Image rights: Alexander James / Distil Ennui Studio®
London, 'A Beautiful Announcement of Death', Pertwee Anderson & Gold Gallery, 11 May–15 June 2012.
Capturing the forgotten alchemy of a medium often considered to serve a purely documentary function. Artist Alexander James creates meticulously crafted sculptural scenes; using studio made props, breeding butterflies, growing period specific flowers, hand making the dress and 24 carat gold halo for his Ophelia in 'Witness', 2012 from 'A beautiful announcement of death'; these endeavours imbue a deep and harmonious dialogue with his chosen subject that is ultimately to be encased within a vast underwater landscape. He does this solely for one purpose, that of documenting the act on a single 8 x 10 inch analogue film plate.
Through careful manipulation of water and light and without the use of postproduction techniques, the artist has produced a new series of photographic works that weave a deviant historical thread between the mechanical reproduction of today’s image making and the meticulous realism and existential gaze of painters such as Pieter Claesz of the 16th Century Vanitas tradition of painting. With direct reference to the classical paintings ‘Ophelia’ (1851–52) by John Everett Millais and ‘La Jeune Martyre’ (1855) by Paul De La Roche, ‘A beautiful announcement of death’ takes the tragic story of Hamlet’s Ophelia as a central focus, drawing also a comparison with Alexander James’ own personal experience of a former lover’s suicide.
In James’ practice the camera, like the painter’s oils, is a tool in which to eternally preserve the bodies of the artist’s subjects: at times a collection of inanimate objects held in a purgatory state and at others the bodies of characters inscribed with historical and personal narratives, which the final image forever tells. It is both ironic and telling that water, the very element which for the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus stood as a symbol for the unstoppable mill of time, changing everything in its wake, serves precisely as the functional device through which he achieves the mesmerizing painterly effect of his photographs.
In the present body of work Alexander James is often found in direct dialogue with the painters that have inspired him as he participates in the age-old practice of contextualizing antiquities stories. In ‘A beautiful announcement of death’ photography emerges as a perplexing aporia, a kind of sorcery which successfully presences the past and yet only brings up ghosts.
His ability to weave a narrative with a single image count him as a powerful contemporary story-teller merging historical and art-historical reference seamlessly with personal history.
London, Distil Ennui Studio®
About Alexander James
British, b. 1967, London, United Kingdom, based in London, United Kingdom