No one lives his life.
Disguised since childhood,
from voices and fears and little pleasures,
we come of age ask masks.
Our true face never speaks.
Somewhere there must be storehouses
where all these lives are laid away
like suits of armor or old carriages
or clothes hanging limply on the walls.
Maybe all paths lead there,
to the repository of unlived things.
Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Book of Pilgrimage in Rilke’s Book of Hours
This thing is on wheels! A collage on wheels!!!
When we first began to discuss our project about constructed imagery, I arrived home that day to find the latest issue of Aperture magazine in my mail box and an article about Roger Ballen by Walter Guadagnini titled The Asylum. Roger Ballen is a South African artist who is best known for his cryptic images of people and inanimate objects (graffiti, animals, food scraps, etc) that seem to be haphazardly scattered about the frame. His work takes still life to a whole new, dark and intense level. I was really inspired by the way the black and white images look so easy, as if he just stumbled upon the scene, when in reality they are full of hidden meanings and references and meticulously assembled.
For Ballen photography is necessary because it embodies that suspension of time that is one of the primary characteristics of his work, and it is an inevitable key to its interpretation. But the action that precedes the shutter release, the construction of the image, is equally fundamental….
The construction of the scene is equivalent to the scene itself. Everything takes place in these images as if in a circle, without beginning and without end.
–Roger Ballen, The Asylum by Walter Guadagnini in Aperture Magazine 201, Winter 2010
While I ended up going a different route, more towards collage, for my constructed image project I really loved Ballen’s work. Check out more of his work on his website here.
Construct: to form by assembling or combining parts; build.
Most photographic images that we see on a daily basis are constructed. Rarely is a candid moment captured in a photo. From the moment a photographer is inspired to shoot an image, he or she begins to construct an image. The design of a model’s poses, the manipulation of the subject/object and its source of light, the corrections made in the editing stages – these steps are often taken during the construction of an image.
Lately, my photographic inspiration has come from the fantastic collaborative work of the Starn Twins. Doug and Mark Starn’s work is lovely, lyrical and highly constructed. Their work often incorporates each brother’s artistic skills in photography, sculpture, installation, painting and video into one piece. Some of the Starns’ photographic pieces have a very sculptural feel, like their Structure of Thought series, which is something that I am currently trying to accomplish in my own work. I am also very intrigued by the fact that much of their work is done on a very large scale (see: Attracted to Light 1, which is 120 inches x 264 inches), which helps bring to life the forms they capture.
I personally am excited about this assignment on constructed images. I’m looking forward to seeing the work that everyone produces!
You all should remember Chris Lawson’s collage work from our collage lecture a few weeks ago (Ah! That death card!) – he and a fellow Birmingham-based artist Joe DeCamillis have just compiled a selection of works from a three year collaboration that they describe as made for those “seeking the unknown & little known, the literary, the imaginative, the conjured, the light, shadow, color & grey, gray & the blue, blues & roots, leaves & trunks, old suitcases, vintage maps, Golden Age of Hollywood, spontaneous combustion of cinema into myriad URL’s spread across the worldwide web, & a 56th rebirth of poetry tucked away in songs of freak-folk songstresses from sea to shining sea…”
The things they make are wonderful – sculptural collage with southern gothic sensibilities and literary references, pop culture perversities and lovely textures. Check out all 56 pieces on their blog HERE.
Last year when Rob McDonald gave a lecture to us then-sophomores, I was smitten. I was even more intrigued by his series “Native Ground” which involved him going to the homes of notable writers from the American South. I had a similar journey to Flannery O’Connor’s residence in Milledgeville, Georgia over the summer. Since Mr. McDonald’s lecture, much of what I’ve tiptoed over in my photographic work is incorporating text, themes, symbols from books I’ve enjoyed.
In thinking about my Constructed Image assignment, I found inspiration not from any specific photographer or artist, although there are some I mentioned in my post on collage work. I’m currently making collage portraits of characters found in literature I find the most dynamic and elusive: Holden Caulfield, Jay Gatsby, Temple Drake, Winston Smith, Hazel Moats, and many more just to name a few.
What I’ve found the most interesting in reading books and stories for a few years now is how the images of the characters described in the book change as my current life disposition changes. For example, I didn’t enjoy “The Great Gatsby” the first time I read it as a junior in high school because I could not identify with any of the characters (I was more of a “Catcher in the Rye” type kid at that age—but who wasn’t?). Now slightly more mature in wisdom, I engulfed “Gatsby” over my Thanksgiving and I’m now returning to F. Scott Fitzgerald for more inspiration. With this altering of life experiences, I see the pictures of characters in books I’ve made in my head slowly change.
I think whenever anyone reads a piece of fiction, it’s only natural to associate the settings and characters with people and places familiar. I’ve developed images of these book characters over a long period of time, but then realize they’re not real and are simply products of developing plot lines, descriptions, the character’s own experiences and the symbols that entail them. While working on this assignment of collage portraits incorporated with ideas found in their books, I had a new love of the stories from which they originated. The found images from collages are, to me, reminiscent of a reader’s own attempt to piece together how they feel a character looks in the real world. It’s not merely an exercise in literary comprehension, but hopefully a study in how one’s mind produces symbols and features that mimic the author’s tone.
That being said, here are a few Signet-published drug store copies of some great pieces of literature that inspired McDonald and may manifest character appearances in the minds of the readers of these books. First however is a beautiful series of UK-edition hardbound books designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith:
Of course I’m quite partial to Wise Blood’s cover. Books are one of those things that won’t change and you can always rely on.