Jeremy August Haik is an artist and writer. His work has been exhibited most recently at Aperture Gallery, NY; Foley Gallery, NY, Unseen Photo Fair, Amsterdam; Newspace Center for Photography, Portland; Cindy Rucker Gallery, NY; PCNW, Seattle; Michael Matthews Gallery, NY; The Camera Club of NY, and Guest Spot, Baltimore. His writing and photography has been published in print and online most recently by Conveyor Editions, Mt. Figure, Der Greif, and Baxter St. CCNY. He recently published his first book Permanent Constructions with Brooklyn-based Silent Face Projects. He lives and works in Brooklyn.
A Unique and Non-Repeatable Science
A Unique and Non-Repeatable Science is a photographic study based in the imagery of science, history, and the human body. Using specialized studio lighting to eliminate reflections, I arrange compositions that have the illusion of a perfectly flattened, non-reflective surface. By taking advantage of controlled studio lighting and photography’s single-point perspective, the solid fields of colors and hard lines often mimic the look of a digitally-generated image. But the occasional shadow or stray reflection are a clue that these are, foremost, traditionally made photographs of objects in my studio. My interests lie in using photography’s documentary capacity, and the limitations of its two-dimensional vision to explore the way the scientific mind bumps up against the instinctive and mythological elements of human nature.
In this series, each image is the product of experimentation with washes of colored light, arrangements of printed photographs and diagrams, and the materials of analog photography (polaroids and 4×5 negatives). The camera is mounted overhead and the process of photographing the composition is controlled through the computer; I usually don’t touch the camera at all. The blending of chance and intention in the way these images are constructed reflects my interest in the pliant nature of knowledge and historical narrative. By looking at small details and the physical characteristics of the collage elements, the subtle influence these material qualities have on the message they hold becomes more visible. In my work, I am examining the influence of this material container — text, diagram, paper, or photograph — on the meaning it holds, and suggesting the possibility of alternative narratives through photography.
It is obvious that your work is heavily based on research, could you share with us a few books / articles / authors that have influenced your work along the way and why did leave such an impact on you?
This is always a hard question to answer, and I don’t want to sound pretentious by naming something too obscure or pedestrian by naming something too obvious so instead I’m attaching a photo I took of my messy bookshelves that seemed to have one or two books that would be worth mentioning in this context.
What is the most interesting fact you learned about light and / or photography in your research?
When I was writing for the blog on Baxter Street a few years ago, I came across the idea that the famous Pillars of Creation aren’t really there anymore because a supernova has destroyed them (http://www.baxterst.org/2015/05/18/photography-lessons-from-space/). The only reason we “see” them is because the light from this event hasn’t reached us yet. It’s not something especially obscure, it’s really just to do with the speed limit of light and the distance across the cosmos. But this sort of cognitive dissonance — where I can look at something that no longer exists — is something that has really stuck in my mind.
I talk about this in the same post, but the scale of these images of space is totally incomprehensible. And again, I don’t think this anything most observers wouldn’t already realize on an intuitive level. For me, the interest lies in the impossibility of comprehending distances that are so vastly beyond the human scale. In some ways I think that photography manages to bridge that divide at the same time that it draws attention to the distance between subject and observer; not just in astrophotography but in all photography.
Looking at some of your other bodies of work, it seems that you are drawn towards collages. There are always layers in your work, images and visuals that are on top of each other. Can you tell us about this a little more? Why is this such a great part of who you are as an artist?
I think this relates fundamentally to the answer for the previous question. The quality of photography to both collapse and exacerbate the distance between the photographer and the scene being photographed. It’s not always an even exchange, some photographs are more effective at closing that distance, while others seem to extend the gap. I think it’s always a combination of both, and so with my work I’m always testing that hypothesis from both directions. I’m using photography to create depth that isn’t actually there or to collapse space that is.
Your work has this esthetics of flatbed scanning – a very flat images, a way of taking different elements and pressing them all together to create a one dimensional outcome. What is the experience you are trying to tap in to when creating these images?
I think this again goes back to the idea of photography collapsing space and distance. I’ve always been drawn to the way that images of space show this vast distance but the effect of compression is such that it appears flat and nearly 2 dimensional.
But to approach this question from a technical standpoint: I did use a scanner to make work for a while, but all of these images are made with a camera in a studio. Scanners can give an incredible amount of detail but it’s not really possible to play with depth, and there’s also the fact that scanners require absolute stillness while they’re operating. So while I appreciated the flatness, I wanted more options for what I could photograph. As I’m typing this I’m looking at the image I sent you called moonshine. That’s a perfect example, because the image appears to be totally flat at first glance. But in the bottom you can see two blue-tinted shadows of the moon pieces on the paper below them. That hint that there is depth to the image just isn’t possible with a scanner.
You say your work is created to some extent by chance in addition to your intentions, Could you explain why this is an important part of your work flow? What do you think the chance provides that the intention can not?
In my experience, intention is something of a constraint when it comes to art-making. It’s a guiding principle or a starting point, but at a certain point is needs to be abandoned. I thin this is because things change throughout the process of making work that cause the intention or direction to change. That’s the role that chance plays for me. So it’s not necessarily to say that executing work with a plan in mind is bad per se, but rather that it’s really important to allow yourself to be surprised by unexpected outcomes and to accept them into the process if they are valuable. I find that if I devote myself exclusively to a plan that I’ve laid out in my mind the results are usually a little too sterile, so the element of chance has this humanizing quality that I think art needs.
Each image you create has its own boundaries, just like any other photograph. Those boundaries seem to sometime clash with the boundaries of the images and text pages you are appropriating. There is some kind of a power struggle between these elements that I find interesting. Do you feel the same way?
Yes I definitely agree. I think there’s a power struggle between words and images in general in our society right now (and there has been for a while). I think images are winning for the moment, which is evidently not the best possible outcome. At the same time, though, I think what I’m working in my images is maybe less a power struggle and more of a power-sharing agreement. I’m trying to equalize the field.
One of the things I find interesting in your work is this re-use of photography and the photographic method. You are taking photos from books for example, adding them to your composition, and re shooting them to create a new image. I am not sure I have a question, but more I would love to hear your opinion about this aspect.
For me it’s a way of referencing the evidentiary role that photographs play in history books or science books. It’s used as a proof of sorts, or as counterweight to data-driven science or archaeological research. The appropriative element is there of course, but that’s not my main interest. I’m more more interested in the role that the images I take are filling in their original context, and then removing them from that context to see what’s left. I’ve written a lot before about how critical context is in the reading of any image, so my work is always going through a process of reconfiguring the internal context of my images. That’s also why certain things I’ve photographed will show up more than once, if the context changes it’s essentially a new image.
Your book “Permanent-Constructions” has gotten some great attentions and success. How was the process of making the book like? What decisions did you feel you had to make in order to make it such a great? Is there anything you would do differentially?
The process was very much reflective of how I work in the studio, so some of the images that made it into the book are ones that maybe aren’t “final” photos in a hang-on-the-wall-in-a-gallery kind of sense, but it felt important to me and Joseph & Kat to try and embody my working practice into the final form somehow. Which is also why I was adamant that we try and reference the transparent gels that I use so often in the work by including the colored vellum. I don’t know that I’d change much necessarily, I do sort of wish we were able to do a larger run but that’s more a reason to make another book.
We see more and more photo books comes out every year, not only by big establishments, but zines, self made and self published books that are expanding the market and it’s value – What do you think about today’s photo book scene?
I could go on and on about this, but the short answer is that I think it’s an extremely valuable way for an artist to get their work in front of an audience that they may not otherwise have. Like anything else, there’s good work and bad work, but the people that think this is a bubble or that there are too many photobooks out there are wrong in my opinion. I say bring it on, more!
What do you think makes a memorable photograph?
The answer to this is probably different for everyone, but for me something that brings me back to an image is when it raises more questions than it answers.
What is the one thing you hope a viewer will take away from your work?
More questions than answers 🙂
To view more of Jeremy’s work please visit his website.