Photography is a medium that more or less captures the world as it is, but two new exhibits at the Silver Eye Center for Photography showcase the more abstract side of the form. The In-Between by Trisha Holt and Door into the Dark by Lauren Semivan, both opening Dec. 6 with an artist talk between Holt and Semivan, explore abstract photography in contrasting ways.
“[Holt’s] is very colorful, very playful, she's thinking a lot about what photography can be. With [Semivan’s], even the title itself is just an invitation to meditate on these images,” says Kate Kelley, assistant curator at Silver Eye.
Holt’s work plays with the viewer’s perception of reality, using collages to overlap real and fake images, creating surreal scenes. In “A Multitude,” a human hand appears to be holding a plastic hand in front of a floral backdrop. But actually, Holt notes, the real hand is holding a photograph of a fake hand. “Orange (twice)” is an image of a thumb pressing into an orange as juice runs down the subject’s leg. Some of the piece is just a photo of the juice running down the leg, but some of it is a photo of a photo of juice running down the leg. It’s hard to tell what’s real, even for Holt. When printing the photos, she mistook part of the collage for a printing error.
“I can’t believe it tricked me! I was there, I made this. That’s my own arm,” says Holt. “There’s something really curious to me about this where it can be kind of chaotic or not be matching up but we still read it as itself.”
Her pieces also play with the analog and digital, making for meta moments when a viewer, taking a picture of one of her pieces, is actually taking a picture of a picture of a picture. But sometimes the opposite happens, and viewers don’t yet understand what they’re seeing enough to photograph it. “We’re so accustomed to being photographed all the time that we’re so visually literate,” says Holt. “A lot of times when I’m deconstructing images and reconstructing images it makes it more of a viewing experience and less of a ‘now let’s take a photo of it.’”
Holt’s images are eye-catching because of their brightly-colored trickery, but Semivan’s images are striking for a different reason. Her photography, while also abstract, is in black and white. The images in her collection are made up of draped fabric, paint, arranged objects, and occasionally human figures. They look closer to paintings than photographs. In “Gift,” white paint appears in splotches and geometric lines over a black surface, and vice versa. The use of black and white highlights many variations of those colors.
“How I begin working is never really consistently the same each time,” says Semivan. “Each photograph is part of a transition to the next image, as opposed to a definite beginning and ending point.”
Semivan works in black and white, not just because the palette suits her work, but because she uses a 20th-century large format camera, allowing her to capture something that cannot be done digitally. “A lot of the power in my images comes from abstraction, which I would need to entirely reformulate if color was involved,” says Semivan. “Maybe there is something about [black and white photography's] primitive form and potential for abstraction that actually allows for so much translation and reinvention.”
The collections pose a visual and conceptual contrast to each other, both in their use of color and their abstraction. While abstract art can be a tricky genre to understand, Kelley thinks these two collections are a good entry point. “These shows are a really good opportunity for anyone who's interested but may be intimidated by abstract art.”