Jocelyn Lee – selections from The Appearance of Things series (2018)

For me, the most obvious way to run with this would be to contextualize this work as being in conversation with Sally Mann’s work.

“But,” you interject: “Sally Mann works exclusively in B&W.”

The word you want instead of ‘exclusively’ is ‘mostly’. There are the sumptuous cibachromes appearing in the last section of Mann’s Still Time–Lee’s semi submerged fruit and sky reflected in presumably staged settings loudly echoes Mann’s use of fabric, fruit/vegetable and plant matter in water.

It would be easy to–by extension–tie that in neatly with Mann’s foundational preoccupation with the intersections between embodiment and memory. In fairness, I do not consider that notion at all misguided; I think there’s probably some pretty illuminating stuff that could emerged from following that thread… it’s just that I’m far more interested in the way this work echoes Rimantas Dichavičius.

Actually, it more than merely echoes–it also (and I’m not sure to what degree Lee may or may not be familiar with him) is a solid critique of Dichavičius’ work as well as pretty stunning improvement upon it which in the process of renovation re-appropriates the women in nature trope from something for voyeurs vs something more bewitchingly empowering.

And some of the stuff she’s doing with color is to my eye moving from photography to painting in an equal but opposite way that Rackstraw Downes moves from painting towards photography.

Cheyenne Montgomerywater (2008)

Do you ever wonder where stock photos/images come from?

Well, if you’re on Flickr you can opt in to Getty Images and then Getty comes through and if they see something they like/think they can sell; the image is added to their databases.

Montgomery opted in and has 300+ photos listed with Getty now.

Her images might best be labeled ‘sites & sights’–as they favor day-to-day (read: banal) documentation with an emphasis on travel and family events. 

I can’t say I’m particularly taken with the rest of her work. I mean she’s clearly exercising her visual thinking muscles even when a good percentage of her strategies/choices faceplant)–although I will grudgingly credit her for avoiding the typical ‘gram flavor of the week aesthetic which tends to be endemic in work with a similar approach. She instead embraces a moodier, muddier vibe.

The above image is exceptional. The shallow focus emphasizes an Impressionist-adjacent interplay between color and texture. This is–in turn–heightened by the unresolved tension between any definite interpretation of what is depicted, i.e. is this a hug, a fight or a rescue?

It’s not unlike fred hüning‘s work, actually; yes–he’d never have zoomed in this close; but everything else is very much in keeping with his style and conceptual preoccupations. (I’d not be surprised if Montgomery is a fan of his work.)

Petter HegreAqua feat. Cleo (2015)

When it comes to Hegre and his ‘art’, I have mixed feelings.

One the one hand: no matter if it’s his artier forays (a la above) or his more pornographic stuff, he absolutely has a knack for carefully considered, subtly nuanced rendering of light–especially in terms of skintone.

The other hand? He has access to a stable of imaging gear far exceeding the inventory of most high end rental establishments. (For example: the images above were made using a PhaseOne IQ3 80MB medium format digital back–an item that likely set Hegre back $60K when he purchased it.)

I’m not going to hate on someone for having the wherewithal to invest in a camera that costs as much as a sports car. But more often than not I don’t see what that investment contributes to his work. For example: it’s not exactly ideal but there but there is more than a passing resemblance between these images of Cleo and Jock Sturges color work. (Yes, Sturges is working in 8×10 large format–thus there is again the issue of the preciousness of the equipment. Also, I think Sturges’ is probably a gold star pedophile and I think his efforts to sidestep this diminish his work. In the case of his B&W photos, they are–IMO–over-praised. However, his color work is not as easily shrugged off.)

Anyway, I was looking at the set from which I culled these images. (If you click the Aqua in the title, you can see the set 16 images of which these 4 are a part.)

Looking at all 16 images, it occurred to me that likely what bothers me about Hegre so much is his emphatic insistence that his work is art.

Now, if he means that his work exhibits technically accomplishment–that’s one thing. It’s rather another for him to hire a model, get her to disrobe and then take a bunch of pictures of her and then edit hundreds of photos down to a dozen or so of the best of the best.

Yet given the 16 images in this series, there’s not a great deal of consistency. The one vertical composition arguable has better tonality than the rest but it sticks out like a sore thumb. Also, the order in which the vertical composition is inserted actually distracts from the visual flow between images in the series. Further, the look at the camera ignore the camera on the part of the model is hell of indecisive. (Although, it occurred to me that although it is unlikely this was the intention: there is something about seeing vs not seeing that is highly erotic–i.e. when I am watching a lover body intersect with my own I may alternate between watch out bodies coming together to heighten the physicality of my arousal, however as arousal stretch ever closer to crescendo there grows a tension from which focus on visual stimulus may actually prove to be a distraction.)

It wasn’t easy to distill this series into a smaller grouping. I do think there are several of the images that could easily be dropped. There are several where the angle of her face is unflattering–but I suspect the image was kept because of the posture of her body. And I specifically dropped the one image that shows most clearly that Cleo is positioned in shallow water near a ledge where the water suddenly becomes deeper.

With this edit, it’s not so hard for me to concede that maybe Hegre isn’t as pretentious as a think of him as being. I mean if you sort of squint and take the sense of the portrait in the top left image, the sense of quiet reverie in the top right image, the sense of place in the lower left image and the sense of ethereal physicality in the lower right image–there is a fully formed and conceptually sophisticated single scene that suggests itself in the intersections between the images.

However, that I chose these images from a wider set and then ordered them in the fashion I did (which suggests something not unlike a narrative progression) is what it took for me to be able to see that.

Perhaps Hegre had something roughly analogous in mind. Or not. In all likelihood what he does requires a certain degree of open ended-ness in order to account for the various interests and appetites of the consumer. Really, I think that’s the crux of my frustration with Hegre: he could clearly produce more resonant and uncompromising work but he seems more interested in commercial viability. (Something which strikes me as a shame and a waste of talent.)

Douglas D. PrinceAdel and the Lightning from Multi-Negative Silver Prints series (1972)

I’ve featured a .gif made from Prince’s photos of Francesca Woodman in her studio on here several years ago. (At the time, I did not know that it was his work.)

The photo above is from a series produced by way of compositing multiple frames into a single, seamless print–not unlike the M.O. of Jerry Uelsmann.

However, where Uelsmann works in a vein to create an immersive sci-fi/fantasy surreal vision, Prince is much more interested in creating work that is surreal only in it’s clarity, in it’s this-could-be-something-that-happened-in-the-world-under-exactly-these-circumstances-except-those-circumstances-weren’t-ready-to-hand-so-the-liberty-was-taken-of-creating-the-envisioned-scenario-via-photomontage. (In that way, Prince is actually closer to Minkkinen than Uelsmann.)

Also, there are at least two other famous photographs that seem to refer back to Prince’s multiple negative series. The lightning in the above is more than a little reminiscent of this photo by Mark Steinmetz. Also, another of the photos in the multiple negative series seems like a harbinger for Jeff Wall‘s The Flooded Grave.

Rimantas DichavičiusUntitled from Žiedai tarp žiedų (1965-1989)

When my absence doesn’t alter your life, my presence has no meaning in it.
–Unknown

If I say of myself that it is only from my own case that I know what the word “pain” means—must I not say the same of other people too? And how can I generalize the one case so irresponsibly?
Now someone tells me that he knows what pain is only from his own case!–Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a “beetle”. No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle.—Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing.—But suppose the word “beetle” had a use in these people’s language?—If so it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a something: for the box might even be empty.—No, one can ‘divide through’ by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is.
That is to say: if we construe the grammar of the expression of sensation on the model of ‘object and designation’ the object drops out of consideration as irrelevant.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations §293

Yan BertoniEmma #3 (2017)

This is a visually arresting image–without a doubt.

Were one so inclined one might talk about color (The palette of red hair to ochre lichen to the brackish algae tinged lake) or about texture (the lack of texture in Emma’s skin and the surface of the water vs. the abundance of texture in the wooden dock).

I–for my part–can’t look at it and not compare it less than favorably with Chadwick Tyler’s effing exquisite image of Cora Keegan from back in 2014.

The fact that I prefer one to the other probably won’t surprise anyone who has been following this project for any period of time. The reason why I prefer one over the other almost certainly will: I think the above image is over-composed to the point of sterility.

What do I mean? I mean this isn’t strictly governed by the rule of thirds. I charted it for you to peep:

What is interesting is that if you zoom in a bit and ignore the water the dock conforms to the rule of thirds:

This sort of nesting of for frames within frames reminded me of the Golden Ratio. So I diddled around with that for a bit. The image in no way conforms to it but imposing the spiral in on particular way does illustration something about how the image is arranged to cause your eye to track back after it has moved all the way from left to right:

Well, I mean… that all sounds pretty sophisticated when I lay it all out there. So why do I prefer Tyler’s image?

Well, I don’t think the golden ratio overlay is a function of calculations in the making of the image. More: I think that the golden ratio is everywhere. Yes, it’s rare to find an image that conforms to it to a T but I think the rule of thirds works because it takes the ordering principles of the mean and parses them in such a way that you can achieve a similar effect without measuring with painstaking exactness. I’d wager there’s very few thoughtfully composed images that can’t be argued demonstrate some implicit reliance on the golden ratio.

What makes Tyler’s image better is that well–there’s little if anything to stop someone with a decent camera, time and a little bit of money from recreating Bertoni’s image. While I will grant that the model will be slightly older and the reflection of the sky and the weathering on the dock might have changed slightly–it’s not a question of whether or not it can be done, more a question of whether or not the person doing it has the patience to do it.

How would you even begin to go about recreating Tyler’s image. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

When I say sterile that’s partly what I mean. Bertoni’s image has been so rigorously balanced it has no life left to it and as such there’s nothing distinguishing it as singular or unique. (Also, I’ve seen other pictures from this series and the dock here is like six feet off the water–which you can’t tell given the image.

Also, what is Bertoni’s image about? A model posing for a photographer. There’s little else as far as suggestion of a narrative.

Whereas with Tyler’s image: why the hell is she smoking with her head hanging off the dock? Does she not want her face int he shot. Is her hair in the water? Is this a model posing for a photographer or is it two friends hanging out one with a camera and another just fucking around and then there just happened to be this wonderful accident of a masterpiece of a shot.