Posted: 26 May 2012 | By: Joseph Brennan
In a 2008 interview with The New York Times’s Alex Williams, California College of the Arts photography professor Chris Johnson said that while “it used to be that photographs provided documentary evidence … What we’re doing [now (via photo manipulation software)] is fulfilling the wish that all of us have to make reality to our liking.”
Conversely, photo media artist Pat Brassington seems more interested in the freeing of the photographic image from constraints of the real. Accomplished as much in her command of collage and manipulation processes as her restraint in using them, often the tampering is slight, just enough to make the image strange, and in turn, allow the contradictions inherit in representation (and bound up in the illusion of ‘reality’) unravel, one unusual element at a time.
Her 2007 series Cambridge Road — shown at Queensland’s Institute of Modern Art — perhaps best illustrates this pared back approach to computer-assisted manipulation. At first glance its works seem straightforward, almost forensic. On closer look, however, nothing is certain: a flare of light or shadow suggests something else in the space, a spectre in the frame. “I don’t think freedom enters into it,” she said in response to whether ‘making pictures’ allows her freedom. “I mean ‘taking pictures’ involves the limitations of a device (camera) for instance … Being a photographer suggests working within an aesthetic derived from specific photographic qualities. I don’t see myself working to those ends.” In this sense her work is more about possibilities that exist beyond the limits of the photographic medium.
Born 1942, Pat’s enrolment in a Master of Fine Arts at the Tasmanian School of Art in the early eighties marked the beginning of her practice. Recurring motifs in her work (first appearing in her 1984 series 1 + 1 = 3) include interior and domestic spaces; carpets and wallpapers and disassembled sofas, their knotted patterns threaded through her work. Bodies (particularly feminine and adolescent) are another frequent referent, as are bodily extremities (such as in her 2004 Avid) that take centre frame enlarged in a way that makes them appear distant and alien: “Hands and feet are isolated,” she said, “and often compressed in space.” As Dr Kyla McFarlane, exhibitions curator at the Monash University Museum of Art, wrote, “Brassington’s images depict suffocating maternal realms, uncanny interiors and bodily mutations so abject that they must, we conclude, be called forth from the deep recesses of the unconscious.”
“My work could be described as organic,” Pat said concerning this ‘calling forth’ process. “I will have an agenda or thoughts in mind to begin with, of course, and proceed to make what I would call preliminary sketches or triggers. A finished work may evolve quite quickly but more often than not it’s a slow process with a lot of trial and error involved.” In creating a work, Pat will often draw on her personal archive of negatives and black and white prints, occasionally incorporating a scanned found image or reaching for the camera if she doesn’t have what she wants. Having studied printmaking along with photography as a student, her images are built in layers.
Syracuse University art history professor Mary Marien, in her book Photography: A Cultural History, argued that the idea that what is shot through a lens has to be true is a western notion, citing examples — such as in India — where photographic manipulation is not viewed as a trick, but part of the nature of the photograph. How naturally the manipulation and layering seeps into the photographic base is perhaps why some find Pat’s work confronting. Often the manipulation manifests itself as mutation, as if she’s captured some aberrant form in our own world.
Pat confirms that free play comes into it. This seems to reflect a post-structuralist sentiment, whereby in probing photography’s already precarious relationship to reality, the beings and spaces represented start to unravel themselves. This makes sense given Pat’s interest in deconstruction and my own experience of viewing her works, which point to her having an interest in exploring the spaces between binaries, such as between desire and dread. “I like your comment about your experience of my work,” she said in response to this. “I’d like to think I do. Someone once asked me ‘Are you interested in the antithesis of things that surround us?’ My answer was yes.”
Pat will next have work at the Art Gallery of South Australia for the 2012 Adelaide Biennale’s Parallel Collisions and will also be showing new work from a series titled The Pressings at Stills Gallery, Sydney, in 2012. A monograph, Pat Brassington: This is not a photograph, is available. Pat is represented in Sydney by Stills Gallery, in Melbourne by Arc One Gallery and by Bett Gallery in Hobart.
Images from top:
Pat Brassington, Trophies, 2010, pigment print, 80 x 62cm. Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery.
Pat Brassington, Bloom (from Anxious Bodies), 2003, pigment print, 78 x 59cm. Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery.
Pat Brassington, #4 (from The Pressings), 2011, pigment print, 85 x 115cm. Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery.
Pat Brassington, Font (from Heat), 2007, pigment print, 86 x 63cm. Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery.
Pat Brassington, Avid, 2004, pigment print, 72 x 47cm. Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery.
Pat Brassington, Twins (from Gentle), 2001, pigment print, 69 x 55cm. Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery.