Whether straight, conceptual, or constructed, photographs create rather than capture realities. Although their fundamental relation to the world around us is an unavoidable aspect of the camera, they are hardly faithful observers. Instead, photographs stray from precise recordings, transforming their subjects through the particular vision of the maker. On view at AIPAD from April 4-7 in Elizabeth Houston Gallery’s booth 907, Nico Krijno, Daniel W. Coburn, Amy Finkelstein, and Mark Lyon share, if not a method, a way of seeing that reinvents everyday experience.
Working in nature or with its organic detritus, the artists conjure alternate perceptions of the familiar. Each takes the mundane in hand and sculpts magic from its minutiae. For Daniel W. Coburn and Mark Lyon, quotidian occurrences themselves offer sites of transformation. Coburn’s series Becoming a Specter parts the curtain of the domestic to the celestial just behind it. Staging and constructing each image with precision, the artist photographs an interiority in the external world; it is his psyche and those of his most intimate relations caught in the shadows cast by leaves, in light playing on the surface of water, or lines of seaweed drawn in the sand. There is no Photoshop propping up Coburn’s poetic tableau. He shapes the external through the mind’s eye alone.
Similarly, Lyon works at those points where human presence imprints itself upon the natural world, reshaping reality. Unlike Coburn, the relationship that draws his attention is an impersonal one. In his new series Median, Lyon plants himself in the locations that are equidistant between East and Westbound Interstates, photographing symmetrical landscapes cut through by human infrastructure. Although most of us have traveled an Interstate at some point in our lives, we have never seen it quite the way Lyon does for us. His perspective renders a wholly ordinary scene more surreal than we would have ever imagined.
Amy Finkelstein and Nico Krijno dip into nature, too, collecting organic materials and reconfiguring them into perplexing new forms. Finkelstein aims to index the complex systems ordering the world around us—a task she knows to be Sisyphean. Working with India ink on drafting film, and backlighting her compositions for the camera, Finkelstein imposes the order of grids like latticework across organic debris. Her process is entirely analog, an attempt to represent the underlying relations and organization of nature. Finkelstein brings the hand back into photographic craft, leaving traces of her labor in her images.
Krijno transforms found objects from the environs surrounding his South African studio into elaborate compositions that subvert perception. We might think we know what we see in his images, only to find that the details of a closer reading refuse to conform to our preconceptions. Krijno reworks the materiality of debris, first by hand, later by pixel, calling into question any supposed truth about a unified photographic viewpoint. Instead, his sculptural images combine multiple, overlapping perspectives, seen simultaneously. Materials that are entirely ordinary—scraps of granite or wood—become uncanny.
Photography is the only medium that works magic in this way, taking the mundane as its subject matter and transfiguring it beyond recognition. We have all seen landscapes and nature’s detritus before. But through the photographs of Coburn and Lyon, Finkelstein and Krijno, we see them anew.
– Robyn Day
Robyn Day is a Chicago-based photographer and freelance writer for Photograph. She previously wrote art criticism for WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, and Art New England. She works in external affairs at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In addition to our group exhibition: Constructed Realities, we are delighted to exhibit at AIPAD two new works from Andy Mattern’s series AVERAGE SUBJECT/MEDIUM DISTANCE. This series will be exhibited at SFMOMA in Don’t! Photography and the Art of Mistakes on view July 20 – December 1, 2019.