Cem EdisboyluFRG3519 (2015)

I’m trying to figure out how to talk to you about Edisboylou’s work.

As best I can tell the work is primarily digital monochrome. There’s no one unifying thread. Yes, there’s a consistent focus on the solitude-isolation spectrum and a fascination with an arguably too rigidly circumscribed preoccupation with femininity as form–which is, yes, you guessed it: problematic.

It’s been said that the edges of an image’s frame are like a thumbprint. In other words, through attention to what’s included vs excluded, it is possible to reliably determine authorship.

No one is every going to confuse a Richard Avedon photo with one made by Robert Frank.

Avedon and Frank aren’t really the best examples. Genre-wise Avedon was a fashion photographer/portraitist and Frank was a documentarian. (Salgado–a fellow documentarian would have been a better choice…but I digress.)

Edisboylou doesn’t combine his work to one genre. A few of his images qualify as portraits, the rest are mostly distinguished by lofty, fine art aspirations.

The thing I keep coming back to in struggling to figure out how to encapsulate his work is an analogy to alchemy.

Generally, we’ve come to think of alchemy as some bent back old nutter with a Fu Manchu beard pouring bubbling concoctions from one test tube into another and then holding them up to light streaming in through a single clerestory window into a dank, moldering basement lab.

Of course, we think that the alchemist struggling to untangle the riddle chrysopoeia is hogwash. Although alchemy as a metaphor for leading a fulfilling, creative life is entirely valid–and arguably one of the less fundamentally detrimental metaphors for leading a better life; we take transmutation of lead into gold as literal, therefore deeming it inexcusably absurd but give Xtianity (a profoundly flawed metaphor at best) and Catholicism (with its transubstantiation, bread to flesh, wind to blood–an appropriation of alchemy) a pass.

It has always fascinated me that virtually all ancient traditions have a tradition of 4 or 5 most basic elements. And there’s a surprising overlap in that they all consider fire, water, wind and earth to be. (The eastern tradition includes metal as an element.)

Interestingly, these 4 (or 5) elements prefigured the eventual discovery and implementations that eventually became The Periodic Table. (The proposed fifth element in the western tradition, aether, informed early manifestations of Newton’s thinking on gravitation.)

So while yes, water and earth both figure prominently in Edisboylu’s work, it’s really aether to which, conceptually, I keep circling back. I’m not sure I can explain to you exactly why. But I think it might have something to do with potential vs. limitation.

I’m not a mathematician–I don’t have the chops for it (although number theory intrigues me), but it strikes me that the alchemical systems tend to be open ended whereas science is focused on replicability and that which is measurable–empiricism. (I can’t help but revel a bit in the fact that Rene Descartes, essentially the father of science, retroactively applied scientific precepts to interpolate ‘truth’ as to the interpenetration of the physical by the metaphysical, the perniciously resilient mind-body problem, Cartesian dualism et al.)

Alchemy is about potential, whereas science is about limitation. Or maybe, the better way to put it would be that alchemy aspires to outward expansion whereas science seeks accuracy and precision. (And it occurs to me that I’m further complicated things by setting this notions up as a diametric opposition. I’m not sure that’s helpful. It might be better to say that one is a hammer, the other a screwdriver; each has specific uses and secondary uses, including substituting the tools for each other in the absence of the other. Am I the only one who’s used the handle of a screwdriver as a hammer and vice versa?)

Kurt Gödel‘s incompleteness theorem famously used math tor prove that a system of symbols cannot be proven as true utilizing nothing more than the symbols intrinsic to that system.

There’s a great deal that one might reverse engineer about psychology with all this mess but I’ve meandered rather off the beaten path and I’d like to get back to the image above.

Perhaps one of the reasons I struggle to talk about style using more than a few distinct handholds here and there is because style is a category and by delimiting a category into increasingly specific subcategories, one eventually ends up with a category that holds only one thing–and what use is that beyond specificity for the sake of specificity.

A good category is one that is specific enough to group things with a prevailing theme or concomitant purpose without excluding a panoply of related overlap or intersection. It’s for this reason that I think stream of consciousness is actually one of the few truly useful categories. I loathe Joyce, for example. Have mixed feelings on FaulknerThe Sound and The Fury can bite my ass but As I Lay Dying is effing brilliant. Yet I adore Virgina Woolf. (Part II of To the Lighthouse is one of the most incredible bits of writing I have ever encountered and I’m trying to convince myself to actually excavate enough time in the near future to write that essay I’ve always been meaning to write on the Influence of To the Lighthouse on Antonioni, specifically the ending of L’Eclisse and Tarkovsky’s Mirror.

To those who actually read through all this: thank you. I realize this has been inexcusable intellectual masturbation (not to mention self-indulgent af) but it seemed disingenuous to just deem it aethereal without showing my work w/r/t how I arrived at that conclusion.

Katty HooverUntitled from Lake Como series (2014)

Places that hold meanings for people result in the construction of
unique ‘memory maps,’ yet many memories manifested in the landscape
leave little, if any, physical trace. A pile of water-worn cobbles on
the riverbank to mark the time and place when you first learnt to
swim–the autumn floods that year would have removed those. The tree bark
or bus shelter where we inscribed the initials of our first love–the
tree’s new growth will have erased most traces, and bus shelters are
repainted or replaced. A first pet buried in a garden, or offerings put
into the ground to commemorate a family member’s death–most are unlikely
to survive the rigours of time. […] At Malin Head in Donegal, thousands
of beach pebbles spell people’s names, signing themselves on to the
landscape through a physical act. In many cases, the names within soon
become illegible, the pebbles displaced by the feet of subsequent
visitors, or re-used for new acts of commemoration. The ways in which
people choose to mark space and commit events to memory suggests that
similar, small-scale practices in the past may also have been transient
or overwritten, with the vast majority not visible in the archaeological
record at all.

Adrian M. Chadwick & Catriona D. Gibson, from “‘Do You Remember the First Time?’ A Place through Memory, Myth, and Place,” Memory, Myth and Long-term Landscape Inhabitation, ed. Adrian M. Chadwick & Catriona D. Gibson (Oxbow Books, 2016)



Sigurður Mar HalldórssonUntitled from Sögur/Stories series (2015)

This reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in one of the best TV shows of all time: Breaking Bad.

There’s something primal about the struggle of bone, sinew and skin trying to excavate the landscape. It’s mysterious, edgy and the amount of exertion required to make any progress is damn near monumental. (I think all of these reasons feed into the trope of characters digging their own grave under the watchful eye of a menacing captor–you really can’t approach the violence done to the earth without a mixture of literally morbid curiosity and dread.

Visually, this is a dynamic image. There’s a sense of heft and twist and flex of the physical motion conveyed in the pose. The mud streaked skin and fabric as well as the earth that has been cast aside all indicate this is only the beginning of a grueling task.

Insofar as the image is logically suggestive of a time that there was not a hole in the location, the present moment where a hole is perhaps beginning to yawn (more on that in a bit) and a point in the future when their will be a deep hole, it is flirting with narrativity. However, without an indication of the purpose for the hole, it only fits itself to the structure of narrative.

I will concede that there’s a fairly good chance this image is intended to reference an Icelandic Saga with which I am sadly unfamiliar. (The fact that it appears her shovel is currently empty and also that she is standing in the hole she is digging up to her shins in water leads me to this thought.)

However, whether or not it is supposed to refer to a widely known story, the fact that it the purpose of the hole is left so ambiguous, is actually very disappointing. I can’t really fully level the criticism I want here because I don’t know where the image was headed–although it seems very confident in itself. (Rightly so, for the most part.) Consider though how–and these are all cheesy cliche suggestions–the image would improve for the edge of a treasure chest in frame or the legs of a dead body.

In fact, as I think there’s something of an edgier tone and I get an amorphous feeling that the woman in this frame might very well have thinly veiled self-destructive motivations, a composite of her digging and then her body laying on the ground would’ve proved breathtaking in its simplicity and clarity.

Why is there so often an direct relationship between sleek, high-production value and imagistic vapidity?

I mean, this image looks stunning. The color is controlled, Albers-esque. The light is just so—morning golden hour most likely, with just enough a kiss from the flash to provide a slightly unearthly skin tone.

But what is this photo trying to convey? All there is to go on is a naked woman with her back facing the camera, her legs crossed in a very contrived pose and the washed out and muddy track on which she stands has stained the bottom of her feet—somehow impossibly also visible.

As with 90% of all instances of vertical framing, nothing is added by this decision—except to make the woman appear taller.

This does succeed but recasts the image as a fashion image that is not selling fashion; sells an aesthetic instead. I suppose that’s fine but without something behind that aesthetic, it is all rather empty.

A better way to criticize this image is to imagine it framed horizontally. (Go ahead and keep the contrived posture.) How does her position in the environment change the questions you ask of the image?

For me, with a horizontal frame the questions I ask generally becomes less about what I think of her and her situation and more wondering what she thinks about herself and her situation.