Images have never been so prevalent as they are in today’s age of Instagram and the internet. At a moment when we can capture countless images and carry them with us daily, photographer John Messinger uses an outmoded method of image-making—instant analog photography—to create complex visual mosaics comprised of dozens or even hundreds of individual images. These detailed compositions, with their carefully cropped and re-cropped subjects, highlight an abundance of visual information at a time when, as the artist has noted, more photographs were taken in a single year (2013) than had been created in the entire history of the medium until that point.
Messinger begins these intricate works, which can be seen in the exhibition “We Dream Alone” at New York’s UNIX Gallery, by turning his vintage Polaroid Land Camera on an unlikely subject: the computer screen. Sitting in front of a large monitor, he finds images from the internet, mining everything from image searches and Instagrams to his own Facebook profile. With a snap of the shutter, the digital world is recorded with the analog technology it has helped make obsolete. After shooting his images, Messinger begins the careful process of arranging the film into his sculptural tapestries—the idea for which he discovered while laying his Polaroid photos to dry on the roof of a borrowed van during a postgraduate road trip.
The chemical process of the instant film he uses creates an image with no negative, an irreproducible copy of an intangible image capable of being disseminated infinite times over the internet—raising questions about the distinction between original and copy. But in the works, with their quiet, contemplative beauty, such question seems a bit outdated. What does original even mean in the 21st century? Does it even matter?