A Release from the Conceptual Void

evan patrick
Nov 21, 2012 6:19AM

Since going to the "New Photography 2012" show at MoMA (as discussed in my previous post),  I've been on the lookout for art photography that is driven by both the alluring image and the rigorous concept. I found "New Photographers"  heavy on the latter, and void on the former.   Thankfully in the last few weeks, I've found two photographers who excel at both: Alejandro Duran and Lucas Blalock

Duran recently showed his accomplished series "Washed Up" at the Octavio Paz Gallery.  The series depicts the massive plastic waste that has settled along the coastline of Sian Ka’an, Mexico's largest nature reserve.  Duran's series documents this unfortunate dumping ground, but with an altered landscape.  He arranges the waste in carefully constructed designs that accentuate the color and shape of the waste objects, as well as the texture of the terrain around them.  Duran openly acknowledges the influence of work by forebears like Andy Goldsworthy and Robert Smithson, but this is very much art photography assisted by landscape art, not photography documenting landscape art.  The photographs emphasize and refine Duran's artificial landscape through aesthetic/technical choices (light, color, framing) that further remove it from the unadorned shores of polluted origin.  My one criticism (as shared by my photographer friend, Amani Willett) is that perhaps the visual/political juxtapositions would be more effectively pronounced if the photographs had some grit or the appearance of "realism".  But overall, I think "Washed Out" is an aesthetic success with a strong political subtext..

I accidentally encountered the work of Lucas Blalock after finishing a somewhat exhausting tour of the "Now Dig This!" survey at PS 1.  My friend Jared Rosenberg and I wandered around the the museum and came across what I later learned was a small group show called "New Pictures of Common Objects".  However, at the time, I just noticed a few choice photographs from Blalock that rendered everyday things strangely painterly or intentionally digital.  One in particular really stood out: a balloon that evoked a surprisingly strong feeling of loss and defeat through the slouched, rubber wrinkles of its deflation.  My initial thought was "why can't I stop looking at this balloon?".  But there was just something captivating about it, and also a bit playful. After some subsequent reading, I learned that Blalock employs "a variety of overlapping strategies that in some way alienate the 'natural' view in the hope that the viewer will, by engaging this alienation, come into more active terms with the picture."

What I'm discovering is that certain art photography operates by showing its ability to alter our experience of the familiar through explicit image manipulation that is readily apparent to the viewer.  But this manipulation does not have to necessarily dominate the experience of viewing the image.  This is a conceptual strategy that works much better for me than one in which an image is created in order to pose a theoretical question(s), and cannot be fully engaged without a conceptual framework.

evan patrick