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Preview: UO professor blends decrepitude with comedy in photography book “Oxide”



Next week, Craig Hickman, University of Oregon digital arts professor and Kid Pix creator, will lead an illustrated talk and his new photography book “Oxide” and Kid Pix, among other works.

The talk begins at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 21.

A photographer by trade, Hickman wrote a program in the eighties called “Camera” that helped its users calculate shutter speed, f/stop and ISO settings.

He teaches several courses in the UO digital arts program that overlap programming with artistry. In a “Digital Imaging” class, Hickman’s students were interested in creating composite photos in Photoshop. He tried his hand at it, since he wasn’t as experienced. Once he started, he couldn’t stop, he said.

“It
seemed so wonderful that you could take something that was a real-world
situation and modify it so it’s believable in a way,” said Hickman.

In constructing
these 100+ composite images, he took photos throughout Eugene, Cottage Grove, Portland
and elsewhere in Willamette Valley, and toyed with them in Photoshop. The
result is his book “Oxide,” published in 2014, a series of photos that
depict a decrepit and nightmarish, but weirdly comedic version of an Oregon town.

Hickman said the photos are about 80 percent true-to-life.

“Lots of artists will go forward to try to find what makes sense next related to their research – Craig goes sideways, and above, and diagonally, and he explores it all,” said UO art professor Kate Wagle.

The ambiguous hybrid of Willamette Valley reality and Photoshop fabrication makes the settings of “Oxide” at once familiar and alien. The title comes from Hickman’s photo series of oxidized streetlight poles around Skinner Butte. Each image of a pole in “Oxide” indicates a new chapter.

One chapter, titled “The Academy,” is Hickman portraying a made-up university’s campus in funky, low-rent condition. The Department of Journalism is a storefront covered in newspapers; the Department of English is located on a derailed freight truck, while the Department of Philosophy is painted on the side of a car wash.

“I want people
to look at this as they would any other kind of fiction, like a TV show or a
movie,” Hickman said. “It’s based on real life, and is a reproduction of the real
world, to a large extent.”


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Emerson Malone

Emerson Malone