Thursday, August 02, 2012
Photographer: Matthew Brandt
Posted by Harry Warwick
Dexter Lane (c) Matthew Brandt. Courtesy of M + B
Lake Union (c) Matthew Brandt. Courtesy of M + B
Stone Lagoon (c) Matthew Brandt. Courtesy of M + B
Wilma Lake (c) Matthew Brandt. Courtesy of M + B
Essential to the definition of any piece of conceptual art must be its scepticism towards contemporary aesthetic theory. It seems that all art in this category exists primarily to undermine the frameworks that critics find useful for discussing such art. It is the artist’s way of engaging with those critics. Of saying, ‘It’s probably not that simple.’
Usually, the artist is right. The effort to theorise too often demands that the theorist rely on unsafe assumptions or simplistic notions about the nature of art, and this is exactly why I find Matthew Brandt’s photographic project ‘Lakes and Reservoirs’ of particular interest. His imagination renders a serious challenge to ideas long accepted in the critical community.
Brandt has dipped each photograph in this collection in the water of the fluvial feature it depicts. The picture of Stone Lagoon, for instance, has been soaked in water from the Stone Lagoon. In a way, it’s a shame to categorise Brandt’s work as conceptual, because that seems to detract from the visual impact of these photographs, which achieve some surprising and often beautiful things with colour.
But their theoretical implications are nonetheless hard to ignore. Put one way, the photographic subject is here complicit with its objectification. Or, more precisely, the line between what is depicted and the mechanism of depiction is revealed to be fluid itself. This is a line that, with the emergence of digital photography, has become ever easier to imagine. Perhaps it remains in painting, but in photography it is based on a false distinction.
Photography is little more than a physical process in which certain chemicals react with reflected light, and the object of interest is therefore, from the moment the film is exposed, no longer absolutely outside of the camera system. Its natural imprint survives in this chemical mixture; the resultant image consists of the residue of the real thing. This is surely the message of Brandt’s work in ‘Lakes and Reservoirs’, in which the very life depicted in those photographs is responsible for its own renewal, startling and fresh, in photographic form.