A Shifting Sense of Things / Reviewed by Anna McNay / 01.03.13
Darren Harvey-Regan is not your run of the mill photographer. He doesn’t just point his lens, click, and produce two-dimensional representational images. Instead, he is interested in the nature of the photographic and its relationship to the material world; the physicality of a photograph as an object that bears a representational image but is simultaneously a thing in itself. ‘Whereas a painting can come purely from an idea in someone’s head,’ he explains, ‘photography is necessarily tied to the world. A photograph always comes from something that exists, and is therefore part of a reciprocal relation.’
For his current exhibition at Sumarria Lunn, Harvey-Regan has extended these ideas and incorporated his interest in language and the Saussurean concepts of signifier and signified, whereby the photographic image functions as the former, and its object of representation or reference as the latter. The process of making a photograph, therefore, is, in essence, a process of translation (from one medium to another) or quotation.
This view is clearly expounded in the three-part work Quotations in Kind (2013), where an illustration of stacked bricks in a children’s book is displayed alongside a ‘translation’ of this illustration into a concrete cast of the pictured stack, and a C-type print of another set of bricks stacked identically. The question in the book, ‘How many bricks?’, might be applied to each object – the illustration, the cast, and the photograph – but, as Harvey-Regan points out, the literal answer in each case is ‘none,’ since each object is but a representation, comprising no actual bricks itself.
Beauties of The Common Tool, Rephrased (2013) similarly plays on this concept of translation and representation, but goes one step further, managing to reverse the usual direction of the photographic process. Appropriating the images of tools from Walker Evans’ 1955 commission for Fortune magazine, Harvey-Regan montaged these together, before recreating these hybridised objects in reality, by buying, deconstructing, and reconstructing actual tools. The final stage of his process was then to photograph these resulting objects. Whereas photography typically consists of making an image of a pre-existing object in the world, therefore, Harvey-Regan has inverted this by beginning with an image, then creating the object, before re-photographing it to complete his peculiar and unique trajectory.
In the two-part Phrasings (2013), the object itself also becomes part of the work. After years of carelessly moving a lump of rock around his studio, not quite sure what to do with it, Harvey-Regan finally decided to make it part of a work, mounting it on the wall, and displaying it (Fragment (a phrase)) in juxtaposition with a photograph of it on another wall (Phrase (a fragment)). Curiously, having mistreated the rock for years, as soon as he knew it was to be part of a work, Harvey-Regan endowed it with new value, revering it, and even retouching it by brushing over parts that had got ink marks on them! This is somewhat ironic for a photographer who prefers to use analogue to digital, admitting: ‘I don’t want the ability to retouch something to infinity because I don’t trust myself to know when to stop!’
For Harvey-Regan, photography is not about creating an image. Nor is it merely about creating an object, or an objet d’art. It is about engendering a dialogue between the reciprocal elements in the representational relationship: the object itself, and any further objects which result from a translation, quotation, or recreation.
Sumarria Lunn Gallery, 36 South Molton Lane, London W1K 5AB