49 DIGITAL FILES ON THE THEME OF SUBURBAN LOCALITY
I’ve borrowed the web developer’s term ‘placeholders’ to cover a range of objects in suburban landscapes. The objects are temporary or mobile features to the identity of a place, things that are accepted, up to a point, but not quite part of a place. As pictures, I thought of them as somewhere between large-scale still lives and small-scale landscapes. They are not recognised as a genre, probably by definition, and this presented a challenge to my approach. This is a rare foray where I relied entirely upon my own photography, following TRAPPINGS and GARDEN PATH. But where gardens provided a robust iconography to steer by, my photographs for PLACEHOLDERS looked nondescript or trivial in themselves. They did not especially document a ‘placeholder’ theme. It was only as I pondered digital editing that I began to see how this banality might work to my advantage.
In order to bring out the ‘placeholder’ aspect, I would need to resort to additional, non-documentary measures. In effect, this returned the theme to the underlying issue of realism and irrealism, on starker terms than previous work. For PLACEHOLDERS, I maintained standard perspective to picture plane, but not always proportional to objects and allowed options to colour, tone, focus or resolution, together with the presence or absence of text. All were exploited to their fullest or most conspicuous. Many of these qualities are standard in commercial illustration of course, but here are applied to something not quite a commercial subject. The hope was that these various levels of pictorial hyperbole functioned in just the way that ‘placeholder’ objects augment a place. There can be no strict definition of place without its provisional, transient elements, anymore than photographic realism exists without lens and printing options. The series thus reaffirms fundamental constructional tenets.
More notes at the bottom of the page.
Whether the digital amendments actually alert us to degrees of place is moot of course. Undeniably, they point to other meanings for ostensible subjects, particularly in the use of text. Works function in some cases as obscure, whimsical allegories, while in others the removal of all signage, including car number-plates and even brand badges, give places greater anonymity, urge a generic reading to suburban public spaces. Place is certainly foregrounded by such steps, and suburbs themselves become as much placeholders for a broader culture as places with secure identities. In this, the initial non-descript quality to photographs achieves unexpected resonance.
In hindsight, I see the series staking out peripheral territory to my project, much like FIFTY FICTIVE RECORD COVERS. But where the record covers remained a fairly playful exercise in text and abstraction, PLACEHOLDERS draws on a more central strand, but constrains it to stricter photographic practice. There is little scope or need to extend these to paintings. I am aware, as well, of artists such as Thomas Ruff, Andreas Gursky and Jeff Wall that have a much larger stake in this territory, with its seamless or invisible editing, which I happily sully with more graphic modes. Also, working within these confines proved extremely demanding and while I learned new levels of precision and intricacy in Photoshop, I do not anticipate pursuing this direction. It is enough to have visited it.
Finally, if the preceding series found me a little complacent about my approach, the exercise of working through something more rigorous has remedied that. I will not complain again if the going gets too easy.