Cubes for Albers and Lewitt interview

by Anne-Celine Jaeger

Jessica Eaton

Foam Magazine


FOAM: I read that you got hooked on photography on entering a darkroom. What was it that got you so excited about the medium?

JE: That’s true for the physical act of making photographs. The first time you see an image appear in the developing bath is magical. But conceptually my interest in photography started long before I started making images in a darkroom. The earliest philosophic notions I recall were inspired by looking at the portrait of my great aunt, who had died of bad milk aged two or three. There was a gelatine cut into an oval hanging in my grandparents’ house and I would stare at it for hours. She was my age, yet from the past, and of course dead. Years later, I read Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida and it hit me hard. When he describes the paradox of looking at the portrait of Lewis Payne and states ‘He is dead and he is going to die,’ I nauseously put the book aside for a few weeks, having already (though not so eloquently) put a lot of thought into that more than twenty years ago. I believe another great influence is my less than 20/20 vision. It is likely I first dove far into my imagination because the outside world was out of focus for years before someone realized. I was eight when I was prescribed my first corrective lenses. The most vivid memory is walking out of the optometrist’s with glasses and being floored by all the detail. I especially remember the leaves.

FOAM: How do you think your early experimentation in the dark room influenced your current work?

JE: My experience in the darkroom was invaluable and I have pushed the magic of it all into the very small darkroom I now have: the chamber inside my camera bellows. The darkroom is a really visceral way to build a deeper understanding of the medium.

FOAM: I have just seen an exhibition of Albers’ subtractive colour systems in Munich, so it was exciting to see your Cubes for Albert and LeWitt, and yet I’m not really sure what’s going on there or how you created those images.

JE: A number of my projects that seem technically complex are really the opposite. They are very simple in that they are built up of the most basic parts ofphenomena involved in making photography. Breaking down or deconstructing how certain things work and then combining them or using them in ways less common or readily packaged in the popular use of the medium, makes the results seem unfamiliar and therefore complex. The series Cubes for Albers and LeWitt explores the possibilities of manipulating time, space, perception and, in particular, the additive system of colour. The images are constructed on sheets of 4×5 film. The subject is in reality monochromatic. The photographs use a set of cubes and ground options painted white, two tones of grey, and black. Through multiple exposures the colour hues in each image have been made by exposing the film to the additive primaries of red, green and blue. The reflective value of the cubes controls the value or lightness of that hue, and the black is utilized as a type of reflective mask, holding potential on the film for other exposures. The images are completely photographic yet not visible to the naked eye. Regarding the Albers reference, one of the most important things he preached was about the value of practical experimentation. I had been working with the tri-colour process for some years and was interested in methods to have more control over its application and ways of using it to defy the idea that photography is literally bound to the visible world. In his book, The Interaction of Colour, Albers makes a statement about additive colour not being of much concern to a colourist. That it is the stuff of a physicist. For all his great work in colour theory he failed to see the experimental potential of the additive system. He saw it as bound to the physical world, rather than tactile and mutable like paint or pigment. It is a profound honour to be proving him wrong. But there are many concerns in my work that go beyond the technical aspects. Historical concerns, abstract ideas I often come to through music or my layman’s reading of theoretical physics or mathematics, things that come from living in and moving around in a body, neuroscientific inquiries regarding human vision and perception. The human vision system is really a much more complex, animated, interpreting, editing and severely biased camera. We are easily fooled and are limited perceptually to a very narrow range of physical phenomena, ruled not only by what is, but by our beliefs.

FOAM: What is photography and what are its limitations. Where do you stand on that exploration?

JE: Photography is radiation sensitive material recording information expressed by radiation. It is also a multitude of strategies for interpreting, altering and disseminating that information. I have no idea what its limitations are and I hope I never know. This should not be a problem considering that the elementary particle for electromagnetic radiation is a photon, and photons are mysterious. Apparently, if you don’t look at them, they hang out in two places at once. I am at the beginning of an exploration that I hope will never end. I was really taken with Hiroshi Sugimto’s recent series Lightning Fields, where he hits film on metal with a wand hooked up to a Van de Graaff generator. It was inspiring above all as a reminder that there is such spectacular potential in the medium.

FOAM: What do you hope to elicit in the viewer with your work?

JE: I’m not too concerned about dictating how someone else perceives my work. My job is simply to create the work. My photographs stem from my own curiosity and astonishment so if the photographs inspire questions I guess I’m doing something right.


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