Surface Tension / Reviewed by Dr. Katherine Parhar / 16.09.15
Francis Hodgson has often meditated on the surface of the photograph as a ‘slippery,’ ‘skiddy’ thing, a thing that the eye ‘bounces off’ at speed, ‘taking what quick meaning it can on its way.’ The business of getting the eye to stay awhile, to perceive deeply from the photograph, is, for Hodgson, the business of ‘mark making,’ or of using the image surface itself as a means to hold the eye between
‘seizing what will not otherwise stay [and] seeing what cannot otherwise be seen.’
A term for this that is just as apt, if less painterly than Hodgson’s, might be Surface Tension, the title for an exhibition of four contemporary artists at Glasgow’s Street Level Photoworks. Each treats the image surface as an intuitive terrain through which process both defines and reveals how the temporal and resonant qualities of photography coalesce. The results are variously intimate, tactile, and affective.
Catherine Cameron’s large tableaux are pinned to the wall, and the encounter, unmediated, highly textural, is arresting and strange. A rod of light tilts across a pitted frame. A long box is draped like an empty altar. The surface cracks and glows but there are no icons here, only reticent indexes that correlate with private and particular meaning that adheres tentatively, as the eye sees and re-sees, codes and re-codes. Our experience, in this way, is like Cameron’s own as she stages (and re-stages) then prints (and re-prints) each work over many days, until her original vision has been exposed – as she has – to new thoughts, discoveries, and new uncertainties also.
Partly printed on discontinued silver/black paper, Flux, Susanne Ramsenthaler’s series, renders the movement and physics of water visible, imaging it as a physical index, which a camera lens cannot. Darkening as the water touches it, lightening as the flash freezes it, each panel surface is a chaotic and porous rush, almost synaptic, as if alternative objects or spaces are caught splitting and cleaving within it, from it, behind it. Our physical grasp of Flux – do we see the microscopic shifts of water or the tidal? – is as uncertain, as liminal, as our conceptual exchange with Cameron’s abstractions, but the effect is similar: we ‘see’ sensations, make associations, that perhaps we could not imagine otherwise.
Indeed, a kind of synaesthesia operates across Surface Tension. Lorna Macintyre, running film through her camera two or three times, opens her images of the natural world to material and sensory combinations that are almost beyond her control. A print of oak bark washed in coffee, for instance, is a playful show of how physical stimuli might fuse, without hierarchy or logic, in individual memory, with strong, often emotive effects on how we perceive the world.
The image surface is not a discrete photographic thing in Macintyre’s work – extended into materials beyond the negative, it is sculptural, and as physical as Ramsenthaler’s photograms. Glass mounted and propped on fine rails, a display inspired by Julian Levy’s New York gallery in the 1930s, her images occupy three-dimensional space, loosely arranged, like artefacts of vital memory.
For Karen L Vaughan, whose series rest awhile includes the only colour work in Surface Tension (and the only one concerned with place), memory is also palpable and loose, but it is fluid not solid. Vaughan grew up in Arbroath, and her panoramas of Scotland’s east coast legacies lilt and shift, as an eye might, through overlapping fragments of sea and land.
It is impossible to take in one of Vaughan’s panoramas in full. The edges of each slip out of the eye’s purview, and with them, objects – boats, a pier, a lighthouse – migrate from one image to the next, like stutters on a strip of stopped film, turning the surface itself into a wholly fugitive entity.
Surface Tension gives us four distinct visions that attest to one thing: the sensory power of the photographic surface to absorb depth, to prompt us to sensory enquiry, to offer up a truth of its own materials and mechanics, to be absolutely alive.– reviewed by Dr. Katherine ParharSurface Tension continues at Street Level Photoworks until 8 November 2015
Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow, G1 5HD