NYCAMS – Bethel University

The artists who champion the artifice of photography tend to blend the real with the surreal in their images, and due to the nature of photography, they force the viewer to question what is real and what is not. The camera captures light much like the eye sees it, supposedly creating a real image of life; but with digital manipulation and staged scenes, the reality of photography—or the viewers’ assumptions about the reality of photography—can easily be manipulated. This series of photographs mimics some of the popular tableaus and interiors of contemporary photographers, recreating the scenes on a much smaller scale—between 1/50 and 1/75 of life size, meaning each scene is no more than a few inches wide. This amplifies questions of their reality by further removing the scenes from daily life and eliminating the identity or physiognomy of any figure in the image.
Furthermore, some of the models mimic photos of art, essentially becoming art about art. When Richard Prince photographed cigarette ads featuring cowboys and various scenes from the American West, he challenged the notion of what constitutes consideration as art and what is merely a copyright violation. According to U.S. Copyright law, a person may use another’s creation (i.e. photograph) without permission if he or she transforms it in some meaningful way. So when Prince got away with copying advertisements, he opened the door for Thomas Struth to photograph people viewing art in museum, and allowed Andreas Gursky to photograph a Van Gogh painting and sell it as his own work. By copying Struth’s museum photo and Gursky’s photo of a Van Gogh painting, I am joining the conversation. My photos force the viewer to question whether I am just copying Crewdson, Gursky, and Struth, or if I am genuinely creating my own art. These photos also attempt to build layers upon layers of ideas—not only am I creating images strikingly similar to the Gursky and Struth photos, but I am also utilizing my own printouts of important 20th century paintings. These are complex images that reference multiple artists while engage not only the viewer but also both modern and contemporary art history.
A second series of photographs are portraits of the same miniature figurines used in the models of the first series. The models are set up in various scenes: in streets or parks, against walls or in front of a seamless backdrops reminiscent of the photographer’s studio—but they all take up only a fraction of my desktop. In the vein of August Sander, I am attempting to photograph the wide array of figures available in hobby shops (primarily for model train constructions). I am attempting to capture the range of personalities found on these one-inch figures. These prints allude to a rich history of photographic portraiture from the archaic images of Sander, through the color prints of Joel Sternfeld. Although these photographers are able to create a compelling image of another human being, they are really only revealing a glimpse of who that person is—they become a static image rendering the subject as plastic and archetypal creations of the artist. My photos are literally plastic and archetypal; they are expressionless and void of the ‘reality’ we find more often in photography than in any other form of art.
Both series diminish the scale of a typical photograph. The originals were crafted on grand scales with great ambitions and, in Crewdson’s case, monstrous budgets. This diminished quality questions the necessity of extravagance and manipulation, it challenges originality, it questions what qualifies as art, and it strips down tableaus and portraits to the bare essentials, deemphasizing the unimportant details and emphasizing the subject all while asking: is the photograph any less true if the fabrications are revealed and the scale is decimated?