The Minds Eye
by Barre Bullard
If Virginia Woolf had picked up a camera instead of a pen, traveled to Iceland, and then made her way into a darkroom ofone's own, Linda Orloff's stream of consciousness photographic images may have been the result. Linda Orloff, Danishphotographer and one of this year's Foto-Fest finds, was part of a three-woman exhibition with Linda Darling and Robin Hill entitled Installations. Held at the Vine Street Studios, this exhibit was a somewhat cerebral venture into some traditional, but primarily experimental photography.
Saga Blot (1996) and Amnesia (1995) are the two books from projects from which Orloff's contribution to Installations is derived. Her images are haunting portrayals of what you might find if you had the ability to look inside the brain and observe it performing its visual function. Bits and snippets of random, sometimes cohesive, visual imagery. MentalPolaroids.
Referring to the Polaroids that were initially part of the 1995 Amnesia exhibit, Orloff states that they are "pictures of remembrance" and illustrate the way silence is disturbed "for a short moment by a cross-section through the memory ... I prefer to think that every picture in the book has a lot of layers behind and in front of them, like the way human beings are using their brain to think in many layers and shiftings at the same time. Developing the memory from the deep of oblivion bit after bit."
Issues of time and change as well as memory have significance in Orloff's work. These are illustrated by the use of ring symbology in her book project Saga Blot. Recurring images of "earth rings" hint at the cyclical aspects of nature and change and the potential of life. Such rings can be seen in Boilingpoint, a red filtered Polaroid image of a geyser just before explosion, or in Pseudogyser, which Orloff describes as "not a real vulcano crater, but a ring created by an enormous air bubble underneath the ground." They allude to the "Heimskringla," Icelandic for "World Circle," and the age-old theme ofdeath and rebirth and how the human mind interprets these events. They are also reminiscent of fantastical terrestriallandscapes, alien worlds that occasionally incorporate human elements like a wooden bridge, a veiled figure or an outdoor bathtub. They are science fiction mission of discovery. A haunting visual stream of consciousness, or as Orloff puts it "ritualand rhythm over again, the act of creating a stream of pictures," Saga Blot means literally "a pictorial tale without time."
Along with the occasional photogravure, most of the images displayed in Installations are framed Polaroids. The exception is Saltwork, a series of color photographs floating in circular pans which rest on the floor and are lined with salt. Saltworkalso has a life-birth-death symbology, with its recurring image of a girl swimming beneath a salt-coated surface.
Linda Orloff's work is ghostly and transparent, suggesting the temporal nature of mind and memory and their relation to the cyclical nature of life. It has the mysterious quality of somehow representing the past, present and future simultaneously.
Orloff's work is a striking contrast to fellow FotoFest exhibitor, Chema Madoz, whose photography is as direct and linearand Orloff's is phantasmal. In spite of their stylistic differences, the two photographers do have things in common.
Madoz's work appeared in a Foto-Fest-sponsored exhibit, Minimalism/ Modernism, at the Purse Building Studios. A joint exhibit with Neil Maurer, this proved to be one of the FotoFest 2000 highlights. Both photographers' works appeared to be linear and direct, and likewise the exhibit. Maurer deliberately confuses the origins of his imagery. He often utilizes fragmentary things and abstract forms from commonplace objects such as fans and bottles.
Madoz's work occupied the left side of the gallery "mirroring" Maurer's on the right. This mirror imaging suggested a simple and straightforward representation; however, because Madoz's work is strictly about contemplation, the arrangement appeared to mock a certain perplexity inherent in this seemingly direct work.
Madoz has been characterized elsewhere as working in a surrealist tradition of photography. President of the Xunta de Galicia, Manuel Fraga Iribarne says, "Madoz's images are populated by objects from everyday life, images that nonetheless evoke an unreal world, since they are manipulated with subversive intent, the product of a profoundly analytical way of seeing. Without ever falling into banality, his brilliant associations — not merely visual, but arising from a play of concepts— bring into question our very perception of reality."
You might say he creates his images from opposites, using trickery; yet the work is thought-provoking for both its insight and its humor.
He photographs sculptural ideas. In his untitled gelatin silver prints, he juxtaposes elements of life that would seem completely different, and yet, in typical surrealist fashion, he is able to relate them in provocative ways. A dining chair with a back made of suspenders, a cane serving as the hand rail for a staircase, a pair of sandals with soles made from grass. Others works evoke a more philosophical or social interpretation: darts and a dart board with an image constellations as its face, a jewelry mannequin of neck and chest with a bike chain displayed as a necklace, an ant climbing the sands in an hourglass, and a water drain in the middle of a patch of cracked earth.
Madoz creates the quintessential surrealistic picture by making objects other than what they are. He does so with a careful rendering of light that limits needless effects and therefore minimizes interference with his symbolism. Though his images read as perfectly ordinary objects, they manage to fool the eye and confound the mind with questions about the simplepractices of our day-to-day lives.
Like Linda Orloff, he uses photography as a way to provide new interpretations about what we already presume to know.
Barre L. Builard is manager of John Cleary Gallery, a fine arts photography gallery in Houston, Texas.