There Is More to it than Meets the Eye- An Artist Profile of Jessica Eaton
Green ball meets black cube sat on red floor which borders blue wall. Pink box hides in red cube concealed in black and blue shadows. Black stripes run alongside white stripes next to grey stripes. A fifty shades of blue box sits next to a whiter shade of pale cube. Jessica Eaton’s images are simply dazzling. They are magical. They are outright hypnotic. They are reminiscent of paintings by artists such as Bridget Riley, Josef Albers and Sol LeWitt. They also bring to mind Rubik’s Cubes and nested dolls. Her works are simply bursting with geometrical shapes and vibrant colours. The latter is odd, considering her statement: “Theoretically, there is no such thing as a colour photograph.”
So what are we looking at, if not a colour photograph? One thing photography has always been capable of, much more so than any other of the visual arts, is to register and show things normally invisible to the human eye. In that sense Lee Friedlander was right when he posited that photography is a generous medium. It always has been. More importantly, there is no need for digital trickery to produce these images. A profound understanding of how colour works, how light functions, and how to capture both, is all that is necessary. Combine this with an urge and willingness to experiment, and for Eaton it has led to the creation of her own body of work, especially of her seminal series Cubes for Albers and LeWitt.
A basic principle of light is that it consists of all colours of the spectrum, including ones invisible to the human eye such as infrared and ultraviolet. Once light is let through a prism, it is split up in its individual colours. Eaton is putting that principle to good use in the production of her photographs. She uses cubes painted in white, grey or black in her compositions. She then captures them with a view finder camera. By exposing a single sheet of film multiple times and by attaching different colour filters to her lens for each exposure, she creates all the colours on show in her pictures. By simply using the primary colours of red, green and blue she can mix every possible hue. And by repositioning the cubes after each exposure, she achieves the different geometrical shapes. Upon closer inspection it is clear that the images have not been achieved digitally. The brush strokes are still visible on the cubes, edges do not line up perfectly or are blurred. At the same time this makes the geometrical shapes all the more real, all the more tangible, even though they never actually existed in the constellation of shapes on show.
Theoretically, there is no such thing as a colour photograph.
Photo cameras have always served multiple purposes. They have been used as scientific instruments, as a way to document reality, and as a means to produce art. Eaton uses her camera both in an artistic and in a scientific way. She does not consider her works to be abstract photography. Instead they should be seen as satisfying results of experiments with and inside the camera. Or as she puts it herself: “It is a medium that at its historical roots is […] filled with experimentation, with asking questions of light and seeing what it will do.” Her pictures are incredibly layered as light, chance, duration, optical illusion and spatial relations are condensed into one final result.
Jessica Eaton (b. 1977, Regina, Canada) lives and works in Montreal. She studied photography at the Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver. Her images have been widely exhibited, both in solo presentations as in group exhibitions. These include Ad Infinitum at The Hospital Club/The Photographers Gallery in London (2014), Polytopes at M+B Gallery in Los Angeles (2012), Cubes for Albers and LeWitt at Higher Pictures in New York (2011), Photography is Magic! at the Daegu Photography Biennale, South Korea (2011), at Hyères 2012: International Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyères, France, and at Flash Forward 2011 Magenta Foundation, Toronto. Her works are held in the permanent collections of the UBS Art Collection, NY and Bidwell Projects, Cleveland, Ohio. Eaton has been included in PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers (2013). She has been awarded the Hyères Photography Jury Grand Prize (France, 2012). Her portfolio has been published in Foam Magazine Talent Issue nr. 28.
This artist profile was first published in Foam Magazine # 38 Under Construction: New Positions in American Photography. To purchase a copy, click here.