People of the world have demonstrated, given the ubiquity of camera footage, that they are willing to put faith in captured reality. While this faith is not misplaced, the truth is that the camera in an imprecise machine. Inherently static and flat, a photograph says as much through suggestion as it does through content. As a narrator enunciates and elaborates, a camera focuses and blurs. And when pushed to its limits, a camera can be used to flat-out lie. It is in this translation between reality and the printed image that a photographer operates.
In my pieces I strive to use the camera to deceive, to push my viewer’s trust to the limit and suggest, plausibly, an implausible world. I built landscapes on a scale much too small to explore, but by documenting them, I aimed to allow the viewer access. These landscapes are admittedly fanciful, and even the figures that explore them are stand-ins, not real people. Any objective observation will reveal that I have in fact enlarged miniature worlds, but our subconscious expectation of a landscape photograph, or most any photograph, is that the image has been reduced. And so the viewer plays an integral part in the success of photography—scaling, replacing, immersing.
Photographer Thomas Demand creates life-size near-replicas of domestic and industrial scenes using mainly cardboard and paper. His work is often said to confront the artifice of photography, but what he more simply does, as I have done, is document sculpture. The sculpture is his statement, and the photography is his voice. Likewise, I’ve created specific worlds I aim to explore, and photography is the means to that end.
In my work, I struggle with not only the interplay between human behavior and the rest of the natural world, but also the way our behavior plays back upon us. The suffix “–scape,” so frequently reappropriated now, found its initial way into English vocabulary as an artistic term, more specifically describing our perception and execution of a scene than the actual scene itself. In this sense, my pieces represent my imposed perception of humanity. The materials I use, though sometimes inscrutable, are all representative of our human revision upon natural disarray.
My first piece in the series is based on a 16th century painting by Jacopo Bassano, The Garden of Eden, depicting Adam and Eve peering into the distance at a beautiful sunset. But the pieces in this show, while allegorical, are not specifically religious. I may not believe in a theological Eden, but I do believe in a theoretical one—the space beyond a chronically imperfect life. As the photograph is a twisted approximation of the source scene, so the landscape is a plastic approximation of that perfect garden. Conversely, my last piece in the series, built with molded bread, presents a landscape overrun by the natural and unrevised by the two characters walking through it. It is no garden, and thrives in a place beyond the limits of landscaping. The remaining photographs catalogue our heroes’ evolution within the world, in all its constant, churning imperfection, as they strive to return “home.”
Thus I aim to give the viewers a chance to view the Fall in a modern light, to question and wonder at human achievement. I catalogue our human instincts—produce, consume, build, destroy, expand—in a loving way. I do not believe they are inherently catastrophic, and are certainly not what determines our humanity. It is our intellect and our creativity—the same tools that allow artists to create art—that elevate us to a different plane.