Movement, Light, and Chance

Diana Duncan Holmes presents a body of photo-based work in her solo exhibition Movement, Chance, Light at the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery opening on December 17 and continuing through February 27th, 2011. Holmes’ work falls squarely within the contemporary mode of art-making in which traditional media are used in innovative ways. In this case, digital photographic methods are employed to create a series of carefully formed two dimensional works which bear little resemblance to photographic pictures in which a subject is described in a specific way through the mechanical transformations inherent to the camera.

Holmes departs from traditional photographic practices throughout her process of making and presenting this body of work. Her highly stylized use of the camera, digital postproduction tools, printing processes and unique forms of presentation all vary from traditional fine art photography in which the world is reduced into precious two dimensional objects framed and hung on the gallery wall.

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The “images” here were created by shooting with the camera in close proximity to a number of simple surfaces and objects including arranged journal pages, a rusty piece of metal, horsehair and corrugated boxes among others. These subjects lose all traces of identity by the time Holmes pushes their form into abstract shapes and colors through a series of digital postproduction experiments. The artist uses digital imaging software to reduce the traditional photographic qualities of her images . . . detail, selective focus and careful tonal rendering . . . into two dimensional works which could just as easily be watercolors or charcoal drawings as photographs. Photographic postproduction methods which are usually considered to produce unwanted results such as the loss of detail and tonal separation in highlights and shadows are used here as an artistic tool to produce series of highly suggestive works which dwell more on the universal than the specific, on ideas formed outside of any reference to representation of the real world.

About half of the works presented in the show are printed, mounted and hung as series of multiple panels and the remainder are works composed of a single mounted or framed image. Of the works presented in multiple sections, abstract #3 (journal pages) is the largest, consisting of 12 individual panels hung in a grid which itself measures 60 by 120 inches. This work is typical of the other series of multiple panels in the show in its abstract rendering of a simple object, in this case, a side view of pages from a journal which has been slightly opened to create a rhythmic arrangement of white lines and dark empty spaces between them. Any trace of a journal itself, the binding, writing, page color or texture and any physical setting for the object have been completely omitted. Without the descriptive information contained within the title of the work, there would be no means to identify the object in front of Holmes’ camera. This work makes inventive use of the slim partitions between each individual panel in the grid, incorporating the standard white gallery walls as a subtle grid of rigorous vertical and horizontal white lines which beautifully offset the repeating diagonals formed by the arranged journal pages. This combination results in a unique and successful synergy between art object and gallery. Other similar works in the show including abstract #30 (bamboo), abstract #20 (rust), abstract #1 (corrugation) and abstract #7 (horsehair) repeat many of the successful elements of abstract #3 (journal pages) in a more scaled down version and with slightly less success in using the gallery space itself in a meaningful way.

Blowouts, another series of works in the show presented as individual framed images makes similar use of the reductionist postproduction techniques used by Holmes in the abstracts series but fulfills more of the expectation of an identifiable subject given the knowledge that these works were made, or at least begun, with a camera. These 31 by 21 inch prints contain forms which resemble dried flowers, ropes or plumes of smoke lit against dark empty spaces. Most elements of surface texture or tonal variation, however, have been removed, denying a sense of scale or spatial depth usually associated with an object captured by a camera.

A few of the works in the show push the departures from traditional photographic media described above a step further by combining digital photographic prints with a variety of other materials. The most successful of these is Terra Incognita, a series of nine ceramic tiles which have been glazed with reproductions of close up photographs of an oxidized copper surface. On their own, these tiles appear to be hand painted variations on psychedelic imagery. With the descriptive information provided alongside the work, however, the images embody the concept of a physical object described and transformed by the usual mechanical devices associated with photography: camera, computer and printer. The resulting “photographs” have an enhanced saturation and luminance resulting from the high gloss ceramic glaze utilized by Holmes to finish these objects.

These experiments in reducing and eliminating the hallmarks of photographic description carried out by Holmes take photography into the larger realm of “contemporary artistic practice” in which all materials, techniques and subjects become fair game for any purpose devised by the artist. In this case Holmes uses photography as a starting point to explore basic formal themes explored by minimalist geometric and color field artists such as Mark Rothko and Ken Noland. Photography aside, Holmes presents us with familiar themes associated with the play of form on two dimensional surface: order, chaos, repetition, completion, interruption. Considering the artists’ use of digital imaging process in this work, Holmes demonstrates that a basic set of digital imaging tools can describe the spiritual and emotional world, ground not often associated with the tools of digital photography, with as much acuity as they can describe the visible world.

– David Rosenthal

Movement, Chance, Light: Abstract Photographs by Diana Duncan Holmes at the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery, Aronoff Center for the Arts, (On the corner of 7th and Walnut Steet), 650 Walnut Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202-2517. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Sunday: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. Through February 27, 2011.


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