JTF (just the facts): Published by Self Publish, Be Happy in 2016 (here). Hardcover, 18 pages, with 8 color photographs. In an edition of 500 copies. To interact with the book, download the app Making Memeries (here). (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: Lucas Blalock is an American photographer whose practice explores the nuances and depths of software-based photo manipulation. Using Photoshop and other tools to transform his large-format analog photographs, he has meticulously tested the limits of representation, often deliberately pushing straightforward documentation into the realm of the surreal and the confused. His art is rooted in rework – he iteratively rephotographs, isolates, clones, erases, masks, cuts and adapts, using post-production techniques and interventions to undermine the rules of his own photographs. His images intentionally reveal the rough marks of editing, playing with the contours of space and the apparent physicality of objects, looking for new ways to describe visual reality.
Blalock’s most recent book was born out of the project Making Memeries which was commissioned by Self Publish, Be Happy during Offprint London, an art publishing fair at Tate Modern earlier this year. With the participation of fifteen international artists, the gathering aimed to explore the “blurring boundaries surrounding on/offline existence and distribution of photographs”. Blalock’s photobook is one of the tangible outcomes of that larger project.
Making Memeries is an oversized cardboard object with full bleed colorful glossy images on thick chunky pages, not unlike a children’s book, and its open spine makes all four sides look the same, creating the feel of a sculpture. Without revealing any specific details, a sticker on the shrinkwrap alerts readers that the book uses “augmented reality” and encourages us to download the free app that activates another dimension of the book. Making Memeries is among the first artist photobooks to experiment with this cutting edge technology. Augmented reality devices project digital overlays over actual objects and places, blurring the line between the “real world” environment and computer-generated content enhanced by graphics, animation and sound. The book format of Making Memeries serves the purpose of combining the physical and virtual worlds into one innovative and exciting artistic experience, just as Pokémon Go did with location-based handheld gaming.
The book begins with an image showing an anatomical model of human skin, as photographed against a greenish background, and taken out of its usual environment, it takes a moment to realise what exactly we are looking at. Using a digital device, the reader can look at the book through the app. The augmented reality radically changes the experience, making the image active rather than static – the app brings rounded depth to the model, shows blood running through the vessels, and allows us to explore the space around the object, its sides and the top. This is something entirely beyond our traditionalal interaction with a still photograph – there is movement and change triggered by our interaction.
Another composition depicts a cluster of hollow bricks digitally layered on top of each other, the resulting pile then decorated with a few scribbles of digital marker – this is the kind of composition we have seen Blalock make before. But the augmented reality opens the dimension of the image beyond its physical frame, creating a wider experience that twists around a pivot point. And once the turning starts, musical notes appear and hover in the air around the image.
In a third image, rough cut outs depicting an old phone, a wooden drawer, a bathroom interior, and a fly-catcher (among other elements) come together in a something akin to digital collage. The app brings the picture to life – the phone starts vibrating and ringing, and every time it rings, a new object appears, filling the empty space. In just a few moments an entirely new image is created in front of us, calling into question our usual understanding of a fully formed photograph. This process can of course work in reverse, as seen in an image closer to the middle of the book – when activated by the app, it turns blank, once again challenging our expectations for this interactive experience.
While these visual magic tricks are certainly clever and engaging, there is something more serious going on here – the use of sophisticated augmented reality seems like a natural step in Blalock’s photographic practice. Even though Making Memeries has just eight photographs, the photobook gives us a tantalizing taste of new aesthetic possibilities, taking iterative software-based construction techniques and expanding them into mini vignettes, icons, and movements. Blalock places the viewer in a new position, offering us both a creative role in our interaction with the imagery and a series of decisions to make as we engage with his compositions. It is an invitation to look closer, to play, to follow storylines, and to pose questions about photography in the digital age. His daring desire to experiment crosses online and offline worlds, further expanding our definitional notions of perception. With Making Memeries, Blalock gives us a brief glimpse of what can be done when we creatively embrace new technologies, leaving us actively wondering what will come next.
Collector’s POV: Lucas Blalock is represented in New York by Ramiken Crucible (here). His work has not yet reached the secondary markets with much regularity, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.