“Photography cannot record abstract ideas,” states artist Mel Bochner’s work Photography Before the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 2011, a photograph of a quote from the Encyclopedia Britannica on an index card pinned to a wall. Can photography record abstract ideas? Bochner believes so, printing the photographic image six times, each with a different process, colored from light blue to dark brown, making the viewer question which version most closely resembles actuality. But can reality be captured? Or is a photograph turning our view of a representational world into a distortion of itself, forever changing the meaning and validity of reality? Is photography the trustworthy medium we once believed?
Providing numerous perspectives on how photographic imagery can be incorporated into different compositions, Sourced challenges us to see, or not to see, what elements have been appropriated in the creation of the works by these contemporary artists. Art has a rich history of allusion, and while the works included do not appropriate easily recognizable sources, incorporation of photographic source material is palpable. Photography is no longer solely about recording moments in time, it becomes a component of artistry and virtuosity.
Many of the included works reference processes distinctive of Photorealism, achieving appropriation by painting directly from a photograph to achieve a realistic quality. While the particular works in this exhibition are relying on the same principles employed by the Photorealists, they are significantly less realistic, incorporating the artists’ own stylistic preferences into their derivative works. Other artists in the exhibition allude to photographic material by introducing disparate ideas into a single plane. By incorporating various photographic elements, often from unrelated origins, these artists are able to assign a new context to their images.
A survey of the use of photographic material in contemporary artwork would not be complete without examples of photographs presented without adornment. The photographs included in this exhibition were captured with purpose in mind, staged and modified to the artist’s predilection and printed traditionally on paper or an alternative surface. Whether the artists created these works to allow the viewer to precisely identify appropriated material or to mask those elements beyond recognition, these artists have achieved uniqueness and innovation by utilizing photographic and often reproducible imagery. These works, based on incorporating photographic source material, are not replicating an already established idea, but transforming it into something completely unique, all while staying true to the artists’ recognizable styles, subjects and ideologies.