Les Allen


 Article on the late Per Volquartz

To say that I attended a workshop given by Per Volquartz would not adequately describe
my experience. Over the past 35 years I have attended many workshops with some well-
-known photographers in the West and the Midwest and was exposed to many disparate
approaches with regard to philosophy and application of the medium. Per, though, was
different. He was more like a Zen Master––he did not so much present useful technical
information, as lead me to come to know what it was that I came to learn.
During my stay in Pasadena, I slept in Per’s studio and I ate nearly all of my meals with
Becky and Per, some of which were prepared by Per himself. Both were generous and
gracious hosts.
This spring Per added a page to his web site that was a brief treatise, putting some of his
ideas on paper. Per called his essay ”Pandora’s Box.” In the section entitled “Elementary

Truths,” Per said, “To make our photographs come alive it may be necessary to prevent
ourselves from being infested by the complex knowledge of photography and our love for
technique. Instead, we may be better off by concentrating on our love for the subject
matter and on the feelings we hope to reveal.” Per also said, “Sensual forms and
expressive subject matter may in fact be all around us. We need to look harder at our
own lives, what we do, where we live and how we think. Perhaps by revealing beauty
and feelings in what appears to be without merit in our own surroundings, we may in fact
truly contribute to the art of photography?”
On Sunday morning, July 17 th 2011, after waiting for a respectable time to roll around,
hoping that Per and Becky had had a chance to have their second cup of coffee, I called
Per with a technical question like I had many times in the past. I also wanted to know
how his recent photographic excursion to Yellowstone National Park went and how his
brand new Ebony 5x7 worked. When I dialed, Per’s son Christian answered the phone.
That is when I got the sad news that Per had taken sick while in Yellowstone and had just
succumbed to his illness perhaps just an hour before.
Per was mercurial in spirit and an old soul. He was a kind, gentle and brilliant traditional
artist. His life was full right up until the end.
I was a lucky man to have met him and to have had the privilege of studying with him.
He was truly a master photographer and printer. And beyond all that, he was a gifted and
wise sage and teacher.
I hope that the readers of View Camera Magazine will have an opportunity to visit Per’s
web-site while it is still up and running. There you will be able to see his work and read
more about his life and work.

“When the student is ready the teacher will appear”

Early in the morning, in a quiet, still sleepy airport in 2009, I was about to embark on a
trip that would have a profound impact on my life, particularly my life making
photographs. In a few minutes I would be boarding my flight bound for Pasadena.
It was 6:00 am and the airport AC was working over time––blasting directly on me where
I sat on the only available hard plastic airport seat––in stark contrast to the already
oppressively warm and steamy air outside––typical for Chicago in early August. There I
sat waiting for my flight, jotting down notes in my journal, trying to anticipate what I
might do and what I might learn while I was in California. I was ready to take my
personal work to the next level and needed a sage to guide me.
I was about to meet the soft spoken alchemist who could turn silver into gold and a
transcendent guru of his medium––black and white fine art photography. I was hoping to
learn some of his secrets––maybe some of what he knew might rub off on me.
I had seen the website of this Danish-born fine art photographer some two years earlier
and was blown away by the power and luminosity of his images. Per had the ability to
find compositions, see lines, forms, negative and positive spaces and the sculpting of
light where others may not. While it has been said by many with regard to the craft of
photography, making the ordinary extraordinary is still an apt mantra that certainly
applies to Per’s work.
Over time I came to know Per Volquartz through e-mail correspondence, but mostly over
the phone. Even though Per was highly engaged in his work and busy with a plethora of
projects: workshops, prints for clients in China, book projects, individualized student
apprenticeships, design clients in Denmark; if he was home and not in his darkroom, he
was almost always accessible and available to his friends and his students.
The evening prior to my sojourn to Pasadena, Per sent me a last minute e-mail in all caps
and exclamation points,

“DON’T FORGET SUNGLASSES AND A HAT, IT WILL BE HOT!!”

Mid-morning I arrived at the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank California. I looked around
for Per in the baggage claim area not knowing for sure what he looked like. As I was
enjoying the euphoric sensation that is the Southern California climate and struck by the
lack of humidity, I heard my name softly uttered. When I turned, there was Per wearing a
white sports jacket to match his full beard, a palm tree motif Hawaiian shirt, blue jeans a
fedora and sunglasses––he looked a little like Morley Baer or even Ansel.
That evening at Per and Becky’s, sitting at their kitchen table, Per and I put the final
touches on our plans for the week while Limo their Dachshund scampered around on the
vintage linoleum floor biting and batting an empty water bottle with great crackling
ferocity.
What was unique about this one-on- one workshop was that I was able to pinpoint, with
some input from Per, specifically what I wanted or needed to learn technically and
artistically. I was also looking to be inspired and to open my eyes further, Per was a
natural motivator and nurturer, but his methods were quiet and subtle. I had been in a
creative slump for a period of time prior to meeting and working with him, but that is no
longer the case––what happened in Southern California followed me back to Dixon,
Illinois.
What was to take place in that early week in August was an intensive, in-depth, personal
photographic journey of very full days that often lapsed into the wee hours. If I hadn’t
have been flying on adrenaline most of the time I might have been exhausted. Per, by the
way, never seemed to tire even though he was only three years my senior. I couldn’t
fathom from what source he drew his energy and twinkling enthusiasm.
Per was, indeed, an alchemist. I had been a photography teacher for many years myself,
but as I watched him work his magic, I was struck by his instincts and by his seemingly
effortless, intuitive way of working. Working is not exactly the best word to describe
what he was doing. It was more that he was in a zone––“one” with his materials and with
his methodology.


   





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