For the past 18 years, David Brookover has been going it alone.
In 2001 he moved to Jackson with his wife, Yuko. Coming off a 15-year stint in Japan that started with an aspiration to refine his acupuncture practice and ended with the photographer shooting for Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd. all over the world, the couple took over a basement gallery in the northeast corner of Gaslight Alley.
Within two years Brookover had taken over the whole space, upstairs and down, showing around 85 prints at a time, primarily hand printed with immaculate platinum palladium, silver gelatin and photogravure processes.
And, for 18 years, with a blip or two in the early 2000s, the photographer has been filling the space by himself.
“That’s what we call feeding the beast,” he said.
Brookover stood in his studio with his assistant, Moriah Svenson, who helps him both run the gallery and lug heavy photo gear (some of his cameras weigh up to 35 pounds). Svenson occasionally gets the chance to borrow a few of the medium format cameras to work on her own photography.
Now, though, Brookover is opening his gallery space to another photographer who shares his vision of creating immaculately detailed, top-of-the-line images and printing them with traditional processes.
And that, for Brookover, is key.
“Nobody else does this kind of work,” he said. “It’s too expensive. It’s too time consuming.”
Gregory Essayan is the first such photographer to join Brookover in the gallery in almost two decades, with an exhibition set to start during the Fall Arts Festival and run until early 2020.
The pairing isn’t a chance encounter.
The two have known each other for years.
About a decade ago Essayan was in Jackson on vacation from Las Vegas, where he lives. He walked into Brookover Gallery on a whim and ran into David. The two started chatting, found out they were almost the same age (“within a year,” as Essayan said), and had similar backgrounds: photographers who came up shooting on large format 8x10 film and printing with wet darkroom processes.
“We just became really good friends, and every time I’d go up there, I’d jump in the gallery and we would wind up talking for hours,” Essayan said.
Essayan’s work, which will be printed primarily with an archival pigment process, will contrast Brookover’s largely monochromatic gallery, providing a bit of color. And though the two process a bit differently — Brookover started moving away from printing in color around 2005 — their dedication to the process itself is clearly similar.
When they decided that Essayan would show his work alongside Brookover’s, they took a trip to Denver together to talk with the printer that would be preparing the 13 pieces Essayan will be showing during the Fall Arts Festival.
Brookover said he’s worked with his printers for years, and in a digital world where a photograph can be reproduced perfectly every time, like a poster, he enjoys working with low-edition prints because he finds it refreshing to find little “imperfections within the perfection,” a Japanese concept called “wabi sabi.”
“You’re never going to find a perfect print,” Brookover said. “That’s what we’re all about: handmade, just having that little bit of imperfection.”
Essayan has shot photographs of the cosmos as well as portraits and landscapes. Recently he has gotten into photographing Europe and, in particular, the Ponte dell’Accademia, one of four bridges spanning the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy.
In the photographer’s words, that bridge and its view of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, in particular, is probably one of “the most Instagrammed spots in Italy and certainly in Venice.”
That didn’t stop Essayan from wanting to capture it, albeit in a different compositional way. Over the course of six trips to Italy he planted himself on the bridge, arranged his composition — one that captured the directionality of the two banks of the Grand Canal flowing into the beginnings of the Venetian Lagoon, among other things — and waited.
One morning, before sunrise — you can actually see the time in the clock on the church tower to the far right of the print — Essayan made his way out to the bridge. There was a sea mist in the background, and as the sun rose behind it, it created an extraordinary golden glow.
“This whole scene was just bathed in this sort of otherworldly beautiful light,” Essayan said.
He set up a tripod and took five or so frames in the minutes the light lasted, landing exactly the shot he’d been looking for.
“There was even a guy in a boat right where I would have dreamed to put him,” Essayan said.
But those moments — and frames — aren’t easy to come by.
Brookover would agree. Overlooking the Tetons from a vantage point near Buffalo Valley, he captured the cinematic shot, “First Day out With Juliet,” in about a 25th of a second as a storm rolled through.
“It wouldn’t have been possible six months ago,” Brookover said, noting that the new Fuji GFX 100 he shot enabled him to grab that image as quickly as he did.
‘A frustrated painter’
So, unlike a painter, who has the option to work from the comfort of a studio, a fine art landscape photographer like Brookover or Essayan, has to be out in the elements, deal with 3 a.m. alarms, lug pounds of gear, and time things exactly right.
“I guess I’m a frustrated painter,” Essayan said. “The beauty of painting is you can envision a scene like this, and then in your studio you can put it on canvas, but a photographer has to have it exist in reality in front of him.” ￼