Surfaces, Spaces and Shrines
Michael majored in photography at the Michaelis School of Fine Art during the 1970s under Bob Denton who advocated the use of the zone system. The Zone System provides photographers with a systematic method of precisely defining the relationship between the way they visualize the photographic subject and the final results. These formal characteristics that can be found in the way Michael carefully constructs his images are evidence of his training and approach to photography.
In an essay and book of the same title, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, Marc Augé coined the phrase “non-place” to refer to places of transience that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places.” Michael’s evocative body of photographic works in a sense represents the terrain of non-places too — the construction sites, scrap yards, empty plots and surfaces of the urban landscape — that act as emblems of the human condition.
One reading of Michael’s work tells us about human loss and suffering and makes connections to Buddhist concepts of cause and effect, impermanence, emptiness and rebirth. The reference to shrines in the title of the exhibition references the Buddhist practice of making shrines of anything, anywhere to create quietness. Buddhism also lays special emphasis on meditation transforming the mind and using it to explore itself and other phenomena. There is a sense that Michael draws on many of these ideas and practices in making the body of work here on exhibition tonight.
One can regard the surfaces in Michael’s work as a kind of skin of the city — stone, brick, concrete and paint — and not unlike the skin on our bodies, a reminder of the fragility of the membrane that protects an internal state of being. Photography in itself is also a skin of emulsion on paper carrying the image. Modern inkjet printing has dispensed with the chemical coatings of analogue photography and replaced them with pigment-based inks. There is still a fragility to the prints, partly because they are sensitive to bad chemistry in the air, but also because the ink deposits are physically delicate.
Photography and printing have become inextricably embedded in digital photography in a process of rebirth, not unlike the regeneration of skin.
In Claude Gandelman’s book Reading Pictures, Viewing Texts, he distinguishes two contrasting ways of seeing: the “optical,” whereby things are observed as “points on a plane surface” or as a reproduction of reality based on resemblance, and the “haptical,” wherein things are seen “by touch” or by attention to surface and texture rather than to the outline of whatever “existing reality” may also be represented. Michael’s attention to surface using the visual language of photography creates an awareness of these differences allowing the viewer to interpret the work on many levels.
Michael’s work also unashamedly pays homage to modernism, flatness and surface. Formally, he explores the language of abstraction, painterly qualities, subtlety and richness of colour, the grid as a structural, text and texture to create simple, but complex images of unusual beauty. His work reminds of something that Stephen Shore said – that good photography should be about what the everyday world looks like in a state of heightened awareness.
I am very pleased that Michael approached me to open his exhibition and become acquainted with his work. I wish him a successful future and that this is the first of many solo exhibitions to come.