(Enlarge images by tapping on them)
About the work
Photography is an inherently referential medium — that is, it depicts something other than itself. As a means to record fragments of space and time, it is typically intended to present the viewer with reproductions of discernable reality.
What then does a photograph become when it is stripped of this intention? Can a photograph shed its representational signature? By subverting our presumptions — thus becoming a wholly ambiguous object — how does it affect the relationship between viewer and artefact? These are the questions which drive this body of work.
In the process of creating work in response to these questions, it would have been easy to create a series of abstractions via long exposure times and camera movement, or the manipulation of depth of field and focus to produce something akin to Pictorialist imagery. While this would have produced work which was less referential and more ambiguous than the traditional photograph, it would also have felt hollow, lacking anything unique in its execution or statement. In addition, the work would have been read far too quickly by the viewer (‘Oh, an abstract photograph!’), thus reducing its chances of generating any meaningful contemplation.
In order to avoid the tropes of abstract photography, I sought to adhere to a traditional technical process. This meant working with shutter speeds short enough to prevent disfigurement by motion blur, apertures tight enough to approach a uniform field of focus, and available light (or, occasionally, available darkness). All images were captured on medium format black and white film and scanned in high resolution to enable large-scale printing, with only minor tonal adjustments and cropping applied to the final images. The key to creating unique images, then, ultimately came down to the selection of subject matter. Each subject was photographed straight-on, in parallel with its surface in order to focus attention on the details of that surface. Coincidentally, this negation of the illusion of depth contributed to the images reading less and less like photographs.
Thus, in spite their appearance, none of these images can be labelled as abstractions. They are in fact accurate representations of their subject matter.
However, there are three instances where some liberties have been taken. In three pieces (‘James/Paul’, ‘Stephen/Timothy’, and ‘Soma/Lord’) I explored the process of creating a double exposure by layering two negative scans on top of each other (with each individual image having been captured at the same location). These compositions may be seen as interesting comparisons to the rest of the images, in that the single exposures strangely seem no less ambiguous despite being more accurate in their representation.
With all this in mind, my response to my initial questions may be viewed as an apparent paradox. The resultant images, when examined prosaically, become contradictory: they appear to have shed photography’s figurative nature, and yet they are nothing if not figurative. From a technical point of view, nothing new has been realized here.
However, this work has not been created with technical, rational analyses in mind. Instead, my goal here as a photographer has been to create work which encourages the viewer to move beyond the experience of reading the prototypical photograph, thereby encountering a more abstract mode of perception. Ultimately, by rendering ambiguous objects via a typically concrete medium, my hope is to redirect the viewer's inquiry from the external to the internal.
On presentation and naming
These images are intended to be exhibited as per their proof prints — large pigment prints on handmade Japanese paper — in order to echo the textural nature of the work and to allow the viewer's sight to be dominated by each frame from a close to medium viewing distance. Limited edition prints (produced on a more intermediate scale, on high quality but less prohibitively-expensive stock) will be available for purchase shortly.
The names identifying each piece have been borrowed from the names of artists who have influenced my own artistic trajectory; they are intended to act as markers and humble indications of reverence rather than descriptors of the images they accompany.
The series as a whole is dedicated to my parents — all four of them.