Now Featuring Rebecca Najdowski
Rebecca Najdowski’s photographs exemplify the way fictions can feel realer than unvarnished experience. Inverted, tilted, chemically saturated, her images speak to the way we conceptualize the iconic deserts, spangled skies and tangled branches she photographs. Keenly aware of the way we overlay fantasy, science and myth onto our world, Rebecca reveals those diverging possibilities in a single image.
MH: Your bodies of work are broad… documentary work to abstract photograms. In particular I like the way you mix photograms into other bodies of work. Can you start off by talking about what a photogram is and how your Spectra series came about?
RN: A photogram is a photographic process, but I think it is more akin to drawing or collage. Photograms are typically made using light-sensitive photographic paper and light from an enlarger, but instead of using a negative to produce an image, objects are placed directly on the paper. Although they share the darkroom accoutrements of traditional photography, photograms differ significantly in that they are each hand-made and not infinitely reproducible, one of photography’s defining characteristics.
I utilized this process in the Spectra series by using soft “sculptures” created from various thin plastics of faces or masks as the photogram objects. I had been making color photograms for years, but felt that most often they had this graphic, illustrative quality that I wanted to move away from. Spectra became a material exploration of both the plastic creations and the resulting color photogram. The faces were roughly constructed with all sorts of thin, semi-transparent found plastics, tape, and staples that I burned, bleached, tore, and manipulated in other ways. I was working toward creating a sense of a character through the most basic reference of a face. The resulting object has a tension between evidence of the roughly fashioned faces and the lush, glossy photogram surface.
MH: On your website you talk about your relationship to uncertainty, which is usually something photographers need to avoid as far as their materials, and darkroom processes, are concerned. It seems to be a bit related to your interest in natural/unnatural colors and materials. How to you court uncertainty and what do you control?
RN: Someone, I can’t remember who, used the term “productive uncertainty” when talking about artistic processes and I always thought that it was an apt description for how I aim to work. The process of creating a photogram lends itself to this sense and I try to capitalize on it by setting out operations that produce unanticipated results, like using expired paper or outlining a method to create unusual filter combinations. Analogue color enlargers use combinations of yellow, cyan, and magenta filters to color balance a print; the strength of the filter is described as a number from 0 to say 125, I would choose important dates or completely random numbers to create various colors. This process didn’t always produce results that I was pleased with, but it’s a great way to generate material before the editing stage.
MH: A lot of your work involves layered possibilities: augmented reality, stop motion objects re-arranging themselves, an iPhone in a video that displays a slideshow of images. Can you talk about this layering and how you view the possibilities you’re bringing up?
RN: That’s something I’m still figuring out. I could address your individual examples, but I’ve not yet arrive at a “theory of layered possibilities.” That has a nice ring to it though — I might have to use that one day.
My most current work that uses layers is augmented reality. It’s where digital “objects” are geo-positioned and can be viewed through a smart phone or tablet on a special browser app. The experience is like looking through a window that allows you to see what is normally invisible. I see it as a technology that is an intercessor between the visible and invisible. It’s a very mediated phenomenological experience.
MH: How do you think about science in your work?
RN: I’m really into homespun and pseudo science. I love homemade wonderment and far-fetched ideas that hover between true and false. Without beginning to understand the complexities of quantum physics, I am inspired by the implications of the theories, and, really, just the operational scale.
What’s more evident in my work is science-fair-esque experiments. I’ve made a time-lapse of growing crystals, a sculptural infinity light box, and I’m currently working on an installation using the projected light of old, analogue overhead projectors.
MH: Can you talk about your relationship with color? I really enjoy how complex your color choices are… whether “natural,” low key colors or acid, fluorescent brights, they’re complicated and surprising.
RN: You know, I never think about it that much. I go with what feels appropriate for that particular image, object, or project. Sometimes colors are chose for contrast, others are the outcome of “productive uncertainty,” and some colors are result of inversion. I have been digitally inverting the visual properties of photographs and video, which is similar to the positive/negative relationship of the photogram process, as a conceptual operation that disrupts a visual logic.
MH: Can you talk about the natural imagery you work with? I know you’re from the western US and so in part it’s what’s around you, but I’m curious about the particular sense of wildness and desolation in some of your work.
RN: The desert is a particularly potent material for me. Part of this has to do with growing up in New Mexico, surrounded by ideas of the mythic sublime along with visceral experiences of vast nothing. In the desert there’s this dual nature; that in the nothingness there is inherent possibility. That’s what really intrigues me.
MH: In particular, how did the series of images for LPP come about?
RN: The photographs began as an off-shoot to a video I made a few years ago, from the series Black Sun. Much of it is of the desert, caves, and the night sky; some of which are inverted. These subjects and techniques have been a thread that has carried through my work.
MH: Finally, what artists are you exited about these days?
RN: Lisa Oppenheim is making really interesting work with photograms where materiality and historical re-imagining are intertwined impeccably. I just bought a book of Anne Hardy’s photographs. She constructs and photographs these amazing interiors that appear as evidence of something that could have occurred. They are ripe with possibility, yet feel sinister. For several years Joachim Koester has been a favorite of mine. I love the way he takes the occult and altered states as a material to explore the tension between the rational and irrational in a really nuanced way.