Tyrone Williams, Aesthetix

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2020 by Bronze Age (here). Softcover (18.5×26 cm), 84 pages, with 63 color reproductions, mixing digital offset and Risograph pages. In an edition of 300 copies. Design by Sonja Camara and Ja Bæblade. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: The imperfections of urban surfaces have long been a seductive subject for photographers. Torn posters, peeling paint, damaged brick walls, and cracks in concrete sidewalks have provided a seemingly endless stream of raw material for elegant up-close studies of texture and line, and a similarly long list of master photographers have pointed their cameras at such modest discoveries, finding everything from strict geometries to expressive abstraction in among the dirt and decay. Given how many photographs have been made of these kinds of surfaces over the years, we might assume that we would at some point reach an end point, where the repetitions and clichés of such compositions would overwhelm us. And yet, each successive generation of picture makers seems to be similarly entranced by these small moments, still drawn into the creative possibilities for framing and ordering they represent.

The photographs in Tyrone Williams’s photobook Aesthetix start in this familiar location. He narrows in on chain link fencing, perforated metal sheeting, water droplets on glass, reflective tape, and piles of construction bricks, and pays close attention to the wrinkles in vinyl signage, the tears in plastic tarps, and the gaps in metal grates. He notices peeling paint, shattered glass, leaves in the gutter, and oil slicks on cobblestones, and turns frayed basketball nets, uncoiled hoses, twisted ropes, and car bumpers into studies of pattern, form, and reflection. And while we have seen all of this before, many times over, he executes these closely-cropped views with consistent visual intelligence.

For some, this would be the endpoint of the photographic journey, but for Williams, it is just the beginning. Starting with these straightforward images, he then aggressively manipulates the colors, going far beyond simple color correction, enhancement, or saturation. Tonal reversal is often mixed with brash, unexpected color choices, turning something recognizable into a psychedelic blast of warps, gradients, and tweaks. In his hands, mundane details suddenly howl and shriek with pleasingly disorienting strangeness, and all-over patterns dissolve and marble like fancy Italian papers.

Most of the images in Aesthetix are printed using standard digital offset on a faintly slick paper stock, the spreads ranging from full bleed works to those with varying degrees of white bordering. What’s unusual here is that Williams has also interleaved a number of spreads of Risograph printed imagery (on a softer matte stock) into the flow of the photobook, creating a noticeable back and forth between the two approaches. Very few photographers use the neon bright colors and janky registrations of Riso to print their work, which is a shame, as its look and feel is so distinctive. Williams’s decision to add Riso is particularly inspired, as it amplifies his electric compositions one or two notches further, particularly when the candy-colored pinks, oranges, and yellows stab at your eyes, while at the same time introduces a subtle roughness and chance residue to the images.

The fundamental concept that a photograph can be a door to an adjacent artistic effort is a powerful one – Kenta Cobayashi has used his own photographs as the baseline for expressive Photoshop swirls and distortions (reviewed here), and Williams’s thinking feels related. Younger photographers like these are pushing photography out of its straight-jacket and extending it in new ways that better match the frenetic pace of the 21st century world. While such approaches may seem radical or even confrontational, they are likely just the tip of the iceberg – as they keep challenging and expanding the edge of what we can recognize, they’re actively building bridges to new ways of seeing. The more their risks and experiments confound us, the better.

Collector’s POV: Tyrone Williams does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up with the artist via his Instagram page (linked in the sidebar).

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