Jeffrey Becom comes to his art as a photographer and painter with formal training as an architect. For him these three pursuits ignite one passion: painted walls. The traditional painted façades of vernacular architecture around the globe offer him subject and palette from which to derive his own artwork while he, in turn, documents their history, mystery and power. Paint then-and specifically color-is Becom's life's calling, whether he photographs, paints, or write books about painted color customs, myths and meanings.
Over the course of nearly four decades, Becom's artistic sensibilities have stood squarely in the colorist realm. Becom has come to find his inspiration in ever more remote places populated by indigenous, ritual-bound people whose architectural color springs organically from their history, geography and faith. He considers his photographs to be documentary: the colors, subjects and details are captured exactly as found. From 1978 until 2009 he used traditional camera equipment and materials and printed using traditional wet darkroom techniques for the dye destruction process. Since 2010 he has transitioned to digital equipment and either archival pigment ink or silver color reversal printing, depending on the series.
A dozen years spent pursuing painted color in the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea were followed by a decade's search in the lesser-known corners of Mexico and Central America. Then in 2002 he unfolded his map of South America. His color quest began in Peru and Ecuador. In between these travels to photograph painted architecture in Andean Highland villages, he has returned to Mexico and Guatemala again for inspiration. He also made extensive travels through Northwest India and Kashmir in 2008.
Jeffrey Becom is best known for transforming architectural imagery into sensuous, painterly, colorist studies. Similar architectural subjects rendered by Becom in watercolor or in oil and wax on wood panel, as well as his plein-air oil and wax landscape paintings on canvas, are equally respected. His newly released contemporary tintypes are a radical departure. Utilizing straight photography, wet darkroom techniques, and traditional tintype chemistry, Becom is producing small limited edition, handcrafted images-some hand-colored-for two series: "Retablos" and "Full Moon."
"Retablos" is based on the nineteenth century Latin American religious paintings on metal plates. When Becom's color work in Mesoamerica began focusing more and more on places and objects of faith and devotion, he fused these interests to create this unique iconography on copper. Becom's Monterey County-based friends portray the parts of the saints and sinners in his studio-directed tableaux vivants. The resulting tintypes pay tribute to art history and photographic history alike.
The "Full Moon" series is produced from an anonymous, antique 20x20 inch paper negative discovered in an Arizona thrift shop. When Becom saw an early silver gelatin test print made from this negative, he immediately recognized that this image of the moon would make a perfect subject for a large-scale tintype, a medium especially well suited to reveal the rich blacks and subtle, detailed grays of the moon's topography. Becom also appreciated the fact that the paper negative itself was contemporaneous with the era of tintype photography. With the paper negative owner's permission, long-time darkroom collaborators Becom and Corey Allen made a contact positive and then used this to produce tintypes on copper. Each of the ten plates in this series is unique because the tintype process is inherently unpredictable, resulting in variations of color, density and surface imperfections, all of which add to its handcrafted finish as well as its individuality within the series.
Becom is also a writer, traveler, designer and visual anthropologist. With his partner, Sally Aberg, he has authored two award-winning photography books, Mediterranean Color and Maya Color: The Painted Villages of Mesoamerica (both from Abbeville Press, New York, 1990 and 1997). He is the subject of an hour-long PBS / BBC documentary entitled For the Colors, A Journey Through Italy. His artwork has been featured in over 100 solo and group exhibitions around the globe. Becom's work is held in private and public collections worldwide. His photographs have been represented by the top fine art photography galleries across the country. In 2012 he was juried into the legendary Carmel Art Association, now the exclusive representative of his watercolor and oil paintings.