JTF (just the facts): Published in 2013 by Morel Books (here). Hardcover, bound in cloth with no exterior printing, 238 pages, with 175 black and white and color photographs. While the publisher’s notes claim that the book includes a conversation between the artist and David Campany, the text (entitled Dressing the Emperor) is all Xs. (Spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: Back in 1978, John Szarkowski curated a show at MoMA called Mirrors and Windows, American Photography since 1960. In it, he made a persuasive argument that the photography of the previous two decades could be divided into two separate camps: work made by photographers who saw the medium as a mirror (the self-expressionists, as embodied by Minor White) and work made those who saw it as a window (the explorers, as embodied by Robert Frank). His analysis and the visual reasoning exemplified in his choices remain a landmark in curatorial history.
Lucas Blalock’s new monograph, Windows Mirrors Tabletops, makes an overt allusion to this now famous line of thinking, adding to it the current reengagement with the studio as venue for photographic innovation. There is genius in this simple title, as it both describes Blalock’s approach at some level, but also provides a contrasting definition to Szarkowski’s old saw. In today’s contemporary photographic practice, an artist no longer has to choose sides between mirrors and windows, but can reject both and head for the tabletop (the constructed/staged, the conceptual, and the software manipulated), or sample all three and mix them into a new kind of photographic expression; it’s a new world of and not or, a brazen combination of straight and synthetic, and Blalock’s work is running along the cutting edge of this new white space.
This book provides a broad survey of Blalock’s recent output, and as a complete body of work, his imagery is filled with a constant undercurrent of subtle dissonance. Seemingly straightforward outdoor views of gardens and building details are interrupted by what, at first glance, look like ham handed Photoshop mistakes. Slices of underlying imagery are repeated, misaligned, turned into bulbous clouds, or twisted off kilter, making the easy quietly uneasy. Studio still lifes are similarly undermined, with an ordinary red gingham table cloth, a cane rocking chair, or a piece of plywood dissolving into puzzling echoes of itself. Images are rephotographed, inserted into other images, dotted with darkened sprays, and digitally collaged like rough cut outs. Once in a while, this manipulation turns dryly comedic, with studio detritus arranged into silly composite faces and a sitting man given four crossed legs. Nearly every image is not what it seems, and a handful of straight shots of unedited strangeness mixed into this heady brew keep us thinking.
Blalock’s work is a fascinating amalgamation of reconsidered ideas, from the commercial deadpan of Ethridge and Kelm pulled apart at the seams to the sculptural contraption building of Fischli/Weiss made less visually stable. There is a vitality to these experiments that is surprisingly consistent, a conceptual rigor that is continually tweaked and juggled. Digital images of firewood, wrapped in plastic and set before a fireplace like a pack of logs bought at the hardware store look both convincingly real and overtly wrong, and Blalock seems intent on finding the spot where that intellectual/visual contrast is pushed to its limit. By making his manipulations overt (often with evidence some kind of hand madeness even if digital), we’re always in on the joke and never completely fooled by slick perfection; he always leaves a trail of bread crumbs, so we can follow the mind bending path. This book is prime evidence of the original invention going on in the expanding interdisciplinary netherworlds of contemporary photography, and given the diversity of ingenious experiments seen here, Blalock is certainly one of the brash new innovators worth tracking.
Collector’s POV: Lucas Blalock is represented in New York by Ramiken Crucible (here). His work has not yet reached the secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.