One of the defining characteristics of lens-based photography is that a subject or object has to exist in front of the lens; indeed, this is what attracts most photographers as well as photography viewers to the medium: a desire to capture or see the “thing-itself.”
What attracts me to the medium is that a certain quality of indirect light looks uniquely beautiful when rendered in the silver gelatin black and white process. It becomes an ambient glow that seems to emanate from within and to be part of space itself – what Paul Guinard has described as an “inner, incorporeal light which flows everywhere inexhaustibly and is the manifestation of energy, life and movement.”
One cannot, however, photograph light itself or space itself. So, for me, the defining characteristic of photography has always presented a significant problem: how to capture a quality that exists mainly in my mind’s eye? In the 1980s, when I was working with landscapes and interiors, there were many days when I didn’t take a single photograph because I had a type of image in my mind and couldn’t find it in the real world. When I did find it, the resulting photograph was not really descriptive: in the Extended Landscapes series, topographical details are extremely minimal and serve only to pull the eye back toward an endless horizon, while in the Interior Light series, the architectural elements serve merely to make the light reverberate. Intuitively, I wanted to evoke, not to describe.
Going out to take photographs proved so frustrating that in the mid-1980s I moved into the studio, where I have worked ever since, trying to create images rather than find them. My goal – implicit in the earlier landscapes and interiors – was now explicitly to create metaphors, not descriptions: in other words, to make the image less literal, not more so. This is why I have worked with backlit, translucent scrims since 1985. Taping, pinning, and otherwise manipulating the fabric enabled me to create abstract forms out of light; or, when the scrims were combined with other objects, to create a sense of tension, dynamic space, and movement, as if subject and ground were co-equals in a dialogue. Also, by placing objects (vases, bottles, and, in many series, skulls) behind the scrim, they became blurred or partly obscured, thereby rendering them increasingly abstract.
To de-literalize is simply to abstract, in its pure definition – to “pull away from.” Thus, in the Veiled Still Lifes, Full Circles and Beyond Bones series, objects are partly obscured or have an unrealistic, conté crayon-like texture. In the skull series, the skulls sometimes appear black or are veiled (Doppelganger, Spectator); or have non-matching maxillae and mandibles, making them fantastical creatures (Animus); or are reduced to nothing but eye sockets or nasal passages (Beyond Bones). The subject/object has not been negated – it is still recognizable. Yet it is not the thing-itself: it is transformed from something seen that is valued for its striking outer aspects to something seen that is valued as the expression of something unseen, but felt.
I am also interested in form that IS completely non-figurative (Whiteness, Ghost Circles, Passage). In this work my aim – and the challenge – is to create forms that feel ‘charged’ – not just physically pleasing, but evocative of something ineffable, and therefore emotionally and spiritually resonant.
In all my work, what drives the imagery is a desire to make visible a quality that is invisible—beyond the “thing-itself.” There is still a subject in front of the lens; it still matters. But, as Ad Reinhardt said, “What is not there is more important than what is there.”