Emerging Photographers , Subscribe

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We have been experiencing an acceleration in the growth rate of our admiration for the New Yorker‘s embrace of its digital future. We believe this erstwhile magazine is worth a subscription. We have nothing to gain by saying so other than the theoretical possibility that more subscribers and visitors to their site makes their recent innovations and improvements more worthy of more such experimentation. Such is our social media obligation: to point out to our friends what we take note of. Earlier this month we noticed this and neglected to share, but we correct that now:

As part of our ongoing Emerging Photographers series, today we’re highlighting the work of Sara Cwynar, a Vancouver native who lives and works in Brooklyn. I have been following her work for a while, and was drawn in particular to the monochromatic “Color Studies” as well as the series “Accidental Archives”—both of which drew on a confluence of literature, kitsch, and photographic tropes, which she cites as inspirations. Most recently, Cwynar has been preparing for her solo show, opening this week, at the Cooper Cole Gallery in Toronto, where she will début a new collection of photographs called “Flat Death” (a reference to Roland Barthes). I caught up with Cwynar to find out more about the exhibition and her latest work.

You’ve described your work to me before as relating to “vernacular photography.” Does this apply to “Flat Death”?

Definitely! The process behind this work involves reprinting and scanning found images and reworking them in the studio, mixing them with new objects and materials—taking them out of the shared-image world and into a space for personal, often very obsessive intervention. Most of the reference images come from a huge personal archive I have of vernacular, pop-culture images.

I am interested in the steady stream of images that comes at us from different channels in everyday life, how these have helped to build and reinforce a shared view of the world. The pictures I have made are, in a sense, trompe-l’oeils. I am trying to foreground the experience in which the photo reveals itself to the viewer, where you unpack what the image is actually showing you. This happens with all the vernacular photos you see every day, but it happens too quickly to notice it. In this work, what might appear to be three-dimensional is flat, what might seem “beautiful” or “sophisticated” is made up of junk, and what might look old is new. The intention is to confuse the reading of the picture.

Is the history of studio photography something you consider?

Yes. I am interested in recreating certain familiar aspects of product shots and commercial still-lives. The reproduction of detail, for example, or a specific style of lighting. I take a lot of inspiration from old studio photos and how what is once fashionable or forward-looking can come to look absurd with changing styles.

Equally, I am interested in contemporary studio photography; the hyper-real, retouched images that we see everywhere. I want everything in my pictures to be intentionally unpolished, filled with mistakes, and tactile: the opposite of a clean, commercial image.

I like the idea of reinvesting the personal into a highly produced still-life image of the sort that would normally be used to sell something, and using objects that everyone has filling their junk drawers—lost or valueless objects—and presenting them as having artistic value.

Do you approach the categorization of objects in a pragmatic or theoretical sense? Or are the objects selected based purely on their aesthetic value?

Much of my work involves systems of categorization, particularly in relation to failed modernist ideas of obtaining and organizing the world, especially the idea that you could document everything through photography, which was a really prevalent idea at the medium’s beginning—that cameras would allow us to obtain the whole world in a sense, get the whole thing “objectively” on film. Organizing and manipulating my archive of saved materials in the studio is a way of controlling the world through images, organizing chaos, taking a small slice of the world and reworking it under my own terms.

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