I have been shooting my Quiet Devotion project for over two years now, and have undergone a number of major life events that have impacted upon the evolution of the series. What began as an angry lash-out at whatever residual issues I might have had with institutinalized religion has finally resolved itself in post-narrative depiction.
The images have become reductions of stories, more like pencil sketches rather than sweeping epic dramatizations. My early illustrative images with large sets and groups of people have been replaced by simpler constructions. Like any feeling, thinking artist I am awed by late Renaissance and Baroque masters, whose paintings illustrate the greatest stories ever told, whether biblical, mythical, or ovidian. These paintings often hinge on their details, which give the key to the work. I came to love and look at them through these details, so I sought to bring that out in my own work, and my original title for the series was The Sacred and the Profane. But photographers have faired poorly when attempting to cover this narrative territory, convoluting their images with details that turn into meaningless props and pointless postures once they are no longer accomplishments of painted labor. As an artist working within the genre of staged photography it is liberating to distill a story to its core emotion captured in a simple gesture or curve of the back, illuminated through the use of chiaroscuro.
As a photographer I arrange the elements in my images rather than simply catching a certain moment, and place distinct emphasis within the overall frame. Creatively, staged photography offers both substantial narrative opportunity, but also a certain risk to clarity. It is tempting to fill an image with symbolic elements, but if the shot composition isn’t perfect then the image can slide into illustrative overload, or a simple aggregation of meaningless beauty. I found myself obsessing over details, and isolating those through a series of ever-tighter crops. However, these cropped details are lost without their context. A set of intertwined hands, a basket of fruits, or the folds in a curtain become meaningless if there is no bigger picture behind it.
I wanted both: to draw attention to certain elements of the image, and to show the context in which they occur.
Two years ago I discovered a printing process that only one fine art print shop in the world can execute – and the way to produce the images I had envisioned. I only found out about the exclusive nature of the material after I fell in love with it, but I knew this matte acrylic Diasec C-Print process was the medium I needed for the Sacred & Profane series. It is incredibly beautiful, but very difficult to use. There is a richness to the texture, but at the same time it makes the image feel removed, in some ways otherworldly. As part of the cropping process, it was my plan to use different print media, one I had used previously. I crop out certain parts of the image, and print those on a waxed paper using a Ditone archival pigment process.
Two of these images were hanging on one of my studio walls, though one of them has since been sold. Key to this series is that every piece is unique. There are no editions. When I’ve created pieces that are related to one another, the crops are different. No image will ever be used again, nor will a related image have an identical crop.
The steel frames are German precision work. We tried to weld some ourselves at the studio for the first prototypes, but were unable to get anywhere near the level of quality that I require. I use 3 millimetre rolled steel throughout the series, it represents a vestigial reminder of baroque ornate gold-leafed framing. The slightly shiny reflective areas where the oiled steel bounces light off the edges gives it a formal setting. It’s at odds with the industrial nature of the rolled oiled steel, as is the physical weight of the material in contrast to its appearance. It’s steel, but it looks fragile and elegant.
Notice the detail of the shadow reveal that is defined by the 3 millimetre steel running less than 2 millimetres away from the matte acrylic Diasec print. I ask for fully detailed CAD files for every piece before it enters physical production, so that all participants have plans to work from. Click here if you’re interested in seeing a screen shot of this particular piece.
I am grateful for German precision coupled with an appreciation for fine art. I’m glad that my team has made it possible to execute work at this level of quality. Because once we get to the internal frames, which define the crops and give the project its conceptual architecture, there is no tolerance for fault at all. The frames run nearly flush against the matte Diasec acrylic, but also encase the Ditone print on the waxed paper. The cropped component is set back a full 25 millimetres (or one inch!) from the front of the image.
In the first phase I print out the complete image using the matte acrylic Diasec, and then use a computer-driven precision saw with a diamond drill-bit to physically cut out the cropped area. During the second production phase the frames are set into place, around the outer perimeter as well as within the crops. In the final phase the waxed paper crop prints are mounted on aluminum, and then installed into the sawed-out and framed spaces.
I will write more in the coming days about the series. There is a lot that I want to explain about its evolution and my arrival at the cropping process, as well as the technical production. I am very excited about where this project has taken me, and even though it took several years, I look forward to shooting a lot more images. But obviously I’m also quite proud of where the project has gone physically and technically.
Every November the fine art world comes together to focus on photography. The loose umbrella over hundreds of different shows is the European Month of Photography, or EMOP, as no one ever really calls it. Member cities besides my hometown Berlin include Athens, Bratislava, Budapest, Ljubljana, Luxembourg and Vienna. Just in Berlin alone there are over 250 different shows being mounted over a four week period, ranging from the highly respected to the young and collegiate.
But the one city – and the one show – most of us think about during this Mois de la Photo is Paris. Because every November, the most important art fair for photography is the venerable PARIS PHOTO taking place in the magnificent Grand Palais. It is the most important photo art fair of the year. The leading galleries present their contemporary artist’s new work, classic prints in their rarest editions are on offer, and the various photo book specialists display their first editions and published eccentricities. PARIS PHOTO has become such a heavy-weight in the world of fine art photography that a number of satellite shows like Foto Fever have sprung up around it, the local galleries display their photographic artists, and the major auction houses Sotheby’s as well as Christies hold their photography auctions in Paris at the end of that week.
After showing at fairs like Milan’s MIA, and Tokyo Photo, it is my great pleasure to be represented at Paris Photo this year. It’s my first time, and I’m excited to finally show my “Sacred & Profane” series. And I’ll be honest – seeing my name on the roster of artists feels good. I’m confident in my work, so I’m looking forward to seeing it amongst photographers whom I consider role models, peers, or contemporaries. As an artist, the knighthood you seek to have bestowed on you is to be represented at Paris Photo. It means you have finally ascended to a place where your work is being seen by those who who have made photographic art a major element of their lives. Stop by Stand D11 to meet Galerie CAMERA WORK, who will be happy to tell you about my work, and that of other great photographers they represent.
The first time he calls you holy,
you laugh it back so hard your sides hurt.
The second time,
you moan gospel around his fingers
between your teeth.
He has always surprised
you into surprising yourself.
Because he’s an angel hiding his halo
behind his back and
nothing has ever felt so filthy
as plucking the wings from his shoulders—
undressing his softness
one feather at a time.
God, if you’re out there,
if you’re listening,
he fucks like a seraphim,
and there’s no part of scripture
that ever prepared you for his hands.
Hands that map a communion
in the cradle of your hips.
Hands that kiss hymns up your sides.
He confesses how long he’s looked
for a place to worship and,
you put him on his knees.
When he sinks to the floor and moans
like he can’t help himself,
you wonder if the other angels
fell so sweet.
He says his prayers between your thighs
and you dig your heels into the base of his spine
until he blushes the color of your filthy tongue.
You will ruin him and he will thank you;
he will say please.
No damnation ever looked as cozy as this,
but you fit over his hips like they
were made for you.
You fit, you fit, you fit.
On top of him, you are an ancient goddess
that only he remembers and he
offers up his skin.
And you take it.
Who knew sacrifice was so profane?
And once you’ve taught him how to hold
your throat in one hand
and your heart in the other,
you will have forgotten every other word
except his name.
Poem by Ashe Vernon, image by me. It’s a crop from an image that I’m probably not using in the Sacred & Profane series.