SaraCwynar_Interview_Install_01

A Conversation with Sara Cwynar

Sara Cwynar (b. 1985, Vancouver) is a New York based artist working in photography and installation. She has exhibited in solo exhibitions at the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam and Cooper Cole Gallery in Toronto, as well as exhibitions at The Camera Club of New York, Printed Matter, and The Contact Photography Festival. The publication of her second book Kitsch Encyclopedia is scheduled for winter 2014. She is represented by Cooper Cole Gallery where she recently had her second solo exhibition, Flat Death. Until recently, she was a staff graphic designer at the New York Times Magazine.


Acropolis (Plastic Cups), 2013
Chromogenic print, 24 x 20″
© Sara Cwynar


Corinthian Temple (Plastic Cups), 2013
Chromogenic print, 24 x 20″
© Sara Cwynar

Arianne Di Nardo: The title of your latest series, Flat Death, is a term many may recognize from Barthes’ Camera Lucida. How did this concept inform your methodology; moreover, the themes at play in your work?

Sara Cwynar: For Barthes, the other punctum, the “prick” of the photograph is time, what he calls the “that-has-been” and its “pure representation” in photographic form – how a photo can palpably show you what was – bringing it back to life, while also showing you what is no more. The image produces death while trying to preserve life. I really like this idea for two reasons: first, in relation to resurrecting refuse and re-presenting it in photographic form; second, in terms of how all photographs work.

Barthes suggests this defeat of time is much more tactual in historical photographs; that “This punctum is more or less blurred beneath the abundance and disparity of contemporary photographs.” He wrote in the ’70s, and I wonder how this idea relates to our contemporary experience with images – not so much as individual objects but as a steady stream, largely undifferentiated from one another. It seems an important idea to rediscover. I also thought about this in relation to the supposed death of printed photographs; what does it mean that even the physical reproduction of the thing in the past is gone, that it increasingly never existed, but only passes on by screen? Barthes proposed that the photographic object could be destroyed, yellowed, dead, like anything else. Which is a nice metaphor.

The process began by materializing these ideas using a mix of contemporary and antiquated objects and images: decontextualized stock photos, digital and analog processes, resampling both objects and printed photographs in order to bring them forward and show they existed. At the same time, I wanted to remind the viewer that the originals are gone, and I was thinking about the effect these images might have on a shared visual consciousness.

I interact for hours and hours with found, saved, and collected images and objects in the studio. I hope that my work method might carve a space for dialogue on the ways that images work, on questioning aesthetic tropes, on spectatorship, on the reading of visuals. How many objects and images get discarded in the constant process of generating new ones? These concerns have come to the fore of my practice, after working for the New York Times and other editorial or commercial jobs, where I made the same type of pictures that I’m trying to mess with here.

AD: How did you create these images? What are they made from?

SC: My process begins with a massive personal archive of found objects, and involves reprinting and reworking the images, taking them out of collective spaces and into ones open for personal intervention. Most of the reference images are culled from pop-culture, some are deeply familiar, and others more obscure but still recognizable; still lifes of floral arrangements and gold watches, “how to” manuals, pictures of Greek monuments, nature scenes, pictures of books from old magazines, etc. I am reconstructing vernacular images with found objects and materials from public archives to recreate still lifes on my own terms. I thought a lot about the aesthetic patterns you see in these pictures – a particular lighting, a slickness, a high level of detail. I’m also trying to recycle and subvert conventions of product and commercial photography by using elements that aren’t normally associated with these genres – objects that are now discarded or forgotten, intentional scuffing, not glossy at all.


Man And Space (Books 2), 2013
Chromogenic print, 24 x 20″
© Sara Cwynar


Our Natural World (Books 1), 2013
Chromogenic print, 24 x 20″
© Sara Cwynar

AD: Your practice tends toward an animated obsession with the categorical, with the coded nature of imagery and visual culture. With regards to Flat Death, what are you suggesting about the gaze and the viewing process, about the retrieval and processing of visual information?

SC: I am trying to create Trompe-l’œil images, making a rather mundane image-object difficult to read in order to slow down the process altogether. I want to foreground the experiential, so the photo reveals itself to the viewer as a construction, and asks to be unpacked. The saturation of images in everyday life conditions us to read pictures without really looking at them; I am trying to build that experience into the act of looking.

Of particular interest to me are pictures from the analog era, when there was still a sense that the world could be categorized objectively through images, that the whole thing could be preserved on film. Obviously, that system failed but I think of my process as another way of categorizing the world. I used a found nature photograph of a toucan and reconstructed it with Post-it notes; I recreated encyclopedia images of Greek monuments using found plastic cups; took an image from a book called Picturing the Times of our Lives, enlarged and rephotographed it on a red easel in my studio; I scanned objects from a collection of old darkroom manuals marked with digital noise; I rebuilt the color patterns of floral still lifes using hundreds of found objects. The works are really obsessive – scanning and reworking images hundreds of times to produce an exact effect. In Flat Death, what looks 3D is flat, what looks “beautiful” is made up of junk, what might look old is new; there is a constant mixing of analog and digital process, of contemporary objects with dated imagery. I utilize various systems to confuse the viewing process.


Installation view, Flat Death
Cooper Cole Gallery, 2013
© Sara Cwynar


Installation view, Flat Death
Cooper Cole Gallery, 2013
© Sara Cwynar

AD: The “photographer’s studio” is another trope you subvert; it appears that some of these photos are spliced and re-assembled with duct tape, that you’ve left technical and film information visible. So, indeed, these are not customary iterations on the still life. You mentioned the floral reproductions, which really stood out to me at one of your recent shows; they are large in scale, and from afar truly resemble their primary source. But upon closer examination – and they do beckon the viewer to examine – one sees that these floral arrangements are photographed aerially, and further, composed of ephemera that bears little relation to flora. In fact, most of the objects used to recreate the still lifes are materially synthetic. What were you looking to say through the construction of these works?

SC: I am very interested in the ways that images adapt, how they age, especially with regard to stock and studio photography. They’re all made up of different objects I’ve collected, things that fill household junk drawers, things that are essentially garbage. So this faux-beautiful image of a flower, this artistic cliché, reveals itself to be made of “valueless” things. It’s referencing obsolete technology, analog photographic processes, vanitas symbolism (death motifs, skulls, flowers, candles), faded plastics, and a lot of warped colors. I use the objects to rebuild the tones in the printed matter, which in this case is found images of floral studio still lifes. I play with their underlying conventions, their original intent – for instance by shooting from above instead of the side, as seen in the original. The obsolescence of these images really shows – you are exactly aware of how much the aesthetic has changed with time, transforming an ideal into something that looks absurd, ugly, even sinister. In many ways these bouquets are the most benign, unloaded source image I can think of. For this reason especially, floral still lifes have had pull for many artists (Brendan Fowler comes to mind) – it is almost an empty canvas to work with.


Contemporary Floral Arrangement 1 (Many Perennials Can Be Used In Arrangements Such As This For Winter Decoration), 2013
Chromogenic print, 60 x 44″
© Sara Cwynar


Contemporary Floral Arrangement 2 (Plate 24. Color Changes And Natural Colors Are Combined Effectively In This Mass Arrangement Of Contemporary Style), 2013
Chromogenic print, 60 x 44″
© Sara Cwynar


Contemporary Floral Arrangement 3 (Flowers Arrangements 12, 683 (1963), 2013
Chromogenic print, 60 x 44″
© Sara Cwynar

AD: I think you’ve also created an opportunity to consider the “Death Drive,” especially as it pertains to vernacular photography; and I like that you manipulate that, or at least try to negotiate the anxieties that permeate cultural and utilitarian refuse in consumption society. With that in mind, could you expand on the concept of “aesthetic offensiveness” that kind of imbues these dated magazine clippings and archival images? Where do you think that vulgarity comes from?

SC: I think it’s a combination of technology and taste reflected through images. Old pictures might look odd because technology was different – it marks the image and often makes it look less valuable, less tasteful; this is especially true with regard to commercial genres, where a high level of value is important. Some of it is also that ideas of taste morph so rapidly. In my experience, it’s something that people in commercial photography aren’t really thinking about. We would sort of ogle these super-dated, campy images – but then how do you know you’re not just making more of the same; that in 30 years, your picture won’t look like that to somebody else? I think it likely will. This is something I try to build into my work.

There seems to be a point where something aesthetically ugly or discarded can warp back into being almost-nice; when the value of an image changes, it often starts to appeal to me. Value in visual culture is a concept articulated well by W.J.T. Mitchell, who suggested that images become like biological entities, some gaining value well beyond their actual worth. “Fine art” is a good example of this, or religious iconography – while others lose it rapidly. I’m interested in the ones that lose value, or devolve into kitsch. This quality is highly evident in certain pictures, in food photography, for instance. Think of a ‘70s, orange-toned photo of a steak covered in sauce, or the pink foods of the ’60s. Product shots, especially studio photography, were really heavily stylized. Mitchell says that the separation of good from bad, ugly from beautiful, is the fundamental task of criticism; in my understanding, to parse through pictures and decide what constitutes good taste. I like this idea – that taste is subjective or that only certain people may curate it, whereas my taste tends more toward kitsch or something classically tasteless. This is what has value to me and so I can make it “good taste” in a way, I can make it have value for others. When I select my images, I always try to choose the ones that have had their value questioned somehow.


Gold – NYT April 22, 1979 (Alphabet Stickers), 2013
Chromogenic print, 30 x 40″
© Sara Cwynar

Another common quality of this “aesthetic offensiveness” is a sort of faux-elegance, or a faux-value. I like the way these things read in art photographs; for example, this strange still life of a bunch of gold watches sitting like cobras on bars of gold – this was the source image for Gold – NYT April 22, 1979 (Alphabet Stickers). There is so much gold worked in that this “classy” material just sort of folds on itself and becomes ugly. Another example is the plastic cups in some of my images: I mimic Corinthian columns, ancient architecture, even Mayan ruins by using neon green plastic – and I found them all at junk stores in bulk bags. I love how many levels removed these things are from the actual structures, how they are another way of making an image of an over-photographed monument. Color also plays a big role in the “aesthetic offensiveness” of dated imagery – how it warps and how far from the natural it can get. I am drawn to weird plastic colors; there is a great essay by Barthes about plastic as a material, about how it tries so hard to replicate natural colors, but is never able to do it.


Toucan In Nature (Post It Notes), 2013
Chromogenic print, 30 x 40″
© Sara Cwynar

AD: Regarding meaning and value in art and creative production: do the items you’ve used have “value” to you, or are they simply objects to be recycled, maybe even just sad junk? Is there space for them in contemporary society, and if so, to what extent?

SC: I love this phrase, “sad junk!” I’m a consummate saver of things, a bit of a hoarder, which provides material for much of my practice. I use photography to categorize and re-present this ever-growing personal collection of saved materials. Some of these things do hold sentimental value and were pillaged from my parents’ basement – the old TV remote from my childhood is in one photo, a box of family slides, a mug my Dad always had. Others I found at the dollar store. I pick them each for different reasons; some resonate with the history of photography and still life traditions, while others are simply objects with an aesthetic strangeness that appeals to me.

I don’t think there is room for a lot of this stuff in contemporary society – that’s part of why it interests me, this vast accumulation of stuff that trails behind us. If you are going to put new work in the world, it seems important to consider all the stuff that was already thrown away. There is a consumerist element to it – that most of us live surrounded by piles of this type of junk. These things have no more use-value so maybe I can make them have art-value. There is a lot of discussion about photographs in the world being free of referential ties – I like these objects because together they seem truly rooted in the everyday, in the mundane; junk objects that most people accumulate to some degree.

I save passages from literature where people describe throwing away things they once saved. There is a great one at the end of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, where he names a bunch of objects that are actually pictured in my photos; and I hadn’t even thought about this passage while working. He writes:

I threw away picture-frame wire, metal book ends, cork coasters, plastic key tags, dusty bottles of Mercurochrome and Vaseline, crusted paint brushes, caked shoe brushes, clotted correction fluid. I threw away candle stubs, laminated placemats, frayed pot holders. I went after the padded hangers, the magnetic memo clipboards. I was in a vengeful and near savage state. I bore a personal grudge against these things. Somehow they’d put me in this fix. They’d dragged me down, made escape impossible.

I think this speaks to how common the experience is – we all keep this stuff in our homes and everyone has a sort of giant “archive” of things that were never thrown away.


Tree In Nature (Darkroom Manual), 2013
Chromogenic print, 24 x 20″
© Sara Cwynar

AD: I think the overarching theme in Flat Death is the disruption of learned patterns of looking-at, of processing tropes and visual information. Also, as you’ve mentioned, the clash between old and new – be it aesthetics, production processes, or objects. But these are very rich, loaded, tender, even exuberant images, especially in person, due to their scale. I don’t see this so much as a clash, per say, but as bridging the old and new. So what role does nostalgia play in your practice?

SC: DeLillo says, “nostalgia is a settling of grievances between the present and the past.” Maybe that’s what I’m trying to do in small gestures with these pictures – give some space to historical images and objects that continue to resonate with me. There is a great nostalgia in photography to begin with – the fact that you make a record of experience each time you shoot, a nostalgia for analog techniques, a nostalgia for the printed image. I also see a kind of “anti-nostalgia” now – a lot of work that goes all the way to the other end and has a sort of pure digital or computer-based aesthetic and process. I am nostalgic for old techniques and materials, and have an interest in the way most things (including imaging technologies) cycle out of relevance.

Then, on another level, my art practice began with a sort of nostalgic impulse to save, re-arrange, re-present, keep things that might have disappeared if I didn’t save them. I find great satisfaction in resurrecting things that are about to go away, making small breaks in the slide to obsolescence that happens constantly. I guess I have nostalgia for old pictures, wrapped in a love for the way that pictures get away from us – how they accumulate, morph and endure. Certainly there is an intense nostalgia involved in hoarding and collecting, which could be a whole other discussion – the idea of making a physical manifestation of yourself through the things and images you save, some sort of external record that will live on, of never being able to throw something away. That is a deeply nostalgic, existential thing.


Time Is Up (Darkroom Manual), 2013
Chromogenic print, 24 x 20″
© Sara Cwynar

BenAlper_interview_01

A Conversation with Ben Alper

Ben Alper is an artist based in North Carolina. He received his BFA in photography from the Massachusetts College of Art & Design in Boston and is currently an MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Alper’s work has been shown widely, including recent exhibitions at the NADA Art Fair in Miami, the Luminary Center for the Arts in St. Louis, Le Dictateur Gallery in Milan, Italy, Meulensteen and Michael Matthews galleries in New York and at Johalla Projects and Schneider Gallery in Chicago. Additionally, his work has been published in The Collector’s Guide to New Art Photography Vol. 2, Album Magazine, and the catalog for Young Curators, New Ideas IV. Alper also curates The Archival Impulse, an project dedicated to his personal collection of vernacular photography.


from Terrain Vague, 2012
© Ben Alper

Zach Nader: How did you decide that pursuing an MFA was the choice for you? How has your experience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill been so far?

Ben Alper: Even before taking the Registrar/Preparator job at Julie Saul Gallery, I knew that I wanted to go to graduate school. At that point, though, I had just recently gotten to New York and wasn’t prepared to uproot myself again right away. I wanted to spend some time working, enjoying the city and my friends and making new work. I made a two-year commitment to the gallery and planned to begin my graduate studies after I had fulfilled that promise. Throughout my time in New York I did an enormous amount of research about grad programs all across the country. The first challenge was determining what exactly it was that I wanted in a grad program. As time went on, I decided that an interdisciplinary program was going to suit me best. I spent my undergraduate studies in a strictly photographic program and, for as elucidating as that experience was, I felt that further growth would be fostered more readily in an expanded dialogue – one that encompassed painting, sculpture, video, printmaking, performance and photography.

Fortuitously, when I was at the gallery I worked closely with Jeff Whetstone, who is the Director of Graduate Studies of the Studio Art program at UNC-Chapel Hill. It was really through him that I discovered UNC’s program. It met all the criteria that I was looking for, so I applied, was accepted, and chose to head south.

My first year has been challenging, rigorous, but quite formative. I’ve made more work in 5 months than I did in 3 years in New York. And although much of it has never seen the light of day, it has been incredibly liberating to create without censoring my impulses or over-thinking an idea into non-existence. What I’ve really learned is that it is often through the failures, shortcomings, and flawed ideas that something truly interesting emerges. I have come to embrace these as fully as I can and try to find the value in that which initially seems misguided.


from Background Noise, 2011
© Ben Alper

ZN: Much of your work employs imagery that looks quite dated – faded, torn pictures of people and places that recall decades past. You approach those images in a rather destabilizing way. Why is it important for you to begin with images that have a direct linkage to a time when photography was considered more physical?

BA: Like countless people before me, I spent a great deal of time throughout my childhood looking through my family’s photo albums. Sifting through the quiet, often unremarkable images became a sort of obsession for me. At the time, I never particularly gave the process much thought. I simply enjoyed the ritual; turning the pages, examining the yellowing prints slowly fading from view, reading captions that corresponded to particular photographs and, perhaps most of all, thoroughly enjoying the distinctive smell that old photo albums emit – that musty, thick smell of aging paper and photo chemicals. Looking back at it now, I realize that I connected deeply to the physicality of this experience. It was tactile, visual and olfactory all at once.

Beyond the mere sensory experience though, I think I was also looking for some kind of clarity about my familial history. I’m not entirely sure what I was looking for at first, but I sensed that I may be able to glean something valuable from scrutinizing all of the old, decaying photographs that had been preserved with such care. And I did. It may not have been an especially linear narrative, but pieces of a much larger domestic puzzle began to fall into place. What the process really enabled me to do was place myself within the context that was my family’s generational history.

Growing up in the midst of the digital revolution and the rapid expansion of the internet afforded me (along with the rest of my generation) a dichotomy of experiences in image viewing and consumption. The tactile experience of the photograph as a physical object was suddenly being replaced by a decidedly more virtual one. I have utilized photographs from a more physical time in an attempt to examine the impact that digitization has had on the cultural, personal and historical function of the photographic image. Losing the ability to physically engage with photographs has dramatically altered how we experience and internalize the images we see everyday. This has been aided by the seemingly endless proliferation of images available for consumption online. In an interview with William Eggleston, Alec Soth quotes Robert Frank:

There are too many images, too many cameras now. We’re all being watched. It gets sillier and sillier. As if all action is meaningful. Nothing is really all that special. It’s just life. If all moments are recorded, then nothing is beautiful and maybe photography isn’t an art any more. Maybe it never was.

While I don’t fully subscribe to this sentiment, I do believe that photographs have lost some of their power and ability to act as memory objects. There are simply too many images to contend with. We are not capable of processing the amount of visual information that we encounter everyday. We may look at thousands of images in a given day, but how many do we actually see? A great deal of my work from the past 4 or 5 years has underscored this anxiety. Ultimately though, the optimist in me has been trying to push against this. And while I do struggle with a certain anxiety surrounding the state of photography, I do still believe that images can have meaning. This dichotomy can be confusing, but it can also be quite rich. And it is precisely within these two poles that I have attempted to situate my work.


from Pluralities, 2011
© Ben Alper

ZN: I think of photographs as having no specific power, but as objects that are experienced and have meanings affixed. You freely move between found and personal images for source material, heightening the potential of narrative in a picture-based practice. Specifically, the possibilities of memory (perhaps in a Blade Runner fashion) seem to be emphasized throughout your recent projects. What are your questions and concerns around the use of photographic images as mnemonic devices?

BA: I see many of my recent projects as being fundamentally inquisitive, rather than declarative, in regard to memory. There is no articulated claim being made. Instead, I hope the work raises questions about how we order, archive and recall photographs in service of creating personal or historical narratives for ourselves. The vast majority of us, to some degree, rely on photographic evidence to help construct a feeling of continuity with the past. This process, particularly when looking at one’s own family photographs, can also have a great impact in the present; it can affect how we identify ourselves and our place in the world. In this way, photographs can be powerful persuaders, or mnemonic devices, but I tend to agree with you that whatever meaning does exist is annexed by the specific viewer and is thus entirely idiosyncratic. We project who and what we are onto photographic images. We see what we want to regardless of what’s there. There is no essential significance embedded in an image itself – this is applied later and with admitted subjectivity. Now, don’t get me wrong, certain images hold a greater historical or cultural value because they depict events or moments we shouldn’t forget; however, even these images are tinged with a certain amount of fiction. I have attempted to underscore that memory is an ever-vacillating and impermanent function; and that photographic images collude with memory to reinforce, rather than undermine, invented fictions.

ZN: Your recent work (re)generation depicts the destruction and inverse of a photographic print simultaneously. What is the significance of the image used and does this project relate to your views on image abundance?

BA: The image used in (re)generation is the last photograph taken of my grandfather before he died of terminal cancer in 2008. I sensed that he didn’t have much time left and I wanted an image to remember him by – one that I took, one that reflected an exchange between the two of us. Shortly after I made it, he passed away. In the months that followed, I became disconcerted by how quickly my memories of him were overwhelmed by indistinction, inconsistency and distance. When someone dies, you primarily have four things with which to remember them by – your memories, stories relayed by family members, photographs and whatever corporeal artifacts they’ve left behind. In spite of all of these possible triggers though, I was left feeling that these forms of remembrance, photographs in particular, did little to reconstruct a lucid picture of my grandfather. Like a puzzle, each fragment, memory or anecdote contributes to a larger whole, but the intact image always remains illusive.

With this in mind, I view (re)generation as a metaphor for the cognitive process and the reconstitutive nature of memory itself. This particular piece is not a commentary on image saturation, but rather a meditation on the oscillating, ever-malleable manner in which we recall the things embedded in our minds. Sometimes they appear with great clarity; other times they possess an intense ambiguity; and other times still, they are shrouded almost entirely in obscurity. Sometimes a singular memory shifts, transforming into or out of lucidity. The two images in (re)generation that perpetually construct and deconstruct my grandfather’s likeness constitute a visual analog for this process. The video is presented as an endless loop, so this metamorphosis occurs ad infinitum.


from Background Noise, 2011
© Ben Alper

ZN: How do you see your role as an image producer in this image saturated moment?

BA: This is something that I’ve thought about quite a lot over the years. It’s hard though to know where or how to contextualize my own photographic practice in relation to the trends of image making globally. It’s akin to trying to describe a single grain of sand in the context of an entire beach – it is simply a particle of a much larger organism. What I can say is that the pure volume of photographic images existent in the world today has been a source of great overwhelm for me.

I think for some image makers (myself included at times) it is easy to be fatalistic about the state of contemporary photography today. The feeling that everything has been photographed, and photographed ad nauseum, has the power to awaken a sense of futility in contributing more images to an already over-populated image culture. This line of thought though is ultimately defeatist and unproductive. I make images because I truly love the process – because it’s a way of challenging my own assumptions and perceptions of the world around me. As a result, much of my interest lies in the vernacular, the commonplace and the banal. I am far more interested in seeing (or making) something familiar appear strange than I am in seeing something that is wholly unfamiliar to me. It is this transformation that I find exciting, surprising and often off-putting. In the end, I hope that my role as an image maker is one that facilitates this feeling in other people and foregrounds the slighted things in life that so many of us take for granted.


from Terrain Vague, 2012
© Ben Alper

ZN: A thread throughout much of your work seems to be the gathering of the unwanted or overlooked (images, objects, places) and reimaging/reimagining them. What are the links for you between your ongoing Terrain Vague project and your more image focused projects?

BA: I see Terrain Vague as both a continuation and a departure from my previous bodies of work. On the one hand, it signals a new way of working, or accumulating images. Returning to the physical world to make my own photographs, rather than appropriating existing material from archival sources, has been liberating. The subject matter, at least on the surface, is also quite disparate from what I was working with in projects like Erasure and Background Noise. The move away from the personal, domestic and familial histories that were being addressed in those projects has given way to a more social and spatial examination of public space. Where the archival projects are, at least in part, rooted in a specificity that often evades knowability, the sites and materials photographed in Terrain Vague are general, ubiquitous and familiar. I was interested in going almost completely the other way in this regard – to work with a landscape that wasn’t as idiosyncratic as those found in vernacular photographs.

However, where I think the projects overlap is in their exploration of transformation, liminality, and impermanence. The majority of my work has addressed these concepts. And I cannot seem to let them go, so I continue to try and find new manifestations to continue exploring them. The sites depicted in Terrain Vague foreground the process of construction and deconstruction and underscore the liminal period of ambiguous transition from one state of “being” to another. As a result, they evoke a strong sense of being in between histories, function and time. This also activates them to explore a number of seemingly diametric relationships – those between presence and absence, inscription and erasure, preservation and ruination, and appearance and disappearance.

These ideas are also at play in previous bodies of work, but the tenor of the transformation, or liminal state, is different. In the archive-based projects, this is manifested as a mediation between memory and fantasy, the physical and the virtual, or between shifting and uncertain cultural practices. It’s the precipice between two things (histories, function, cultural practice or cognition) that allows for unexpected readings. This space of “in betweenness” is one that is ultimately destabilizing and slightly uncanny. In the end, I’m drawn to this period of precarious transition because it nurtures a particularly temporal experience – one that acknowledges the past and points toward the future, all from a fleeting moment between the two.


from Terrain Vague, 2012
© Ben Alper

ZN: What’s next for you?

BA: I am about to start my second and final year of graduate studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, where I will be working toward my thesis exhibition in the spring. On top of that, I will be having a two-person exhibition in Brussels in April and a solo show in London in either May or June.

Additionally, I have also resurrected The Archival Impulse – a web-based archive dedicated to my ever-growing collection of vernacular photography. Concurrent with my studies, I plan to continue contributing new content to the site, while also looking to expand the scope of the project by growing the collection and possibly collaborating with other enthusiasts, collectors and archivists in the online photo community.

SemaBekirovic_interview_00

A Conversation with Semâ Bekirovic

Semâ Bekirovic is a photographer based in the Netherlands. She holds a degree from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam from 2002 and has exhibited internationally including Amsterdam, New York, Los Angeles, Milaan, and Berlin. She is represented by Galerie Diana Stigter in Amsterdam. Bekirovic’s work was published in numerous magazines and journals, including Lay Flat 02: Meta (Lavalette, 2010).


Grid, 2006
Video, 19 min.
© Semâ Bekirovic

Rachel Stern: How would you compare your artistic process to the scientific method? That is to say, do you find that your projects are a means to investigate and test some hypothesis?

Semâ Bekirovic: In a way, yes. I always start with something resembling a hypothesis, an idea of where the work might go. The difference is that I actually hope for the work to develop in ways I hadn’t expected beforehand.

RS: In your work I see a strong relationship between natural and imposed order. Your video Grid seems to me an inverted version of a Étienne-Jules Marey or Eadweard Muybridge photograph. Instead of using the grid to measure the animal and its movement, it is the movement of the animal that redefines the grid. Do you feel that in this piece you are creating a collaborative system for measuring natural movements?

SB: I like the parallel you draw between Muybridge and Marey’s work and my own. Their goals were mainly scientific and aimed at the understanding and visualizing of movement. My work is a lot more subjective and less goal-oriented. The grid in question suggests a controllable reality but actually measures nothing. In that sense it is primarily a symbolic grid showing the unwillingness of the world to stay within our parameters.


Snowflake, 2012
Photographic experiment
© Semâ Bekirovic

RS: In some of your works, like Snowflake, the medium is directly related to the message. With your video pieces, is the format a means to document a performative relationship or is it an intended endpoint? Without the confines of presentation what would be the optimal viewing of your work?

SB: It all depends on the work itself. I usually start with a concept and let the work “decide” how it will develop presentation-wise. Sometimes the concept and the chosen medium are closely connected. An example would be the video Event Horizon wherein a black hole, carried by a person, slowly approaches the viewer until the screen is completely black. I usually show this work in a dark room so that when the screen has turned black the viewer will feel engulfed by the darkness. In other works I apply photography or video as a means of documenting an occurrence. Still, I do believe that it’s inevitable that the idea and the medium will influence one another. In this sense I would say that the end result is never just the residue of an occurrence.


Event Horizon, 2010
HD video, 4 min.
© Semâ Bekirovic

RS: Overall, would you say you depict order or chaos?

SB: To me, order and chaos are one and the same. It’s all a matter of perspective (my viewpoint, or the animal’s, or that of what—or whomever—I choose to work with).


Birds of Prey, 2005
Video, 2 min.
© Semâ Bekirovic

RS: Do you consider animals to be more of a subject or a collaborative force?

SB: I definitely consider the animals I work with to be collaborators, though collaborators of the unwitting kind. I am wary of anthropomorphism, which I think is almost inevitable when one chooses animals as a subject. Anthropomorphic interpretations are often based on a way of thinking wherein the animal is reduced to the simplicity of human characteristics. To me, the symbolic appropriation of the animal, and the human need to see ourselves reflected in much of everything around us, is not that interesting. I am much more interested in a democratic view of all creatures including humans.

When working with animals I try to see what constitutes and motivates their behavior. While recent neurological research has fueled a lot of doubt regarding the existence of free will in people, animals seem to be capable of “typically human” features like empathy and culture. Yet we still find it nearly impossible to view the world from any other viewpoint than our species-centric one; when we think of animals, we automatically revert to an “us-them” understanding.


Untitled (Bees), 2011
Ikea bought objects transformed by bees
© Semâ Bekirovic

RS: What about structures? In works like Untitled (Bees), A Letter, and Sequence, you demonstrate the decay and consumption of manufactured or cultural structures. Can you discuss your ideas about construction, demolition, and consumption? How do these concepts function in your work?

SB: People often seem to live in an illusion regarding the controllability of the world. I think natural processes are constantly at play in our cultural constructs. With this thought in the back of my head I often try to make works that embrace their own temporality.

RS: If you could document any natural phenomenon (visible or not) what would it be?

SB: The Big Bang.


Picture of a fire burning, 2009
Photograph
© Semâ Bekirovic

RoryMulligan_interview_01

A Conversation with Rory Mulligan

Rory Mulligan was born in New York in 1984. He received a BA from Fordham University and a MFA from Yale University in 2010 where he was awarded the Ward Cheney Memorial Award. His work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally and is included in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Mulligan’s work has been published by J&L Books and Blind Spot Magazine. He has worked as a fine art printer since 2006 and is currently Visiting Lecturer in Art at Drew University in Madison, NJ.


Egg, 2009
© Rory Mulligan

Rachel Stern: Your portraits walk an interesting line between the specifically representational and the formally weird. We see people at events and in their daily lives looking somewhere between candid and performed. Do you consider the bodies in your work to be representational indicators of the people that inhabit them or props for formal and emotional conveyance?

Rory Mulligan: I don’t know that it’s one or the other. With all of my work I’m interested in creating some sort of liminal space—neither fully here, nor there. The same could be said of my portraits that are taken out in the world. Maybe when I photograph people on the street in New York, there’s more of a sense of kinship or recognition—it’s where I’m from and go to work everyday. I know the feeling of being that pedestrian, child, date, hourly worker, loner, etc. In LA, where I’ve never lived but only visited, the place is just an idea to me and so the people take on an aspect of mythic figures or ideas of who I want them to be. There’s a projection on my part, but at the same time the body is much more on display in LA than in New York. It is out there in the open and acts as a kind of currency that doesn’t exist as openly in New York.

When I arrange a portrait, it’s a totally different scenario. It’s becomes much more of a collaboration in the sense that I start to feel more responsibility for the formal qualities of the image, rather than simply watching something unfold and capturing it at the right moment. There’s much more self-consciousness on behalf of sitter and photographer. In the end, it was my decision and prodding that led to the arrangement so it really becomes a projection of my own ideas with the subject acting as vessel. They’re never fully props because I can’t control their temperament and how we will interact, so that’s always the ‘human’ element that presents itself during any given shoot. I usually don’t know the people I photograph.


Dwight Street, 2008
© Rory Mulligan

RS: I like the idea that your relationship with a place can effect how you photograph strangers on the street. What about in the context of events? I think of the photographs at diner parties or the one on the school bus. Are these gatherings emblems of the idea of gathering or do they have specific context?

RM: Right. Those two are specific contexts. Ones where I’m invited to the gathering and given free access to photograph. Those are the best because I have some affiliation with the present group and don’t have to worry about getting punched in the face every time I click the shutter. So in a sense there is almost more pressure afterwards because I am very traceable to the people in those scenarios and if they don’t like the photograph, I can hear from them (never have by the way). But, more to the point of your question I’m always most interested in the final result, the photograph. Events mean groups, which means interaction, which means a certain degree of unpredictability and potential chaos.


Ecstasy, 2009
© Rory Mulligan

RS: What is the roll of the magical or mystical in your work? How does the banal influence or affect that magic?

RM: Magic is just a heightened awareness of the banal. I would say I hold a reverence for what many would consider banal or even sub-banal and that reverence can come across as mystical or magical. On one level I’m very wary of the terms (magical/mystical) and don’t want to come across as naïve or sentimental using them to describe my work or how I approach the world. The fact of the matter is that I have a pretty definitive stance on—almost a shield against—the everyday because I find most of it unbearable. At the same time the transformation of seen world into photograph, when it works, does feel magical or maybe miraculous is a better word.

RS: Maybe then a better focus would be on the unexplainable or the indeterminable. There are many moments in your work when something seems to be occurring but no catalyst is present. I think of the smoking matchbook or even (my favorite) the gently gliding Halloween ghost. The view point is very calm though—there seems to be no shock or surprise at these strange occurrences. Are these the moments where the strangeness of the banal seeps through a comfort? Do they alleviate the unbearableness of the everyday?

RM: Yes, definitely. Those two specific images also have a sense of weightlessness common to them. It reoccurs in a number of my photographs, I’ve noticed. I like to photograph scenes where the object or body is momentarily weightless, unrestricted by the very temporal and corporeal rules that govern the world. It’s only an illusion though and photography makes that illusion possible in a beautiful way. As for the inexplicable nature of the work, I have issues with the way some artists approach the idea of mystery. If it just becomes smoke and mirrors or a wild goose chase with a very boring explanation, I’m not interested in the pretension. If mystery becomes too dense and begins to resemble babble I can become aggressively annoyed. I realize with the way I arrange my own work it can become a bit puzzle-like, but that’s part of the territory when you’re working in a purely visual medium. I am naturally drawn to situations that make me ask “What is that?” rather than state “There it is.”


Bus, 2012
© Rory Mulligan

RS: In your photographs there are many things that seem lost or hidden either visually or emotionally/conceptually. There is nostalgia, which is layered with a strange and distanced contemporary view — a sort of play of hide and seek. Are you playing a game with your audience? What do you hope they might find?

RM: It’s funny because I really don’t think about audience. Not that I don’t care about what people think — not that at all. I just don’t put concern into how one might interpret what they are seeing. I have enough trouble figuring it out for myself. A lot of my motivation comes from wanting to shake up a nostalgic view of the world, namely a nostalgic view of it through black and white photography. I love the medium and it’s rich history, but at the same time I want to push it into a contemporary and relevant place.


Guess, 2011
© Rory Mulligan

RS: I love your ‘pin-up’ portraits of men. They are associated with both pride and shame — exhibition and timidness. They own their own sex appeal and turn the awkward into the desired by the brazenness with which the bodies are presented. Tell me about these images – do you think that they function as a type of pin-up?

RM: The thing with photographs, especially planned ones like portraits, is that they almost never turn out how you expect or want them to. If I could go through some of my photographs that appear campy or like a pin-up and I told you that I was dead serious while making them, you would probably feel bad for me. I’m almost never interested in creating a ‘sexy’ photograph of anyone I shoot. Sometimes the whole feel of a shoot is more like a doctor’s appointment because it can be so awkward. That goes for the rest of my daily non-photographic interactions as well. There is always some sort of tension, especially if the sitter has his own expectations of the shoot or scenario. When photographing in Central Park at night, I would bring along a female friend to diffuse the tension. Otherwise, I’m usually shooting alone. I’m definitely playing with the idea of erotic male portraiture because I think it’s a pretty funny genre. Objectification is something thought of as mostly happening to women in art and life (and this is true), it’s interesting to turn the tables and kind of ‘exploit’ men.


Smoking Matchbook, 2008
© Rory Mulligan

RS: What I am really captivated by in these portraits is that they really hold their own. If you are ‘exploiting’ men you are doing it on terms which you have defined rather than participating in a stock language of photography which has functioned like that in the past (or in other parts of the present). If you goal is not to be sexy how do you see these figures?

RM: I’m not interested in sexiness, but sex. Sexiness implies a lot that I want to avoid in the dynamic with my subjects. It’s such a cliché for gay male artists to photograph desire and their wants. On one hand, I’m glad there’s enough gay art that there are clichés within it. On the other hand, it’s a cliché. But really, I see a lot of my work as a response to the canon of 1960s and ‘70s black and white street photography—a genre dominated by heterosexual white men. In many ways I’m operating in the same mode, but I also have a very different experience with a different world. I insert these photographs of men almost like punctuation or breaks in between the more seamless streams of ‘found’ images that fall more into line with traditional notions of the medium. There is something very predatory and lecherous about the photography I’m talking about. So really I’m trying to exploit those men, not the ones I’m photographing. Maybe I just have delusions of being Turgenev’s Bazarov.


Ghost, 2008
© Rory Mulligan

RS: I am interested in the way in which you image men. Can you talk a little about masculinity in your work?

RM: When I photograph men there is always a desire to project my own ideas about my dealings and relationships with them. I think the way men ‘own’ their bodies, which is different from the way a woman can ‘own’ her body, is that this ownership is enacted through a very outward projection—away from one’s own body. In other words, here I am, this man, this muscle, this mass of body. I am powerful, but at the same time I’m not allowed to be turned on by myself and any sexiness I feel about myself has to be denied and projected outwards, thrust, if you will, out onto an audience.

It’s this odd self-loathing narcissism, kind of masochistic in the way that men can be. I’m talking about straight men here. Gay men are much more fluid in their own bodies, sometimes. Some gay men are equally stuck in their own perceptions of how they should be sexy or ‘own’ their sexiness—as objects to be adored, looked upon and desired. They just flip the script of straight men. I find the most interesting men to be ones that feel somewhere in the middle, both ashamed and assured of themselves and unclear of exactly how they want to be presented to the world. Possibly unaware of their own sexual potency or at least unsure of how to wield it. Not sure if they should be complimented by my interest in them, or made nervous by it. I’m still not sure if I want to make a statement about masculinity as grand idea or simply distill my very specific experience of it. I tend to think that my own neuroses lead me to the way of the insular, but then again this can still reflect a larger idea.


Dad & Moon, 2008
© Rory Mulligan

RS: How does your gaze change when it is reflected onto yourself? I have read statements where you discuss ideas about failure in relation to these images but they also seem proud to me. How do you use yourself as a symbol in your work?

RM: I think the self-portraits are related to my last comments in a big way. I started making them at the same time I started making portraits. For me they work on a few levels. First, they’re almost empathetic responses to portraits. I feel some sense of responsibility or accountability when I ask strangers to present themselves as vulnerably as they do for me. Second, they act as a response to my frustrations with the medium itself. I love photography but it will always be a static, mute, two dimensional object. I’ve always had a little bit of a performer in me, so it’s an outlet to let go of some rules and restrictions that I encounter when shooting. They’re more expressive than most of my other photographs. Third, they’re also in reference to the idea of the self-portrait as an inherently female dominated genre. “Men look out, women look in” — that sort of overreaching generalization. So, I want to turn that idea on its head a bit. It was also fun to put up these photographs of myself in grad school with all these hot-shot teachers forced to look at naked me and then real me sitting in front of them. I would barely speak, yet I’d have these really aggressive photographs right behind me. It was all a performance in itself.


Blair Street, 2010
© Rory Mulligan

RS: How does the temperament of the Cindy Timberwolf series fit in with the rest of your work? Does the childhood or nostalgic perspective permeate your other works?

RM: Cindy Timberwolf was made right after I graduated from Yale and moved back to my parents’ house. I had been going back there a lot during grad school to photograph, but I hadn’t actually lived there since I was 17. So, when I moved back I was very anxious. I was done with the academic bubble. All of my friends were scattered. I had to start making money again and not just worry about making work. I felt like my life was much more ‘together’ before school than after. A lot of the work I have made from home was spurred on by something tragic that happened right before I started grad school. I felt very removed from the place and people there and suddenly I was there and one of them again. So, I think there was this confusion of feeling like an adult, but really feeling like a child at the same time that comes through in the work. I think it fits in with the rest of my work, but it feels both slower and more anxious at the same time. Kind of like the dread and beauty of a long summer day with nothing to do.


Alex, 2012
© Rory Mulligan

RS: The surface of your photographs is so luxe and captivating. The tone, texture, and compositional balance make your grey scale really glows. Your technical mastery of your medium is evident and becomes important to the overall read of the work — maybe even alchemical. What is your relation to your photographs as objects?

RM: The physical object is very important to me. I’ve been photographing for about 9 years now and I’ve spent 7 of them (on and off) working as a printer for other black and white photographers. I’m in the darkroom almost everyday. It only feels right that I have this sort of symbiosis with the final product I present. People always think I’m such a technical perfectionist or snob, but the truth is I would develop my film in Hawaiian Punch if that worked. Maybe as I get older I will start to become more particular, but I guess I’m just not intimidated by black and white. I know what needs to happen and how to get that. At this point, it’s just natural. We are simpatico. This is also a sign that I should push myself into newer realms, which I have been doing quietly.

I know it’s not entirely practical to work completely analog in our time, but neither is being a photographer in the first place if you don’t have a trust fund. I really love the experience of the darkroom and taking that away would really devastate me. People go on and on about “It’s about the final image. That’s all that matters.” Well, yes, but I think the dramatic shift away from analog is reflective of the larger culture. Yet, there is a desire to move back to knowing where what we consume comes from and how it was made. That heartens me.


Floored, 2012
© Rory Mulligan

RS: Overall do you feel your works are creating a new finely tuned world or recording the strangeness of the existing one?

RM: My work is fiction. I think of the description of glove making at Newark Maid in American Pastoral. That description is precise as one can get, almost like a clear photograph. Almost an Ezra Stoller. Roth isn’t writing a documentary or manual on how to make ladies gloves, but it’s clear that he knows more than something about it. I also think of Joyce Carol Oates’ Upstate NY in We Were the Mulvaneys or Walker Percy’s New Orleans in The Moviegoer, or so many others. Maybe I envy writing more than any other medium because writers are able to take the physical groundwork of a place and populate it with fictional characters and events to create their work. We accept the fiction and the veracity of their description simultaneously. Photography suffers because it is taken so literally. Photographs can describe the world as well as our best authors can, yet we believe a writer’s world of fiction much more readily than we accept a photograph’s. I would like to think that my work pushes for creating fiction: using the world as a template to mold my own creation, a world within a world.


Bronx River, 2009
© Rory Mulligan

FThat_MartenLange_AnotherLanguage_10

F* That: Photography and the Ineffable

There isn’t really a visual equivalent for ineffable, at least not one that holds the ineffable’s relationship to the transcendent as well as to the inexpressible. One could go with the prosaic, unviewable, or the slightly more mysterious, invisible, to deal with the simple inability to see a thing. But, you would have to join it to something like ulterior to convey a sense of existence past a defined boundary, or occult to reveal its secret nature beyond the range of human knowledge. Still, these are not terms relating to purely vision, and would have to be used as ancillary adjectives. Sublime brushes up against these ideas somewhat, but, like the others, holds its primary meaning and implications in other areas.

Lack of a precise vocabulary for this has not prevented artists from trying to approach this territory. The best religious art has been about this. Certain elements of abstraction have been after this. These frameworks offer particular tools, complex symbology and non-representational form, for coping with that which is beyond comprehension. So then, what is a medium like photography to do with such tools? A great number of photographic projects employ these methods to one degree or another, but more interesting are works that approach the ineffable with the very thing that photography does best, representing the world in front of the camera – a direct 1:1 record that is used to suggest something unknowably beyond the thing which we see.

Totally invisible to eye and instrument, dark matter is believed to comprise most of the matter of the universe. Its existence is only inferred, a conjecture about what is beyond our perceptions. The Cryogenic Dark Matter Search lab, located in a mine in northern Minnesota, is the nucleus for Keith Taylor’s photographic series Dark Matter. The prints are photogravures, a process that remains mysterious even to many photographers, and renders a black that is palpable. The images are concentrated in the lower portions of the tonal range, depicting the deep rich shadows of the mine, research center and surrounding forests. With no visible subject towards which to point his camera, Taylor imagines the dark matter within the shadows of the environment. The photos shift between abstraction and clear depiction of objects, from forests to technical devices. The juxtaposition of these materials and the ominous objectification of darkness within the photographs makes their haunting pervasive beyond the photos and into one’s own experiences. Thus far, Taylor’s attempts to locate the dark matter of the universe have been more successful than those of scientists. Though we still cannot truly see the stuff, he makes us able to feel it lurking outside the spectrum of our vision, flickering in our peripheral, skulking in the deepest shadows of the world.


Dark Matter #02
from the project Dark Matter
© Keith Taylor


Dark Matter #19
from the project Dark Matter
© Keith Taylor


Dark Matter #14
from the project Dark Matter
© Keith Taylor


Dark Matter #06
from the project Dark Matter
© Keith Taylor


Dark Matter #20
from the project Dark Matter
© Keith Taylor

Mårten Lange’s Another Language focuses on the phenomenological as well, but instead of looking there for the unseen mass of the universe, it reveals the order of creation found in the forms of each instance. The cover’s black whirlpool, stamped on gray bookcloth, shifts easily into a blackhole in the mind of the viewer. The understated book, elegant but demure in design, printed on a paper that satisfies the touch yet mutes the tones of the photographs, allows the images to remain quiet, a kind of murmur from one page to the next. Associations between images are based on formal resonance. Echoes of a tree burl are found in crystalline rock and in the surface of parched land. The texture of a fire is likened to that of the face of a mountain. Bee carcass, pile of sticks, and a rock protruding from the ocean are bound by their shape and their participation in a grander order of all that is. The short bit of text in the book, excerpted from Alexander von Humboldt’s Kosmos (a nineteenth-century, multi-volume attempt to unify all scientific knowledge), concludes, “A physical delineation of nature terminates at the point where the sphere of intellect begins, and a new world of mind is opened to our view. It marks the limit, but does not pass it.” The photograph marks a kind of terminus of its own, the concrete physicality of the subject in front of the lens. But, the grammar of the sequence of these discrete images does in fact speak another language, one that suggests a way of seeing the ineffable that underlies existence, not just a “new world of the mind” but a way to see and speak of and within that world.


cover of Another Language (MACK, 2012)
© Mårten Lange


from the project Another Language
© Mårten Lange


from the project Another Language
© Mårten Lange


from the project Another Language
© Mårten Lange


spread from Another Language (MACK, 2012)
© Mårten Lange


from the project Another Language
© Mårten Lange


from the project Another Language
© Mårten Lange


from the project Another Language
© Mårten Lange


from the project Another Language
© Mårten Lange


from the project Another Language
© Mårten Lange

Form within an image can identify reverberations of that which undergirds, but an attempt to get a handle on this kind of knowledge must also come through our bodies – holding it in our hands.

We can measure the distances within the solar system from planet to planet, and we can calculate the time to traverse these vast, seemingly empty distances, yet these numbers remain abstract from our experience. The 2011 international cooperative Mars500 simulation locked six astronauts in a model spaceship for 520 days to simulate a trip to Mars and back, after an attempt in 2000 ended in a drunken brawl and an unwanted kiss. Most people do not have the opportunity for this kind of extreme embodiment. Museums and educational model companies manufacture scale models of the universe, presenting us with a visual, more manageable expression of the expanse of space, but still these experiences remain only a minimal manifestation. It seems odd that a more effective media for discussing and sensing the breadth of time and space in our solar system is a book, or rather a multi-volume set.

Mishka Henner’s Astronomical is simple, minimal and brilliant as an artwork and as an embodiment of space and time. The title, author’s name and volume numbers are distributed over the spines of the white covered twelve-volume work. After the title page, the only text in the book relates to distance. A scale informs us that each page represents one million kilometers – the first volume represents 0-500 million kilometers. The next page is a photo of the sun. The subsequent 499 pages, nearly all completely black, cover the remaining miles of the book. The black pages stretch one after another through each five-hundred page tome. Most planets, when they do appear, are small dots on the page with only the gas giants appearing sizable. Other than the sun, nine pages of planets, and a number of pages of asteroid belt, each page is black vacuous space. A regular faint speckling and occasional splotch appears on a page as a result of the printing process, becoming a sort of cosmic dust that drifts about as the reader leafs from one million kilometers to the next. The time and persistence that it takes to go page by page in these books, looking at space and anticipating celestial bodies, conveys a sense of the immensity, unending wilderness, and tediousness of space in a way that is otherwise hard to feel beyond hard calculation. The book becomes a way of knowing space and time by proxy, a liturgical walk into the void.


Astronomical, 2011
5.5 x 8.5 inches, black & white, softcover, 6,000 pages
© Mishka Henner


Astronomical, 2011 (Scale)
© Mishka Henner


Astronomical, 2011 (The Sun, pages 1-2, volume 1)
© Mishka Henner


Astronomical, 2011 (Earth, page 155, volume 1)
© Mishka Henner

The idea of envisaging the infinity of the universe is staggering. Jason Lazarus’s portrait of Eric Becklin, the first person to look at the center of our galaxy, a pioneer in infrared imaging for astrophysics, suggests that even approaching this kind of visual input is transformative. Wearing a white collared shirt, with thinning wispy white hair, Becklin’s pale visage stares toward the viewer from in front of a stark white background, his pupils become deep black space by contrast. Becklin’s expression is distant, almost as if he has never looked away from that inaugural perception of a location of such consequence. It is as if he has seen a ghost, and as such became one himself.


Eric Becklin, first human to see the center of our galaxy
© Jason Lazarus

Lazarus asks related questions elsewhere. If a physiognomy can represent such a transformation by that which is beyond our reach and available only to augmented vision, then can a person also be represented once they have transcended their own being? In Heinecken Studies, Lazarus, whose name becomes remarkably apropos, scatters portions of the ashes of photographer Robert Heinecken across photographic paper exposed to create shifting color fields. In his titles, Lazarus details the illumination used to create the image (aperture, time, color pack, light source, etc.), a careful spectroscopy – a photographer’s attempt at Belkin’s type of astrophysical methodologies. Heinecken’s earthly remains interrupt the abstraction with a kind of corporal cosmos, becoming starfields against the proliferating light spectrums of the universe. The photographic act resurrects Heinecken from dust to cosmic dust. This metamorphosis suggests a kind of transcendence, a return from whence he came in a way that is both aesthetic and conceptual, moving beyond what we can know through what we can see.


Study #18 (0y, 100m at F16, 12 sec, slight dodge)
from the project Heinecken Studies
© Jason Lazarus


Study #19 (0y, 100m at F16, 8 sec, burn with one flashlight, a second burn with another)
from the project Heinecken Studies
© Jason Lazarus


Study #13, the year of Heinecken’s birth #2 (19y, 31m at F16, 6 sec, dodged for half of exposure)
from the project Heinecken Studies
© Jason Lazarus


Study #8 (154y, 64m at F8 for 1 sec without ashes, ash layed down, burned with flashlight)
from the project Heinecken Studies
© Jason Lazarus


Study #23 (enlarger turned off, one flashlight burned twice)
from the project Heinecken Studies
© Jason Lazarus


Study #7 (154y, 64m at F8 for 1 sec, burned with flashlight for additional time)
from the project Heinecken Studies
© Jason Lazarus


Study #21 (171y, 171m at F8, 30 sec with slight dodge)
from the project Heinecken Studies
© Jason Lazarus

Heinecken once said, “Many pictures turn out to be limp translations of the known world instead of vital objects which create an intrinsic world of their own.”[1] Lazarus has employed Heinecken’s cremation remnants to create the kind of image that Heinecken himself valued. When walking into a new world like this, as Lange and von Humbolt suggest, it quickly becomes a way of broadening our understanding of our own world, patiently traversing the distance provided by Henner’s six-thousand pages and staring into Taylor’s abyss, it intimates the ability to see parts of existence that would otherwise be unspeakable and imperceptible.

1. Holte, Michael Ned. “Robert Heinecken: Marc Selwyn Fine Art.” Artforum International 47.6 (2009): 199+. Expanded Academic ASAP. Web. 15 Jan. 2013.