R. Blair Sullivan in Context: Photography Beyond Photography

By: Ash Duhrkoop

We asked R. Blair Sullivan a few questions about Lehr, his installation at the West 10th Window that uses multimedia elements, including polarizing film, to distort the viewer’s perception of objects in the vitrine-like space. We took his project as an opportunity to think about what TJ Demos calls "photography beyond photography." Read on to find out more...

Over the last several years, there has been a proliferation of post-photographic forms, including multimedia installations and digital-video hybrids. This fragmentation of the medium of photography into a hybrid condition is part of what art historian TJ Demos calls "photography beyond photography." Demos writes, "Photography's shifting makeup forbids its essential definition by any single technology and invites ongoing transformations. ...the photographic medium faces what is beyond itself—text, sculpture, video—which opens up experimental ways of perceiving..." This idea was similarly taken up in an exhibition titled "The Anxiety of Photography" at the Aspen Art Museum in 2011. We have pulled together examples of the provocative uses of photography—or, in the case of R. Blair Sullivan, photographic apparatuses—in recent art. 

It might seem like a stretch to discuss Rachel Harrison in the context of photography, but this is precisely what makes her an important reference point in a discussion of the hybrid condition of photography. Her work frequently combines photographs—taken or found—and sculptural objects, bridging the gaps between sculpture, painting, and photography. Her work above, The Game from 1998, includes two images set into the object sculpted from wood, polystyrene, and cement. Accustomed to seeing photographs hung on the wall or preserved in albums, the viewer is left to question: why this image for that form? Harrison never explains the relationship between the images and objects in her work. American Gothic (below) is from 2015, and it involves wood, a plaster bust, a camera phone, and a selfie stick.

Rachel Harrison, American Gothic, 2015

Leslie Hewitt employs photographs in a seemingly conventional manner; however, on closer inspection of the images she creates, the viewer realizes the complexity of the layered composition, which often includes objects, books, and other photographs.

Leslie Hewitt, Untitled (Magnitude), 2011

Further problematizing the relationship of image and object, Hewitt displays her photographs in shadowbox frames propped against the wall.

Leslie Hewitt, from Make It Plain, 2006

This strategy achieves two things at once. As you can see in the image above, the floor in the image becomes visually co-extensive with the floor in the gallery space, distorting the viewer's perception of where the photograph begins and ends, the space of the image and the space that you inhabit. As the image below illustrates, the other effect is to accentuate the objecthood of the framed photograph.

Leslie Hewitt, installation image

After training as a photographer, Anthony Pearson continuously sought a photographic subject that would allow him to make an image that asserted itself as a singular object. A fortuitous accident with a telephoto lens led to a series of prints that the artist refers to as "solarizations." Pearson makes gestural paintings on aluminum foil and photographs them. Afterwards, he throws the painting out and solarizes the print. This process, which involves flashing the unfixed image with light, tonally reverses the areas of light and dark.

Anthony Pearson, Untitled (solarization), 2008

His practice has evolved to include bronze sculptures and photographs in combination, allowing the relationship between image and object to remain uncertain.

Anthony Pearson, Untitled (Transmission), 2011