Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Heterogeneity, 2011

The last of several photographs made at the Huntington Desert Garden in San Marino, California, from autumn 2010 through spring 2011.  Big; approx. 20" x 24".

My cactus photographs -- variously shot in Arizona; Nevada; California and Florida -- are abstract compositions made with real things.  But the cactus pictures shot at the Huntington specifically refer to Scott McFarland's Empire (2006), a series of digital collages that radically recompose the space of the Desert Garden to striking effect, collapsing temporal and physical distance within the space of unique, ostensibly "seamless" images.

For reasons I don't yet fully understand, my practice oscillates between what I'll call "autonomous" pictures (like San Marino Magnolia, immediately below) and "performed" or "mimetic" photographs like A Heterogeneity or Blind, pictures made in or around the locations where artworks that are particularly important to me were also made.  

By and large, people, even those close to me, don't get the "performed" pictures; they're either regarded as vaguely creepy-tourist or parodic, though I intend them as neither.

A lightly edited representative exchange with my photographer friend Jamie Tolagson

JT: I'm confused on how you relate this kind of direct referencing to your conception of your personal practice though. I don't mean this as an insult, I mean I really am not sure what you are aiming for with that side of your work, beyond a kind of study, or research into ways of picture making that appeal to you. Is it that straightforward? I'm just curious if maybe there is something more that I'm missing out on. A reason that you are not just exploring the kinds of pictures McFarland makes, but shooting in the actual places they were made.

CJB: One of the best parts of being able to visit the locations where photos I admire were made is being able to figure out what choices were made to make those pictures: what was excluded; what was retained; what was emphasized, etc.  Example: the kids' tire fort in War Game comes from the recycling bin out back of the tire shop across the alley from the vacant lot depicted in the photograph.  A picture is a stopped moment but site research suggests, or implies, a before or after to that moment that helps explicate, or extend it.  I like that the Metropolitans can be panned in every direction, zoomed in, out, etc. so that one can see the choices I made, for better or worse.  The pictures' context is immediately available to viewers.

I think a lot of my own nature involves consciously applying the decision-making processes of people I admire (Buffett; Wall; Judd; McFarland; lots of others) to situations in my own life.  It's a little weird, but it helped me start the [bookstore], start writing art criticism, open a gallery, start making pictures, etc.  I think that, at least on a subconscious level, I'm trying to "perform" the photographic decision-making of JW, SMcF, etc. as I understand it, much as Evans "performed" photojournalism or Ruscha "performed" photo-amateurism.  I don't think this makes the pictures made this way better or more aesthetically successful than those made by more conventional means, but it's faithful to my own nature.  Maybe in time the process will lead somewhere that I never could have anticipated at the outset.  It does seem to routinely confuse and upset people, though, which might be reason enough to keep on with it.  As always, Elaine Sturtevant's example is important, and comforting; though I haven't written about her work at length, she's probably as important to my thinking about art these days as Wall or Judd.

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