Photographer Jesse Egner and composer and visual artist Nathan Hall sat side-by-side at the Bunnell Street Arts Center grand piano and performed a duet inspired by the dried winter stalks of pushki, or cow parsnips. Characteristic of their playful approach to their work, the two artists embraced an impromptu collaboration during their month-long residencies in Bunnell.
Egner picked up a cello for the first time in three years, he said, to attend Hall’s concert in Bunnell last Friday, which was broadcast on KBBI, and Hall happily promised to pose for a portrait later in the month.
Egner and Hall were also joined for the first half of April by Minneapolis-based screenwriter Karen Frank, an artist whose work is often rooted in historical events and shaped by her experiences.
For the classically trained composer Hall, finding ways to interact with his surroundings is an integral part of his work. Hall said that through his art he seeks “connections to music with things like landscape or ecology, climate change, human identity or sexuality.”
As part of the LGBTQ community, Hall said he’s tried to challenge stereotypes and move beyond categorization of sexuality and classical music.
“For me, music is a way of expressing nuance,” Hall said.
He said he hopes to spend his residency working on what he called a “sonic portrait of Homer,” aiming to tell stories of people who may feel left behind. Hall said he’s interested in including “people like our elders and especially people from our queer community or LGBTQ people.”
Hall said he’s also connected with local musicians and looked for sights and sounds “that are a little bit unexpected or underrated.”
Drawing on a variety of inspirations – including a chaotic flock of seagulls on Homer Spit, a fishing vessel’s engine and the strangely musical chimes of a dishwasher – Hall has embraced the local environment.
“I even use things like the charcoal from the beaches to make scores on the walls and water from the bay to paint in watercolors[s],” he said.
In his work more broadly, Hall has acoustically addressed complex issues such as sustainability and climate science. Translating data about changing temperatures or sea levels into a rising melody line might sound abstract, Hall said, but “I think that’s where the magic of art comes in — finding connections that science alone can’t tell us.”
It’s not all doom and gloom, Hall added. “I think we still need to see the beauty in what surrounds us.”
Opposite Hall’s charcoal scores and array of instruments, multidisciplinary visual artist Jesse Egner has given the space his own musical touch in a series of cyanotype prints on vintage piano paper.
Egner began experimenting with cyanotype printing — a chemical photographic process that uses sunlight to transfer images onto a surface or silhouette objects in a blue-tinted print — during a three-month residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute before he there arrived Homer.
The cyanotype process is a change of pace for Egner, whose recent work has focused on playful photographic portraiture.
“I’ve been working on various aspects of queer identity for a number of years,” says Egner.
Egner moved to Brooklyn, New York, from a much smaller Pennsylvania town in 2018 and says he experienced many of the same struggles he experienced at home and didn’t immediately find the welcoming LGBTQ community he was hoping for. Out of this sense of frustration, Egner said he began a series of self-portraits to “play with and manipulate and disguise my own identity.”
This sense of playfulness is an integral part of Egner’s artistic process as he explores and experiments with concepts of queer identity. His portraits are “absurd, unusual, uncanny, often humorous,” said Egner. “My photos exist in a way in the space between reality and fantasy.”
When he photographs someone else, the shoots are “playful and spontaneous,” says Egner. He explained, “When I walk into a room, I don’t actually have any specific ideas because I want them to bring some with them [ideas] also at the table.”
Egner said it’s one of the reasons he always tries to meet people in a place that matters to them. It makes the portrait more than her physical body, he said. “It’s also a portrait of their spirit and personality and who they are.”
Exploring the ways places and history affect character is also a key element of Karen Frank’s work. She started out as a playwright, but switched to television and film when she stumbled upon a story idea that was just too big for the stage.
Frank recalled a pivotal moment when she received a call from her mother who said, “We’re going to rob a grave.” That enigmatic line became the creative impetus for Buried, one of her first screenplays — a story about the divisive Role of a fatal car accident in a small town.
As a writer, Frank said, “Even when I write comedy or drama, a lot of it is historical,” she added, a source of inspiration that can also be a stumbling block at times. The sheer scale of producing a period film or television series means you need significant resources, he said.
But that doesn’t mean she’s giving up on the idea. Frank said she’s currently working on a project inspired by an environmental disaster in a small Pennsylvania town in the mid-20th century.
She explained that one strategy for adapting a screenplay to the big screen is to submit drafts to film competitions, or to produce a short film on a smaller budget in the hopes of making it bigger.
And while Homer may not be the setting for her next screenplay, Frank says she found inspiration in her everyday encounters around town. Little things like an offer to carry coffee or just being in a place “where people know each other” can help her shape a story, Frank said.
Hall also had incidental connections during his time with Homer. “I think there are those little moments of joy and surprise that maybe every day we take for granted,” he said.
“I’m here to have these conversations and to feel like we’re not alone together.”