These photographs are addressing issues of cultural longing, the images having their origins in the natural world but removed from nature, firstly through the artifice of over-cultivation and grooming inherent in the imagery —golf courses, night-lit landscapes, gardens, artificial waterfalls, bonsai trees— and further through the media packaging of beauty as presented in magazines and theme calendars. By re-photographing these subjects from the glut of existing images in our culture, the photographs become reflective of the culture, simultaneously fulfilling a contrived yearning for beauty while denying the direct experience of it. The issue of adapting imagery from pre-existing sources is not one of appropriation or authorship but of utilizing popular imagery as metaphor for a condition of cultural desire—images of sushi as icons for the popularization of the exotic. The source images are painted over to enhance and exaggerate or repress areas, and then re-photographed through a dense screen, transforming the imagery into a “crystalline composite of color”. The familiar becomes elusive in the struggle to regain a recollected orientation to what is now generalized in a molecular surface, the screen acting as a “leveler of the language”.
Twenty years ago, I produced a photographic installation of male and female adolescent nudes printed one and one half times life-size on photo linen. The piece was sculptural, direct, and capable of eliciting equal responses of self-consciousness and physical anxiety which are also experienced by teenagers at this particular time of bodily transformation and sexual awareness. Addressing issues of privacy, my intent was to forge a compassionate and respectful bond with the viewer, diverting attention from the youthful personalities involved, toward a deeper consideration of our common physicality and transitory nature, and the loss of control we must all undergo as our bodies proceed through the stages of existence.
The later wall piece (1975-1995) is a reconfiguration of the earlier installation. I view this work as a continuation, possessing a strong historical context. The large wall piece is a computerized representation using photographs from the original piece. Facial features have been exchanged from person to person, thus producing invented identities. The faces have no authentic connection to their bodies. Gender becomes free floating and non specific. Although the nude bodies are evidence of a particular gender, they are strangely divorced from their original identities. To the degree that they are estranged from their original identities they are familial to each other. They have entered a constructed realm that ensures their privacy as adults.
Forts I: 1999-2001
The act of fort-making is an initial assertion of spatial dominance and self definition. The fort structure is a refuge charged with a psychological and visceral dimension apart from that of its occupant, an environmental narrative describing a “primary architecture”. Children make hide-outs. They make small enclosures for themselves within the larger parameters of tamed environments, securing and refining private realms. Their houses are sites of autonomy and independent exploration enacted within a protective confinement. The fort surrounds the child, sustaining but self-made. This is a place of comfort and security, but also of concealment and separation. This is where private, secret and forbidden thoughts and behaviors can be dared.
Forts II: 2001-2003
My early Fort/House work represented sites most of us created as children, a “primary architecture” asserting spatial dominance and self-definition. I continue to make fort structures, but have moved beyond their physical and sculptural presence. I’m no longer making photographs as literal records. I don’t build the forts as objects to photograph. I inhabit them. My body occupies these structures, laying on the floor looking up and through. My head gets large, my body gets lost. The photographs are evidence of this reverie.
New Screen Series
I have always thought about screens as physical objects, as apparatus that one both sees through and sees. In the late 1980s and ‘90s I shot several series through a dense black screen which revealed its subjects only through lighting. In this current body of work, I have been photographing through screens imprinted with photographic images of foliage derived from hunting paraphernalia, and from my own photographs printed on theatrical scrim. The images printed on these new screens make them potentially as visible as the black screen of my Course, Bonsai, and Garden Slices series (1987-95) were elusive, dispersing into an ominous, spectral cover upon the deceptively lush subject matter they mediated.
The sculptural forms depicted are constructed from mass-produced fabrics. These fabrics, printed with photographic images, are cut by hand into shapes that mimic and reconfigure the natural forms on their patterns. Shooting the screens via a method that both captures this information and the object behind it, I am manipulating layers of photographic imagery. The screen has its own physical presence, which sometimes makes an appearance as the folds, buckles and distortions of its pattern reflect how and where it is hung. The resulting large-format images are immersive fields that work similarly to a lens over one’s eyes, placing the viewer in an ambiguous, pseudo-natural space. Like all of my work, they use the photograph as both a device to flatten sculpture and as a plastic physical object with its own (albeit highly mediated) space. The screen is useful for this, because it generalizes and obscures while providing an index of its own depth within the field of the photograph. The resulting images are inconclusive but not abstract, highly spatial with pockets of legibility.
Since my early Tableaux and Screen works, I have used the proliferation of images at large in the world as source material. The barrage of manipulated images we are exposed to from birth affects our psyches in ways we are only liminally aware of. It is too much information all at once to be very critical. This new series opens some of these images to new possibilities for regeneration, but I also think of these works as eulogies to the natural forms for which they are surrogates. They’re not holographs or computer generated, but they’re not accurate reflections of the world either.