Recently, I came across Sarah Leslie’s, “Object = Subject” at The Hundred Years Gallery in Hoxton.
Sarah will be talking at the London Alternative Photography Collective on Wednesday 3rd December 2013 but in the meantime, here is a great summary of Leslie’s work by Samantha Mogelonsky, written in response to “Object = Subject”.
This piece of writing explores some great philosophical ideas concerning time and space, explaining why Sarah Leslie uses analogue photographic processes in preference to digital.
Manipulating The Moment
“Sarah Leslie’s works emerge from a deft and intuitive manipulation of light and shadow, space and time. Like a sculptor, she carves light from the deep blackness of her images and plays with the forms, creating something instantly recognizable, yet subtly removed from and more engaging than the original subject.
In examining Leslie’s photographs, I am struck with the fleetingness of each moment: light shines through windows, carousels turn and chandeliers flicker. These are recognizable things. But, with Leslie’s careful manipulation, the ordinary moment and everyday illumination become something entirely otherworldly – by playing on the moment of image capture and turning it into something stranger. The moments she captures are fleeting and ordinary, but the images she makes are not.
It is in Leslie’s unique ability to capture and transform these almost everyday encounters into something out of the ordinary that her hand as a craftsman emerges. In his book, The Craftsman, Richard Sennett writes that:
“The sublime suggests a limitless horizon. Yet, a concrete account can be given of how intuitive leaps happen… Intuition begins with the sense that what isn’t yet could be…In technical craftsmanship, the sense of possibility is grounded in feeling frustrated by a tool’s limits or provoked by its untested possibilities… How does then using a tool organize these possibilities? The first stage occurs when we break the mold of it fit-for-purpose. That break occupies a different part of the imaginative realm than retrospection. “
Richard Sennett, The Craftsman (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2008), 209-210.
The five large-scale photographs in Object = Subject are examples of the artist’s combination of intuition, imagination, and the ability to push her medium beyond its limits. It is only in the hands of a skilled craftsman that such play can occur.
Here we see the depth of Leslie’s imagination come to life as she creates impossibilities from these fleeting moments by freezing time and playing with the assumptions of the innate possibilities of recognizable objects. Leslie describes her process as “a combination of lo-fi analogue photographic techniques and digital manipulation.”
Her combining of photographic practices represents an interesting combination, and calls into question the degree to which time and immediacy play a role in her practice. The photographic object has always represented a single moment in time that will never be again. The photographer’s urge is to capture this fixed point with as much clarity as possible. Leslie’s decision here to begin with analogue methods show not only her degree of competency in the medium, but her dedication to the traditions of the craft.
After the moment has been captured Leslie’s technical digital ability and sensitivity to the original subject take over by freezing the moment and then taking it beyond the reaches of reality with her manipulations, referencing painting techniques, all the while turning an analogue image into a digital one. As Sennett describes, Leslie has “broken the mold” by choosing to combine the both forms of photography and, in doing so, has allowed the imagination to break through. Leslie’s photographs are long moments. They hold your gaze and you feel lost in their shadows.
This extended moment is sometimes in stark contrast to the images we are seeing in her photographs – carousels move quickly, candles flicker, in fact light has the fastest speed on earth – and yet the moments these five images seem to last much longer. That isn’t to say they drag on… much the opposite. By using her distinct methods, Leslie has managed to perform a singularity in our over-imaged world.
Leslie is interested in the similarities of formatting and framing the subject, while at the same time, has manipulated the contextual differences of inherent scale allowing for emphasis on the moment rather than the object itself. To do so, she uses a Holga camera and applies much of the square-format cropping “in camera” as she shoots.
The symmetrical format immediately removes the subject out of the perceived reality of the everyday. Whilst our information is widely mediated through a oblong formats (35mm, Film, TV, tablet, iPhone, computer screens, etc) Sarah’s use of the square causes us to impart a nostalgic sensibility to these objects – questioning what is left absent as much as what is present in each moment.
In her work On Longing, Susan Stewart discusses the difference between the souvenir and the collection. She states: “the souvenir involves the displacement of attention into the past” and that “the magic of the souvenir is a kind of failed magic.”
Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1984) 151.
In the case of Leslie’s works, each photograph operates as a souvenir of a singular moment in time. They are nostalgic in their attempts to preserve these lost moments and celebrate them in print. This desire to replace memory with a simultaneity that disrupts time, and changes the collector’s relationship to the objects in the collection is a crucial part of Stewart’s argument, which is reflected by Leslie’s decision to catch and manipulate these disparate events in time and link together as a collection through careful manipulation and compositing.
Stewart goes on to describe collection as offering “example rather than sample, and metaphor rather than metonymy.”
Furthermore, “in the collection, time is not something to be restored to an origin; rather, all time is made simultaneous or synchronous within the collection’s world.”
In the collection of images in Object = Subject, Leslie has frozen still five flashes of light, bringing them together into one still moment, causing us to question each still in relation to the time of the next.
Leslie has described how the scale of these photographs will have a dramatic impact, and will be an important moment for her practice.
Once printed at an impressive 1.5m x 1.5m, these photographs will have an almost human- like scale, imposing in an object-like relationship to the viewer. In doing so, Leslie’s photographs occupy an almost sculptural quality and relate more directly to the human body, giving these objects life-like qualities and attributes. By printing each photograph at the same size, the image is given equal space
and representation within the gallery, and no unique emphasis is granted to an individual flash. Instead, they read as a collective moment, even though the locations and times of the subjects vary.”