Alex Frayne | Unexpected artefacts

Posted: 03 Jan 2013  |  By: Joseph Brennan

Medieval theologian Duns Scotus believed in an essential nature of being, whereby all that exists — be it rocks or humans or even God — does so in a way that is much the same, qualified only by having finite (as with humans) or infinite (as with God) properties. This philosophy inspired poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’ concept of ‘inscape’. While what Hopkins actually meant by the term is unclear, his poetry reveals a belief in an individual essence and uniqueness to every physical thing. For Adelaide-based photographer Alex Frayne, what inscape offers is “the idea of beauty in everything just waiting to be discovered”, which has been useful in understanding the objects of his practice and how they appear in his work.

On first viewing Frayne’s photographs seem to be the ordinary made luminary, commonplace sites such as factories and public toilets that now appear alien. He responds to this using his understanding of inscape, saying that — while around thirty per cent of his stills are taken with a fully converted infrared camera — the otherworldly quality in his work has more to do with the places themselves and their potential beauty than any trickery of the device. “I don’t want to overstate the power of the technical device itself,” he said. “That is to say, the image doesn’t somehow become tarted up when the camera shutter snaps.” When challenged about this by sceptics, he says, “I exhort them to visit, say, a car park or a shopping mall or playground in the evening and just to stand there and look … and notice a few things.”

What becomes apparent to him on visiting such places after dark is what he describes as the “notion of the artefact“. “In any given location things have just happened, probably only hours earlier,” he said. “A car park has ‘witnessed’ a mother smacking a child … a homeless person with a scratchy, an entrepreneur meeting a woman for an illicit meeting. The fact that I arrive hours later means that the place I am photographing has just had a veritable tsunami of human activity in all its faults and exuberance.” And perhaps it is this human activity that becomes illuminated in unexpected ways in his photographs. Perhaps it is this that makes decrepit factories and buildings beyond their prime appear as alive and individual as the trees and bystanders who sometimes also occupy the frame.

“You have to look a lot harder for the beauty when it comes to the urban and industrial decay,” he said. “This is primarily because in classical paradigms these environments have come to represent oppression and human struggle. Perhaps I see beauty in a factory because work and endurance leaves an artefact. Perhaps I am seeking the recognition or a memory of the toil undertaken in these locations, noble, but forgotten over time.”

Many of Frayne’s photographs are taken at night. And he sees them as having a ‘connection’ to dreams; yet not necessarily a likeness, as they have been described. “I should clarify this,” he said. “When people relate their dreams, it is almost never told with reference to ‘image’ or ‘tone’ or traditional tropes of art. It is always done so with reference to narrative … it is sequential. People will say the work is ‘like a dream’ but what I mean by ‘connected to dreams’ is that dreams tend to connect in a deep and abstract way to a part of a person that has a great deal to do with two things: beauty and fear.”

As I see it, beauty in Frayne’s stills comes with their sense of the life in all things, while fear relates to the residue of a human presence erased or forgotten that he has managed somehow to capture with a camera. What this reveals is a profound understanding of the power of the form. Likely better known as a filmmaker than a photographer, Frayne explains that “where the two marry is in the emotional potency both forms can exact from humanity. Stills can be a very pure form of the portrayal of emotion, untainted by the scene that came before, or the ‘need for a happy ending’ that blights film,” he said. “Stills are very straightforward and direct.” Frayne believes this is the reason why much of postmodern photography fails. “The postmodern art photographer will deliberately deny the viewer the pleasure of straightforwardness in an effort to lecture about race, gender and class,” he said. “This artist will talk about Lynch and Gregory Crewdson and Tracey Moffatt without understanding the explicit emotional connectedness these artists all have for their material.”

Frayne was a finalist in the 2012 National Photographic Portrait Prize and is represented by Michael Ash Partners, New York City. Wakefield Press will publish a large format book of his Noir series in early 2013.

Images from top:

Alex Frayne, Jetty by Moon, 2010, giclée print, 100 x 75cm.

Alex Frayne, Dream or Nightmare, 2012, giclée print, 200 x 150cm.

Alex Frayne, Storm Boy, 2011, digital print, 40 x 80cm.

Alex Frayne, The Human Race (ii), digital print, 80 x 80cm.

Alex Frayne, Ferris Wheel, 2012, digital print, 100 x 80cm.

Alex Frayne, Room 56, 2011, giclée print, 60 x 40cm.


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Issue 38