In Problems With Decomposition (published by Mörel) you presents a series of studio shots of fruits and tires set against monochromatic backdrops, supplemented with abstract paint marks made by the objects featured in the photograph (often fruits or vegetables). Could you please talk about this series, and the relation you made between the synthetic and the natural, the tires and the fruits?
My work is conceptual in nature– but the concept is the same as any of my shows; it’s the form that changes, not the idea. That’s the analogy for my body of work so far, material change over time, and the algorithm which guides this analogy is (Representation A) (Time B) = (Representation X) + (Representation B). But that’s a joke, obviously it’s not formulaic and my process grows from organic experience – both physical and mental work. Time yields time and the product is not as important as what’s inside of it: the time that’s passed, the time that’s lost, and the place that’s not present. The photographs work the same way as all of my work, to illustrate expanded time while also look at the virtues or lacks there of in representational qualities of photography and painting. The photograph is made with a large format camera in my studio, the film is processed, scanned, painted on digitally in photoshop using the colors held within the backdrop, printed, and then painted on again with the same fruit from within the image. The colors are pulled out from film to pixels to paint, the process of representation is taken on threefold and the instant of ‘this has been’ and ‘mechanical reproduction’ of photography are negated. What becomes visible is an elongated process and my hand in all of it, especially the painting. The painting lies on the surface of the object - it becomes a unique object - and you must look through it to see the picture. But which image of fruit is more valid?
How do you develop the dialogue between painting and photography? How it started?
This came from the fact that I was not aligned with any specific medium but when I was studying in college and graduate school the most contemporary dialogue at the time was about photography and video, and what specifically interests me is the relationship of the viewer to the artist mediated by the object. So photography presented an interesting challenge because it is the least personal art object in many ways – while painting and sculpture historically are more unique and exhibit the artists hand. At the time when abstract photography was being highlighted by people like Walead Beshty and Liz Deschenes there was language usually connected to painting being used, such as «abstraction», «minimalism», and «objecthood». I thought this was really exciting but the problem was that these objects still returned to photography, rather than starting at photography and actually expanding the field to that of painting, sculpture, and beyond. I think it was enacting a modernist end game that was much more negative than positive actually, so I sort of started there and ended up somewhere new, not photographic.
With photography the trace of the artist’s «hand», his gesture is often removed. Is it because of this absence that you add painting on them? Why do you like that the artist’s hand becomes apparent in your photographs?
Partly, it does add the personal quality I spoke of above, but it also creates a duality in representation and pits the virtues of painting and photography against each other in terms of this validity, and it also creates a staged production timeline rather than the Barthian ‘this has been’.
Do you think that you are making sculptures that happen to be photographs? Do you think of them as picture-objects?
No, I see them as sculptures that change over time in the sunlight, again there’s the theoretical sides of photography which equal light, time, and representation, but the material side is equally definitive – so these are sculptures that jump from photography to being about one’s relationship to public or outdoor sculpture, time, and nature. As well as the deterioration we all must face.
What do you like about the studio photography style?
What does a «staged photograph» represent, symbolically and materially?
Depends on the image I guess, just what’s in the picture and it’s connection to the real world. As a photograph it just exhibits one type of photography. I think the word display is crucial to any consideration of your work.
Could you tell us something about this aspect of your work?
Well, I don’t consider myself a photographer, but a conceptual artist. I use all mediums and to get an idea across there’s always one way that presents itself as the best. This isn’t finished until presentation, so if it’s made naturally outdoors maybe the best thing to do is just plainly pin it to the wall. The fabric works made with sunlight are presented this way because stretching them on painting bars would be to force a dialogue with painting, and framing them would be to force a dialogue with photography. They are their own thing. The photographs are framed in a material appropriate to the subject. So the pictures of abandoned cheap desert houses are framed in MDF, the pictures of steel are framed in steel.
What is your view of conceptual photography? A kind of photography that stresses the idea «I’m using photography»?
I think it’s irrelevant to a progressive art, I think it’s a dialogue that has already folded in on itself and continues to suffocate.
Do you identify with this statement by Anne Collier: «I’m interested in how an image of an object, which has been muted via photography, can perhaps operate in a more open-ended way than the actual object itself»?
Sure. But I’d say I already use muted objects whose vernacular I fully believe in.
Are you interested in the special attention paid to the purpose of the picture in the advertising field?
Not really, unless it’s funny.
What did you learn from the Pictoralism movement (Gertrude Kasebier, Clarence White, Stieglitz, and Steichen)?
That photography is beautiful but can’t imitate painting.
Could you please talk about your photographs you made in Joshua Tree, for the «High Desert Test Sites»?
The house pictures in this show were taken in Joshua Tree, California on film. They serve at once as documentation of reciprocal artworks of mine in the making, as well as unique pieces themselves. I put large colored sheets of fabric along the interior walls of these burnt out houses to create a different, but no less honest, image of the house. The fabric was left up to fade where it was exposed to the sun by missing windows and doors from the overall architecture, creating an imprint via light on the fabric, not so different from a photogram. The film documentation of these altered houses was scanned into the computer, and I used the color-picker in Photoshop to choose the color of the fabric and mimic its geometry over the image. I printed the pictures and took samples of the Photoshop-produced colors to Home Depot where they digitally matched the colors and mixed enamel house paints. Just as Photoshop samples only a part of the color, so does the paint matcher at Home Depot. I then physically painted over the sky of these roofless houses using a roller, so the representation of these places is manipulated but true. I put the color inside the home physically with the fabric, I put that representation on film with light, I put color on top of the picture digitally and then, finally, I physically painted the color on the image: mimicking reality and creating something, perhaps, more in tune. Beyond this, the photograph is not only an image, but also a new object. It is formed over time, rather than captured in an instant.
Elad Lassry says there is something ironic when appropriating contemporary images. What do you think of that in your own work?
That doesn’t exist in my work. My work is fully sincere. Instead of thinking about making pictures with a camera, you have come to think about making pictures with a camera, computer and studio.
How do you use the off-stage «techniques», and brings them on-stage and into the picture?
Most of the work I make is without a camera actually.
Do you think to photography as window, through which the world is viewed, or more a vitrine-like?
I think the objects I make are really independent of photography as you’re thinking of it.
Do you think that the studio itself has come to function like a camera, providing a model or a scenario for looking that inscribe the camera’s function?
I think if it does that’s a problem. I make photographs in the studio, but that’s about 20% of what I do, the rest is done outdoors and in factories.
How is important for you to work in same way product photographers worked in the days before Photoshop (with table-top setup, backfrops, fabric, etc.)?
It’s not important to me.
Do you try to develop relationships to the objects that frustrate their reading as commodities?
«People are used to photography nowadays, so you have to take it a step further to really get people looking and maybe thinking about what they are seeing. That’s why we like to play with ordinary subjects, search for an imperfection or try to create something that is a little «off», either in styling or photography.» (Ingmar Swalue) What could be seen as a little ‘«off» in your practice?
I guess the dusting.