Photography, installation art and blurring boundaries

Tyler-Los-Jones-Esker-Installation-Detail-Jan-2014 (1024x683)

Over the weekend Phillip Gefter’s article in the New York Times from two days ago, entitled The Next Big Picture; With Cameras Optional, New Directions in Photography crossed my desk. 

This served as a reminder that I had previously indicated I wanted to talk further about this ten days ago, when I stated the following:

  • I would argue that Tyler Los-Jones’ installation-based work entitled The way air hides the sky should also be considered as dealing with photography in an abstract way, even though this may not be the artist’s original intent.

For background to further discussion, I want to talk about the camera obscura.

Utilizing a naturally occurring phenomenon, the camera obscura has been around since we lived in caves and tents – although it may not have been recognized as such until sometime later, probably in the middle ages.  It is so rudimentary, it is how our eye sees objects.  Our brain automatically corrects the orientation of the image.  Pinhole photography and the camera obscura share a lot of the same principles.  I have inserted a schematic which shows the process of how it works below as it relates to drawing.  The principles are still the same.


Basically simple photography works like this:

  • A single person is standing in the sunshine on one side of the yard.
  • The photographer steps into a completely darkened room on the other side of the yard and closes the door behind him/her.
  • Between them is a wall with a small hole in it on the side facing the person standing in the sunshine.
  • After the photographer’s eyes adjust to the darkened room, the photographer notices that on the far wall across from the small hole is an image of the person standing in the sunshine.  The difference is that the person is upside down and appears to be standing on their head and can be viewed in real time.

This is the basic technology for the camera obscura – simplified greatly of course.  I have not bothered to explain how the image is captured.

One of the many advances in photography was the use of mirrors.  Now we have mirrorless cameras.  This is a relatively new innovation and young technology and is viewed as kind of a big deal.  Most likely this is where the marketplace will be going in the next couple years.  Watch for more significant advances here in the near future.  As a result, it is fair to say that the technology now is very much different and much more complex than it once was.

Having said this, any person can build their own camera and take photographs using the rudimentary camera obscura process and there are many that do.  In fact, there is a small group of dedicated photographers that do just that in the city and area and there has been for a while.  In some ways I would suggest that is a backlash against technological advances, retaining past knowledge, combined with the honesty of doing it old-school – although I am sure tat each person does it for their own personal reasons.  In fact I wrote a review published in Calgary’s FastForward last year during the Exposure Festival about two of these people that do pinhole photography – Diane Bos and Sarah Fuller.

To boil down the technology of photography even further – photography is about capturing light (and the absence thereof).

The framework for my argument

Getting back to the New York Times article.  The article is in response to a new show that will be opening later this week at the International Centre for Photography in NYC.  The ICP show talks about the important period starting in the 1970s to present day.  During this period the boundaries surrounding photography began to blur as a result of conceptualism and the inter-disciplinary nature of photography that is not uncommon now.

In the NY Times article, Phillip Gefter quotes Quentin Bajac, MoMA’s Chief Curator of Photography who talks about the identity crisis in photography at present which is a result of changing practices.  He goes on to state:

  • The shift of focus from fact to fiction, and all the gradations in between, is perhaps the largest issue in the current soul-searching underway in photography circles. Questions swirl: Can the “captured” image (taken on the street — think of the documentary work of Henri Cartier-Bresson) maintain equal footing with the “constructed” image (made in the studio or on the computer, often with ideological intention)?

There is a lot more in the article and it is well worth the read for anyone interested in photography.  I would suggest that with it being the month of photography shortly, this article should be required reading before stepping foot inside any exhibition space.  You don’t have to agree or disagree with the writer or any of those quoted – just be aware and use it as food for thought.

Back in mid-December 2013 the British newspaper The Guardian also published an article written by Stuart Jeffries, entitled The death of photography: Are camera phones destroying an artform?  This also is an interesting article, like the one above – for different reasons.  It starts off with a quote from the award winning, Mexican-born, professional photographer Antonio Olmos, who states this:

  • “It’s really weird. . . Photography has never been so popular, but it’s getting destroyed. There have never been so many photographs taken, but photography is dying.”

Now Tyler Los-Jones and his installation at the Esker

As stated above, the use of mirrors is considered to be a significant innovation in the advancement of photographic technology.  So was the use of lenses; the concave and convex forms that they took; digital image capture; and many other advances.  For our purposes however, I am most interested in the use of mirrors.

In Los-Jones’ installation mirrors are also important.  The primary image in this installation is of three pieces of what I assume to be old growth timbers, painted blue on one end.  To properly view the image, one must use the mirrors stacked against the far wall or alternatively move to a far extreme in the window and see it from the side.  The image generally faces away from the viewer and is attached to the backside of what looks like a packing crate and moving blankets.  There also are what is assumed to be a large scale photo of water and nature-based wallpaper rolled up sharing the same space.  The installation gives the impression that it is like a display window that is being set up and those putting it together have left for a short coffee break.

My point is that in this installation the mirrors are important.  It is through using these mirrors one gets a view of or glimpse of the installation.  As it is with photography, so it is with this work.  Some of this installation is photo-based.  This also ties in with the photography theme, although this is more studio-based and as Bajac states, is moving more toward fiction.

Overall this work fits within the greater context of the other three artists showing in the main space.  All are dealing with the concept of utopia – a theme that underlies all the works on display.

Now for the public service announcement:

On Saturday, February 15 between 3:00-4:00pm, Tyler Los-Jones will give an informal talk about this installation.  As indicated in the exhibition guide, “he will discuss questions he has about time, secrets, and the anxiety he feels towards the concept of Nature.”

If I am able, I would like to go.  I am previously familiar with his work, but this appears to potentially be a new direction.  I would be interested to hear what he has to say.

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