JTF (just the facts): Published in 2015 by Pau Wau Publications (here). Softcover with exposed binding in silkscreened plastic bag, 128 pages, with 97 color reproductions. Includes an essay by Christopher Schreck. In an edition of 500. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: David Brandon Geeting’s new photobook ends with a still life image of three surge protection power strips set alone against a flat lavender background. Lit with the bright intensity we associate with modern commercial photography, we might mistake the picture for a routine advertising visual destined for a computer magazine. With the three strips plugged into each other, they form an endless ring, producing the cleverly deadpan Infinite Power of the book’s title. This kind of commercialism with an edge has become the norm today, where our jaded consumerism is matched by product shots infused with increasing levels of knowing irony and tongue-in-cheek bite.
While the fine art community hasn’t always paid close attention, across the history of the medium, advertising photography has often drawn its styling from dominant aesthetic trends. With just a little effort, we can unearth strong examples Modernist or Bauhaus advertising from the 1920s and 1930s (from ball bearings and glassware to tea cups and women’s gloves), and overtly avant-garde and surreal product images from the succeeding years are equally identifiable. So the fact that 21st century advertising has adopted a post-Pop, post-digital, post-earnestness kind of attitude shouldn’t be altogether surprising – it’s the prevailing mood of the target audience.
The fuzzy boundary between modern commercial photography (including both product shots and stock imagery) and fine art thinking has turned out to be fertile ground for plenty of recent still life experimentation. Roe Ethridge can likely be singled out as the first notable innovator/appropriator in this murky in-between space, but he was quickly followed by other artists with varying approaches and interests – the quirky camp of Elad Lassry’s early work, the cool cerebral conceptualism of Annette Kelm, and the puzzlingly disruptive digital manipulations of Lucas Blalock have all extended the fundamental back-and-forth conversation in different directions. This predominantly studio-based activity has been matched by equally mundane, unassuming, and often oddball in-real-life discoveries, ranging from the highly influential aesthetic of the crumpled clothing and left over party detritus of Wolfgang Tillmans to the random (and often hackneyed) formal eccentricities being captured by too many young photographers to name.
Geeting’s contributions to this evolving genre of work feel refreshingly playful. They’re not bogged down in arcane theoretical pomposity – instead, they seem to revel in the effervescent joys of conflicting patterns and textures. The simplest of his setups isolate the subject against a single color background, but these quickly give way to more complex, layered constructions with a handful of unlikely companions and a patterned background of uneven drapery. Most of the works are built on contrasts of form – a cigarette lighter and wrinkled tinfoil, safety glasses with a crumpled plastic shopping bag, open books and plastic hangars. Remnants of technology and other machined surfaces make repeated appearances (video cords, computer cables, plumbing fixtures, sharp edged tools, coffee cup tops) and are put into conflict with more sinuous natural materials (eggs, slices of moldy asparagus, gooey paint drips, lemon peels), creating formal hard/soft dialogues in eye popping colors. In each composition, there is a subtle sense of uneasy dissonance, the opposite of the comfort usually found in commercial imagery – cucumber slices on a woman’s face (offset by clashing floral patterns), a starburst of dry spaghetti with a wrench, a kitten with a clarinet, tortilla chips on a shell upholstered couch, a cherub blowing up a slice of white bread. Every image seems to have been consciously engineered to create fun-loving inexplicability, upending our expectations for straightforward commercial communication.
Interleaved with Geeting’s studio confections are a selection of street isolations and found patterns that mimic the aesthetic of his constructions, as to prove that if we look carefully, the outside world can be as quirky as the studio. A slab of granite in the spiky grass, a perfect round ball boxwood near some stairs, a leaning wire frame trash bin, a man rolled back on his sofa, a thick pile of rocks on a front stoop – they are all overlooked formal gems that blossom with our increased attention. While we have seen these kind of pictures many times before, Geeting’s observations are tight and well crafted, solid examples of the subtly surreal lingering around us. When the compositions inevitably veer toward the obvious, the images are rotated sideways and allowed to cover both sides of the spread, creating unexpectedly twisted viewing angles that heighten the mystery of the everyday.
The very real danger to be found in Geeting’s still life approach is that randomness does not necessarily equate with interest – randomness for the sake of randomness (however slickly produced) can easily lead to forgettable “so what” outcomes. That his constructions are so consistently full of vitality says that Geeting has generally cracked the code of what is needed to control formal harmony. That he can put together a plaid belt, a pot holder, and some kind of kitchen tool for garlic and still keep our interest says volumes about his ability to deftly manage the aesthetic interactions inside a frame.
By applying a commercial aesthetic to items that seem to have a whisper of personal connection, Geetings’s photographs feel more intimate and welcoming than those of his other still life contemporaries – he’s broken down some of the arm’s length distance associated with advertising. If we track the incremental progression from appropriation of an image to appropriation of an aesthetic style to appropriation of a style then applied to new subject matter, Geeting has moved yet another step further, bringing a wink of conscious absurdity to the evolutionary exercise. The best of these pictures succeed both as carefully planned formal investigations and as knowing caricatures of the product shots that inundate our lives, setting up and tearing down in the same creative flourish.
Collector’s POV: David Brandon Geeting does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).