP Gallery. And if you're a regular clubgoer, you've probably seen Dean himself at rock shows. He's the guy lugging that unmistakable rig that includes seven digital cameras, which he uses to create three-dimensional "lenticular" images (you know, like those old Cracker Jack prizes). The artist recently switched from digital art to photography for a show — titled "D3D" — that debuts this Saturday. The show will feature local rock 'n' rollers, because Dean turned to that photo-ready scene when initially seeking subjects to test his self-built lenticular camera. Inside his Ferndale studio, Dean talks of the trials and tribulations that come linking seven point-and-shoot cameras together ... as well as his brief foray into bologna art.

Metro Times:
When did you officially begin this project? 

Chris Dean: It started at Blowout 2007, but I was using a different camera rig at that time. I shot a bunch of different bands — but none of those turned out. So it started for real in 2008 ... when I made this new rig. I'm on all these nerdy forums on the Internet for lenticular and stereo photography. 

MT: So just to understand — lenticular photos have the plastic coating over them that makes them look like they move, depending on the angle you look at them. And stereo are the anaglyphs where you need 3-D glasses to view them?

Dean: Yes, anaglyph is one of the stereo processes. IMAX 3-D movies, for instance, use a polarized process instead of anaglyph. So the advantage to that is you're seeing through clear plastic instead of looking through the red and blue colored plastic. The old-school way is a pair of images, and you had a viewer that put a piece of wood between your two eyes — like a View-Master, essentially. It's funny. It all started within a decade to 15 years after the invention of the camera. People were real excited to create two views per image right away — it's not a modern thing at all.

MT: I know you've said that you're inspired by the commercial history of lenticular art. 

Dean: It's interesting. In the '50s, it was more like tacky wall art. Lots of pin-up girls. Lots of reverently religious stuff. But during the past 15 years, it's been driven by commercial interests for sure.

MT: So your upcoming show will feature both anaglyphs and lenticular images?

Dean: Yeah, the ratio isn't 50-50. There will be more anaglyphs than lenticular because there are more technical considerations with lenticular. ... If one of the seven cameras was out of focus or something, lenticular won't work. 

MT: Your entry into the world of lenticular began with your fine art work, which incorporated drawings and computer graphics. Was this music portrait series your first attempt at using lenticular art for photographic purposes?

Dean: When I first made the rig, I think I just saw it as an extension of what I was doing — to allow me to capture live-action events. But what's happened since then is I've realized how uninterested I've become in the whole CG/computer thing. I'm not real good at it. It interrupts the creative flow. Working with my hands — and then photographing that or finding interesting subjects to photograph and then incorporating all that in the computer — that's much more gratifying. 

For the new Electric Six album that's coming out soon, I did this piece inside that is a bologna sculpture. It was photographed over a number of days, as mold continued to infect it. I feel much less confined doing stuff like that than when I'm only using computers!

MT: I remember that when you were photographing Electric Six at a show back in November, it was obvious they hadn't been briefed on what you were doing. Their singer called you out from the stage. "What is that?" I'm glad they've gotten in touch with you since then to figure out what it is you're doing!

Dean: [E6 guitarist] Zach and I briefly overlapped at a day job, so we had talked after that and it led to doing some art for them. But, yeah, as far as the whole "not briefing" thing ... most times I'm just showing up and shooting. It's got to be somewhat of a distraction on some level, I guess.

MT: Well, most chatter overheard at shows has been more about amazement and speculation rather than, "What does this guy think he's doing?"

Dean: You obviously weren't at the Detroit Cobras show ... I thought I was gonna get beat up! There was this group of people in the crowd and it got a little tense at a certain point. 

MT: When you started out, did you have some knowledge of what bands you'd like to shoot? Or did you have to do some research there too?

Dean: My knowledge going into this was mostly old-school Detroit stuff. So I had a lot of research to do to find who I thought was doing something special. When I started the project, I was still stuck in garage-rock mode — that being my perception of Detroit. I felt like for the project to be successful, I needed to have, like, the White Stripes represented. After contacting their agent a couple of times, though, and being told it wasn't going to happen — or if it did happen, I'd have to sign this ridiculous agreement — the project shifted and I became less interested in the big names and more focused on who was doing stuff that I thought was cool — from Blanche and Black Jake, who are on the twangy end of things, to Champions of Breakfast and Deastro. Plus everything in between. There's equity in how the pictures are represented too. I went more with what bands I thought could visually make for the strongest images. 

MT: Well, when you're doing a photo series, it doesn't really matter what the bands sound like.

Dean: A lot of the bands who were flying under a lot of people's radar made for some of the most exciting prints that will be part of this show. I could do an entire 3-D show on Champions of Breakfast alone! 

But I probably shot 27 or 28 bands, and then — either for thematic or technical reasons — I whittled it down. Ironically, I wasn't able to use any of the Electric Six shots for this show — I couldn't pull a single print from their performance. What happened was the lighting at St. Andrew's was too good for these kinds of shots! I had a variety of other problems too. There was radio interference that resulted in inconsistent firing of the individual cameras. And a flash that I cannibalized melted. 

MT: So from digital artist to photographer, bologna sculptor and camera rig builder, you really have to be a jack-of-all-trades, don't you?

Dean: [laughs] It's true! I don't get hung up on the labels or titles, though. I like that about what I'm doing. I'm a technical guy. I like the technical components to it all. At a certain point, it gets tiring — you get an idea and you wish there weren't so many obstacles. But I think for my personality type it works out well.

The opening reception for "D3D" is Saturday, Sept. 12, at the CAID (5141 Rosa Parks Blvd., Detroit; 313-899-2243), with the Readies and Wildcatting performing. A closing reception on Saturday, Oct. 17, will feature music by the Muggs and Mick Bassett & the Marthas. Visit or for more info.

Freelancer Lee DeVito knows life looks better in multiple dimensions. Send comments to [email protected]