From the Prosaic to the Profound

From the Prosaic to the Profound

curated by Walker Downey

Perhaps one of the greatest virtues of photography is its potential for the construction of new perspectives – literal and figurative – by which the mundane, commonplace elements that fill our objective reality are newly illuminated.

Invested with novelty, intrigue, and “magic”, they can be recast in new roles or positions which allow formerly absent or dormant qualities to be thrust to the fore. Juan Manuel Fernandez’ Housing,Rebecca Horne’s Dancing Handkerchief, and Charles Shotwell’s Mr. and Mrs., while each rooted in different conceptual enterprises, share both an aesthetic inclination towards distinctly deadpan staging and a carefully-orchestrated transformation – aided by minimal trickery or manipulation – of the banal into the preternatural, the prosaic into the profound. Only by the deft hands and keen eyes of those capturing them do the focuses of these works – an unassuming suburban home (Fernandez), a page plucked from a fashion magazine (Shotwell), and a single sheer handkerchief – transcend their respective realities and achieve new contexts thus inviting repeated double-takes.

In Juan Manuel Fernandez’s (Highwood, IL) disquieting image Housing, from his series, Façade, the artist succeeds in wringing the uncanny from an ostensibly “normal” specimen of suburban America housing, dressed in unassuming yellow and replete with all the trappings typical of such a development: a patch of looming trees, electric white trim, and a neatly-tailored lawn. Yet, it is upon one’s second and perhaps even third glance, that the quotidian veneer begins to fracture. Using little more than clever angling and selective focus, Fernandez has shorn nearly all worldly reference points and all identifying marks from the structure. Lacking any visible indicators of human life—furnishing, ornament, wear—even its very entrance — the home echoes with an utterly alien emptiness.

Filled with a spirit markedly more playful than that which haunts Fernandez’s photograph, Rebecca Horne’s (San Francisco, CA) Dancing Handkerchief (from the series, The Corner of Your Eye) suffuses a common domestic object with both whimsy and waking life, deftly and subtly animating it in such a way as to effect a sense of oneiric fantasticality. While the grace and matter-of-factness of Horne’s subtle scene lends a fleeting plausibility, the fiction of the image soon collapses, much in the way a dream does when its seams begin to show.

The more overtly intricate Mr. and Mrs. (from the series, Fragments) finds Charles Shotwell (Chicago, IL) eschewing mere transformation for playful and striking subversion. By foregrounding and peeling back the simulacrum of the photographed image, Shotwell de-contextualizes and distorts the magazine clipping before quite literally planting it beneath the spotlight. Behind Shotwell’s lens, a page of glossy fashion that would otherwise command no more than a passing glance is rendered anew, the seduction of its pictured model and thus its artifice, cunningly short-circuited.

While opting for subdued, understated palettes and setting their sights on subjects typically consigned to the periphery of our awareness, the three artists gathered here have produced works that continually ensnares the gaze and bids us to re-calibrate our day-to-day perception. It is in this appeal to the magic and mystery lurking beneath the mundane that the brilliance of their craft lies.

– Walker Downey, Summer 2013
Artist Administration Intern