Now Featuring Jason Gowans
Jason Gowans understands photography, and he understands what we, as viewers, look for in photographs; how we search for context, intent, veracity. Using the physical processes of photography, he offers us something we weren’t expecting: an expansive landscape inside a strange wooden armature, a white void that casts an inexplicable shadow. The compositions appeal formally, but jar us narratively; not telling us the story we expected to be told.
To view the collection of photographs for LPP, go here.
MH: How do you build your photographs? Your recent series, Five Landscape Modes, collides two very distinct perceptual experiences — the gritty, close detail of wood and the distinct, sort of sublime view of a landscape.
JG: I build a lot of strange wooden structures that have no utilitarian purpose. This is a good starting point for me, simply because as a carpenter I’m pretty bad. Photography is a medium where everything can be controlled; especially in the age of digital, everything is predetermined by the technology that we’re given. I know how to make a photograph but I don’t know how to build props. It’s a bit of a strategy.
I create these structures with wood, photo paper, paint, and it’s all relatively simple. Things get more complex as I begin to photograph them over and over with a 4×5 camera. The amount of film I process and scan is pretty high. Images are layered and photographed from multiple angles. Often I make digital edits but they are left in the open. I see it as a very significant part of the image making process.
MH: Can you talk about the cleanness and blankness of your series for LPP? I am enjoying the simple illusion of a white shape, a white hole even, is somehow casting a shadow and at the same time falling away, and the idea that you’ve photographed something “impossible.” And can you talk about your title, A Law That Is Implied Without Being Said?
JG: When I was creating Dumb as a Painter with Antoni Wojtyra we were talking a lot about “penumbra.” The penumbra is the outermost portion of a shadow and the space between light and dark. The word, however, takes on another meaning in legalese. A penumbra is a law that is implied without being explicit. It presents itself as black and white, but is in fact is open to interpretation. The penumbra is the space where an argument is made.
The impossibility that you mention is contradictory to the authenticity of the analog process. The images were made in the darkroom from 4×5 negatives and contacted printed on paper. For traditionalists, a contact print is the purest form of black and white printing. Despite the associations with analog tradition, when the images are multilayered the process comes into question pretty quickly.
MH: You’re a city dweller, living in Vancouver, and I am too, in San Francisco. Both cities are perched on the edge of magnificent landscapes. I’m curious, because I think about this too, what your relationship, as a person and as an artist, is to landscape as an experience and, from a city dweller’s perspective, to landscape as an idea. It looks like a question you have mulled in your work.
JG: Yes, I’ve lived in both cities and they’re both similar in this regard. I think what is unique to Vancouver is that you get pretty isolated pretty fast as soon as you leave the city. It’s a metropolis on the verge of an enormous expanse. It’s pretty easy to see how Vancouverites have created maps of aesthetic experience, places to go to experience a vista but never far enough to be away from safety’s reach.
Landscape and the camera seem to be fundamentally at odds with one another. Hoards of tourists with digital SLRs march out into the wilderness to experience nature, only to come back with images that are decidedly lackluster. Kant noted that the Sublime is without borders, and is found in the formless object. In other words, the Sublime cannot be contained within a picture frame. This idea is not exclusive to photography but it does seem to be the perfect illustration for the problem of capturing landscape. Photography (and painting) tries to come up with solutions to this problem by thinking of ways to immerse people in the image. The stereograph was one of these solutions. It was thought that the stereographic image was going to eliminate the need for tourist travel. If we could trick our eyes optically, we could have the same aesthetic experience at home as we did on the mountainside. I guess the iPhone’s panoramic feature is another solution
MH: I am glad you brought up Kant, because your work does hint at ways we try to capture the sublime; Kant’s Sublime is by definition more expansive and porous than human representation, or consciousness, can ever apprehend. That failed struggle to take it all in is, in fact, what indicates a Kantian moment of the Sublime. So the sublime can’t be contained in a picture frame and it can’t even be contained in a human mind; it overwhelms it. Do you think you’re exploring instances of this perceptual overload in your work, in the camera itself, pushing your photographic process to stretch how much a camera can see for us?
JG: The aesthetic experience was still linked with concepts of god, mortality, etc. The overwhelming terror and awe of the sublime was linked with the overwhelming terror and awe of a creator and beyond the comprehension of the human mind.
A perceptual overload is not something I’ve spent time exploring. I am interested in creating a disorienting sense of space. However, my intent is always to talk about the construction of photography. I want people to be unsure of what they are looking at.
MH: Although your landscape work folds in a feeling of photography as experience, i.e. “seeing what the photographer saw,” within the larger body of your work it become clear that you’re interested in photography as a language, as a form of communication with its own culture and idioms. How much do you shoot images yourself and how much to you quote images you’ve found? I am thinking of your series Google Image Search ‘May 1968 France,’ which isolates figures and groups from their settings, making them timeless, even as you point back to specificity with your title.
JG: Photographs inherently have referents and a sense of language becomes really clear. What’s interesting is the expectation we place on the photograph to communicate and understand what we’re looking at. When you understand how a photograph communicates, then there is a space to twist the language so you can experience the image in a new way. The landscape work definitely falls in line with this. It was not about seeing what the photographer saw but rather isolating the language of landscape through photography. To talk about the language of landscape I found it helpful to remove my subjects from any sense of time and place.
I’m always curious what images are communicating. I think we’re in an exciting time in photography. The number of images being produced and the ease of digital editing has taken some authority away from the photographic image. However, in place of this has come an enormous network of images that we’re connected with daily. This is way I often use found imagery in my practice. I think it’s important to put it on the same level as the photographs I’ve taken. It’s not about the individual images but rather a network of images.
JG: The gallery plays an enormous influence on my work. We produce a good portion of the work at Gallery 295 because it’s connected to a photo lab. I had the pleasure of working with some amazing artists such as Laurie Kang, Cedric Bomford, Raymond Boisjoly, Scott Massey, Felicia E. Gail, and Dan Siney. I’m gushing but it’s really been an inspiration having lengthy conversations with these artists and getting insight into how they produce work.
The Everything Company is very much a part of my practice. It’s like 50/50. It’s an outlet for collaborative work. Currently our members include myself, Michael Love and Simon M. Benedict. The work is different and much more socially based. We worked on a project last year where we distilled whiskey, gin, absinthe and held free speakeasies in Vancouver locations with specific historical interest. More recently we did a project with Toronto’s Nuit Blanche where we built a large, bicycle-powered salmon smoker. Visitors were invited to cycle through the evening to electrically generate smoke for fish that was served to participants. There is also a very strong component to TEC that is photographic (being that we’re all photographers). TEC still serves as an outlet for ideas that are very similar to my solo practice. Recently, we mounted the Three Wrongs Don’t Make a Right at Access Gallery in Vancouver. A lot of my interest in landscape, apparatus, and picture making was funneled into that show.
Little Paper Planes is pleased to introduce our February 2014 artist, Jason Gowans, and to offer five exclusive photographs.
A Law That Is Implied Without Being Said
7 3/4” x 8 3/4 “
Silver Gelatin Prints.
Edition of 12 each
A separate certificate comes with each one, all signed, numbered and dated.
These photographs were made in the darkroom from 4×5 negatives and contact printed on paper.They are evidence and witness to a process of photography that is as old as the medium itself. For traditionalists, a contact print is the purest form of black and white printing. Despite the associations with analog tradition, the images are multilayered and the authenticity of the photograph is immediately called into question.