Oftentimes, behind in interesting image lies an equally interesting intention. That’s why, when you walk into a gallery, you’ll usually find text on the wall, or an exhibition pamphlet. What is the work trying to say?
Here are a few of my picks for works that have a beautiful execution and fascinating ideas to back them up.
Ed Burtynsky, Dryland Farming #2, Monegros County, Aragon, Spain, 2010, digital chromogenic print on Kodak Endura paper
The famous Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky takes aerial photographs of mines, farms, and other places where humans have used and transformed the land. The images are striking, but what’s even more striking is what he’s showing us – and telling us – about our impacts on the earth. At first, his photographs are beautiful; but the longer we study them, the more frightening they become.
Evann Siebens, Double Track Layer: Flood, 2015, archival inkjet print
Evann Siebens’s Flood series also discusses our impacts on the environment – though you might not see it at first. Her photographs examine musical records that were ruined when her Calgary home was flooded. Through the artist’s destroyed childhood artefacts, we are prompted to think about a changing climate where droughts, floods, and storms threaten our sense of stability.
This sense of subjectivity echoes in American photographer Todd Hido’s A Road Divided series. Actually, A Road Divided didn’t start with a concept. The artist admits he was just responding to the beauty he saw in the world. But that’s okay, too. Sometimes you have to make an image before you can figure out what exactly compelled you to make it.
Todd Hido, A Road Divided: #10275-5, C-print
In the case of Hido’s work, all the photographs are shot from the dashboard of his car. So the images aren’t conventional landscapes. They’ve become nostalgic, almost like a visualised memory. I’m sure we’ve all seen sights like these before, and Hido taps into this collective memory to create images that are emotionally poignant, but strangely vague. As I look at the works, I can’t help but wonder: “Have I been here before?”
Rather than examining the landscape from a deeply human perspective, Vancouver artist Scott Massey examines the landscape from a very technological one. Last week, we talked about how cameras allow us to see things from new perspectives, and Massey’s Spectrum Studies takes this to another level.
Scott Massey, Spectrum Study (day to night), 2013, digital maquette
Using a Hasselblad camera, Massey explores the complexity of photographic images. He strategically laser-cut his film so that different sections would be exposed at different times, enabling him to capture this striking 24-hour time-lapse image entirely in-camera – that is to say, without manipulating the image afterward. Other works in the Spectrum Studies experiment with greyscale, the visible spectrum, and infrared and ultraviolet light.
Powerful images can speak for themselves, of course. But it never hurts to articulate your ideas with an artist statement. In contemporary art, the concept is no less important than the technique or composition.
Now, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, estblished artists will just unveil “new work”, and leave it up to their audience and critics to read into it. Other times, the artist statement is all jargon and gobbledygook – using a bunch of vague terms and trendy buzzwords to cover up the fact that the artist doesn’t really have a point.
Don’t be one of these artists. Be clear, specific, and honest. Tell us why you wanted to make this work; why you thought it was important. Use your own voice – not some made-up one that you think the “art world” wants to hear.