Hiding It in Plain Sight – An Artist Profile of Lucas Blalock
“Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.” – Garry Winogrand.
Lucas Blalock could probably not be further removed from Garry Winogrand in his artistic practice, but he does seem to be taking the latter’s famed maxim to the next level. Not only does Blalock want to find out what something looks like photographed, he also wants to know what it looks like once it has been Photoshopped. To achieve that he is not shy in putting everything in the digital toolkit to good use.
Initially there seems to be rhyme nor reason to Blalock’s choice of subjects. The viewer is offered pictures of tablecloths, napkins, rubber bands, cheese graters, coffee pots, sausages, car tyres, garden hoses, bean cans and red bread. But upon closer inspection it is obvious that the objects have bright colours, intriguing textures, interesting shapes, and eye-catching patterns in common. In this respect Blalock’s oeuvre is similar to that of photographers such as Marnix Goossens. But whereas the latter focuses on capturing those colours, patterns, shapes and textures in situ, Blalock works with a view finder camera in a studio to create his images. He has a penchant for finding cheap, but intriguing knick knacks to capture on film. In his own words: “[…] I do find myself interested in objects that feel wrongly situated in front of the camera.” Blalock then increases this uneasiness by his careful positioning of these objects. He also makes use of mirrors and backdrops to create simple, but highly effective optical illusions. His choice of objects and his use of visual repetition are in themselves not very subtle nods to pop art.
It may seem that subtlety is not on Blalock’s mind anyway. His aim is to frustrate the alleged immediacy and veracity of photographs. Even though tampering with pictures goes back to the start of the medium, somehow the viewer is still wired to instantaneously understand and believe what the photographic image offers up. Blalock rudely awakes the viewer by noticeably retouching the pictures. At first his attempts in using Photoshop seem clumsy. He places objects at unnatural angles, thereby flattening the image and removing the optical illusion of a three-dimensional space. He corrects colours that do not need correcting. He airbrushes names from the labels on cans of food as if to censor them, but Blalock only succeeds in drawing more attention to what the black paint strokes are supposed to hide. He uses the clone tool to get rid of blemishes, but he only manages to disturb the pattern of straight lines and turn it into a visual mess our eyes stumble over. When he occasionally captures people, he reworks their bodies until their portraits almost resemble paintings by Picasso.
His aim is to frustrate the alleged immediacy and veracity of photographs.
But the viewer is being fooled all too easily. Blalock’s digital interventions are intelligent, taking colours, patterns and composition into careful consideration. As a result his body of work ranges from looking hyper-real to hyper-false, from being straight images to being overly manipulated. His pictures are irreverent, humorous, undecipherable and brusque. The effect of looking at his photographs is jarring and alienating. Blalock wants us to be aware that sophisticated editing software is now part and parcel of the photographer’s practice. He wants us to read images on a level beyond their first impression. He wants us to understand what can normally be done invisibly to reach a particular end result, especially in commercial photography. He wants us to stop believing the visual lies so easily.
Lucas Blalock (b. 1978, Asheville, U.S.A.) works and lives between New York and Los Angeles. In 2002 he graduated from Bard College with a BA in photography and he is currently pursuing his MFA at UCLA in Los Angeles. He is an accomplished photographer and writer, and has three publications to his name: Windows, Mirrors, Tabletops (2013, Morel Books), Towards a Warm Math (2011, Hassla) and I believe you, liar (2009, iceberg, iceberg, iceberg). His photographs have been published in Foam Magazine Talent Issue nr 28. His interviews with fellow photographers have been published on Layflat, the Photography Post and the Aperture blog. His work has been presented in solo exhibitions such as Id, Ed, Ad, Od and xyz, both at Ramen Crucible in New York (2011 and 2013 respectively). It has also been part of many group shows, including New Pictures of Common Objects at MoMA PS1, New York (2012-2013); Second Nature: Abstract Photography Then and Now at DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln (2012-13); Photography Is at Higher Pictures Gallery in New York (2012); and Use Me Abuse Me at the NY Photo Festival (2010).