The inaugural fine art photographers were eager to have their medium appreciated as art and exhibited alongside paintings. When this objective was met with resistance, a movement began to separate the commercial and artistic uses of photography with the aim of elevating the craft to an accepted art form. The photo-secessionists, as they were known, did not participate in the commercial applications of the medium, and this furthered the acceptance of photography as an art form.
Visual art now includes photography, and new technology continues to enhance the artist’s voice and our understanding of this medium. For Capture Photography Festival, Initial Gallery has invited painter Rebecca Chaperon to exhibit alongside photographer Angela Fama.
Angela Fama photographs billboards that have long since had their say and are now falling into disrepair. But these empty facades are not silent. Whereas former eras were marked by artistic or religious movements, this era was marked by products—lots of them. Manufacturers were required to think of new ways to inform potential consumers and as a result, the highway billboard was born. Super highways, high fuel prices, and competitive airlines slowly depleted their audience. Digital billboards mark the new high speed roads with twenty-four-frames-per-second efficiency. However, there is a nostalgic affection for these giants left to weather the elements alone. The classic billboards, like them or not, were simple in form and substance. The simplicity of that time decays with its messenger.
Rebecca Chaperon inserts geometric shapes in her landscapes to describe a narrative around other fading forms of communication, letter writing, and storytelling. Painting surreal representations of two different worlds that she interprets through handed-down letters and memories of stories told to her as a child, her paintings create two distinct landscapes. One is the tropical island of Mauritius and the other, its opposite, the frozen Antarctic. Although extreme opposites, both of these landscapes share the mythical quality of memory.
Chaperon describes the abstract elements of both artists’ work when she explains how the insertion of large geometric shapes into the landscape serves as an interruption that creates questions for the viewer, a mystification that causes an urge to identify. These disturbances call the viewer to participate and engage in the work by bringing their own images and ideas to answer the question. In answering these questions, personal meaning becomes invested as the individual draws on their own unique experiences.
The juxtaposition of Fama’s It’s a Sign and Chaperon’s Antarticus demonstrates the similar tone and sensibility that both mediums are able to create. The representational precision of the photograph and the abstract imagery of the painting reveal an adept use of medium by both artists to create the tone and sensibility of their message.
Even the most sublime artwork takes up a determinate attitude to empirical reality by stepping outside of the constraining spell it casts, not once and for all, but rather ever and again, concretely, unconsciously polemical toward this spell at each historical moment.
“Artworks participate in enlightenment because they do not lie: They do not feign the literalness of what speaks out of them. They are real as answers to the puzzle externally posed to them.”
—Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1970)
The intersection between photography and painting is perhaps found in the above writing by Theodor Adorno. Empirical and transcendental images confer both conscious and subconscious realities and neither image is by its nature representative of either reality. This show demonstrates this duality in visual art in both mediums.
As photo-secessionism fades into the former century, discussion about art and commerce does not end and may be more important than ever. As the interface between art and technology widens, the place of commerce will inevitably also change. Photography as the predecessor to digital and new media art will be looked upon to describe the path forward.