Subscribe to Blog via Email
By Suzanne Révy
It could be a reaction to the endless stream of digital images that pass through our screens every day, but there seems to be a trend by many photographers to embrace the archive, and breathe new life into images and materials that were long dead. In the process, artists are redefining photography by integrating and layering historical materials to embrace new narratives and possibilities. The Griffin Museum of Photography is not shy about showing the work of artists who push the definition of photography. More artists seem to be working at the intersection of painting, collage and photography to create unique objects, but some have been working on that corner for decades. Last year for example, the Griffin brought us a retrospective of Holly Robert’s humorous and poignant collages, and currently they are presenting John Reuter’s forty year exploration of materiality in photography in “Shadows and Traces: The Photography of John Reuter” curated by Barbara Hitchcock and on view in the Main Gallery through March 3rd, 2019.
Reuter is best known for being the steward of Polaroid’s 20”x24” studio, where he collaborated with photographers such as Elsa Dorfman and Chuck Close to help bring their portraits to life using this unique Polaroid material. In addition to those collaborations, Reuter has been creating personal work in the form of collages, polaroid transfers and digital infrared images, creating photographic objects of myth and fiction with a singular vision.
By stripping parts of the emulsion in Polaroid SX-70 film and replacing it with paint, charcoal or ink, Reuter has constructed unique photographic objects within the familiar square frame of a recognizable commercial product. In “Icarus Point,” for example, we see the pointing fingers of Icarus’ father, the profile of a female figure with an oddly pointed coiffeur while another windswept maiden glances over her shoulder as Icarus falls. Or in “Rendering,” the negative of a 19th or early 20th century portrait floats amid a maze of geometries. What do these juxtapositions signify? Reuter is motivated by the medium itself, writing, “…this perfect consumer photographic process generating these surrealist scenes as apparent instant moments. It fit well with my belief that photography was a mythic medium and that its verisimilitude was an illusion.”
In addition to those small gems, Reuter has used the Polacolor transfer process to integrate images of doll’s faces, kitschy or enduring paintings or cemetery monuments through a light sensitive medium that is manipulated and changed with pen and ink or brushwork. In one image from the series “Spirits of Pere LaChaise,” for example, Reuter breathes wonderful new life into a classic beauty from the iconic Paris cemetery holding a lyre through a palette of rich green and soft pinks. Or in “Detached Aura” Reuter reveals the malleable and delicate nature of the emulsion, resulting in two ghost-like faces floating over a textured red brick surface of a wall. The result is an exhibition of prints with a powerful physical presence.
From the late 80’s to the early 90’s, Reuter worked exclusively making transfers from 20”x24” polaroid negatives. These negatives are floppy and difficult to manipulate, so Reuter opted to embrace the accidents from such unwieldy material by treating the transfers more like drawing or painting. Hitchcock included a process installation so viewers can get a sense for the materials and mechanism Reuter was using. More recently, the artist has created several striking multi-panel images made from four 20”x 24” images. The diminutive kewpie faced doll from another in the series “Spirits of the Pere Lachaise Cemetery” is shown larger than life in four panels endowing it with an outsized expressive weight. Reuter’s images seem less about the objects he depicts or ideas he references than how the processes of photography, painting and collage can be employed to create whimsical allegories and fanciful fictions through the artist’s ingenuity and an abiding interest in the history of high and low art.
For more information