Pictures of Images

by Jessica Santone

In Robert Chase Heishman’s _IMG series (2012), neon orange or green masking tape is used to designate the space of the image of his photographs. At first glance, the photographs look as though they have been doctored, with the trendy colored tape added as an effect. But on closer examination, it turns out that the artist has Robert Chase Heishman, _IMG #2 (2012) covered the scenes themselves with tape, which is brusquely attached to the walls and other surfaces. These starkly white architectural spaces and still life arrangements are designated as “images” by the edges of the masking tape covering and/or outlining them. If in some places the tape warps or dangles slightly, this is a necessary byproduct of creating a frame for a two-dimensional picture of three-dimensional space. These frames are rectangular, nearly matching the actual frame of the photograph, but in order to produce such outlines, the artist must string the tape around corners, along the orthogonals of the single-point perspective that defines photographic picture space, and occasionally over objects. In framing his images this way, Heishman draws attention to the flattening of space that photography accomplishes. And he points out the tension between images and pictures when we photograph (or otherwise represent) space.

How to distinguish these two terms: image and picture? Simply, an image is a visual or verbal representation of a form or idea, while a picture refers to a material object often featuring one or more representations. Image connotes imitation, copying, or likeness; picture meanwhile indicates a material surface, and typically alludes to art. So why make a series of _IMGs, as Heishman has done here? By outlining or masking the deep space out of which we capture images, the artist highlights the idea contained within the borders of the frame. But as the meandering masking tape recedes and advances in the space of the picture, it sticks closely to the frame of the printed photograph and we are faced with the photograph as surface. Another definition of image is helpful here. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, definition 3c of image states:

“A physical or digital representation of something, originally captured using a camera from visible light, and typically reproduced on paper, displayed on a screen, or stored as a computer file.”1

In this way, the problem of photography’s material presence is voided by the circumstances in which the image was produced: from visible light. This type of image might appear in any form, on paper, screen, or file; only the idea of a copied reality matters. This title refers to a generic file name in fact, perhaps the one assigned automatically by the digital camera’s software. Upon closer inspection, the masking tape in Heishman’s _IMG series shows the idea of the image at the point where it becomes a picture.

Jessica Labatte, The Alignment (2010)

Other works in the Fractal Semblance exhibit at Roots & Culture do the same: they show us pictures of depth and images of surface, taking advantage of the unique properties of photography subjected to physical manipulations in front of the lens.This is the case in Alistair Matthews’s Gretta Garbo (2012) and especially in Jessica Labatte’s The Alignment (2010). In Labatte’s work, the patient and attentive viewer will detect the process of making the abstract composition entirely from a clever arrangement of props and mirrors. I must confess that I only discovered this point of view from another visitor at the opening. Once again, the material picture shows the considerable depth of the image. So much so that this time we see what’s behind the camera. In each of these artworks, the artist presents a skilled awareness of three-dimensional spatial relationships – and subjects these intriguing tableaus to the crushing reality of taking a picture.

Notes:

1 “image, n.” OED Online. December 2012. Oxford University Press. www.oed.com.emils.lib.colum.edu/view/Entry/91618. (link requires institutional login)

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