In February, Lisa Sette Gallery presents the works of two artists who smash the boundaries between realism-based analogue photography and the realms of abstraction and imagination. In his Black Powder series, Damion Berger documents, in massive and powerfully beautiful photographs, the gestural vectors of pyrotechnic explosions launched to memorialize grand celebrations around the world. Photographer Gilbert Garcin seems to have the power to distort the laws of physics using just a camera and a collection of minimal backdrops, creating supernatural landscapes in which the absurdity of human existence plays out in clever philosophical tableaux.
Berger, who in his late teens was an assistant to the renowned fashion photographer Helmut Newton, captures in muscular abstractions the firework displays accompanying worldly events, from the inauguration of earth's tallest building in downtown Dubai to art performances in the Jardin du Tuileries. As dramatic as the subject itself is Berger’s photographic method: The artist uses in-camera techniques such as long and overlapping exposures and unorthodox combinations of focus and aperture to collect and multiply the explosions on a single sheet of film.
“Working with a large format view-camera…I wait to trip the shutter in sync with selected explosions,” explains Berger. “In between exposing the same negative multiple times, I sometimes shift the camera in and out of focus, vary the duration of each exposure and open or close the aperture to effect the quality and quantity of light on the film.”
Berger’s unique method creates moody conflagrations of black and gray, stippled with the cherry-blossom hexagons of multiple shutter-openings. In his ability to coax from both subject and camera such otherworldly effects, Berger’s subject is in part the possibilities of analogue photography, and the enduring ability of its tools to create a mysterious, corporeal sort of magic.
Like Berger, Gilbert Garcin eschews digital manipulation. Playing the Chaplinesque central role in many of his photographs—a bemused, trenchcoated Frenchman in his 80’s—Garcin navigates metaphors for human vanity, complacency, and credulity in the form of actual obstacles represented by oversize objects from everyday life. Black and white and droll and unfussy, his dreamlike optical fables sometimes appear to be digitally-altered wonders, but in fact they are the result of Garcin placing small photo cutouts in handmade sets as simple as they are ingenious. Garcin’s remarkable talent is to weave wry existential spells of cardboard and string, bits of sand and sticks, and light and shadow.
“It’s a little naïve as systems go,” says the artist, “People always think I use all sorts of sophisticated technology. Not at all. It’s so simple that no one does it—or almost no one.”
Whether contemplating making a wish upon a larger-than-life dandelion or keeping a hubristic grasp on the tangled puppetstrings of our world, the subject of Garcin’s photographs is reflective of all humanity, of our common tendency to think of ourselves as always in the foreground, and, despite all evidence to the contrary, to remain only fleetingly aware of the vast abyss beyond the frame.