Chris Engman | Statement

Artist's statement about exhibition Equivalence, 2017

“The title Equivalence is a reference to Alfred Steiglitz' 1920's-era photographs of clouds titled, similarly, Equivalents. In Steiglitz' work, images of clouds are meant as expressions of, or equivalents to, inner emotional states.

In my photographs, pairs of concepts are held in juxtaposition to each other. What is the relationship between nature, on the one hand, and the manmade, on the other? Between exterior and interior? Between object and image? This work examines the extent to which these concepts are equivalent, or not.

The exhibition consists of photographs from two ongoing bodies of work, Prospect and Refuge and Ink on Paper. Both focus on the relationship between our sense of being in the world and the constraints of logic and entropy. We experience the world through its materiality, in the here and now, what we can see and touch. Yet, we are surrounded by illusions and images that may motivate, comfort, or deceive.

This tension between materiality and illusion is reflected in how we understand photographs and how we experience the world. Often we speak of how photographs "capture moments." But what is to capture in a moment, and when a moment is over, what is left to capture? Similar to Steiglitz, these works question how to relate the inner human experience with illusions of the outside world.

Artist's statement about exhibition Ink on Paper

Photographs are inherently a false, mediating and distancing way to experience the world. What is preserved is very limited—only one view from one point; the third dimension of space absent; sounds, smells and other contexts removed—all but perhaps 1/125th of a second gone. This might sound like an indictment but it isn't. It is precisely these qualities of photography that are compelling to me. The paradox of seeming to have but not actually having.

Many of my images seem improbable but are encoded with evidence of their veracity. They are, in most cases, truthful in the sense that what is pictured in a final print is what the camera saw on its final shoot; they are "straight." They are deceitful, because all photographs are deceitful, but they are truthful in that they tell the truth about their deceit. One of the aims of my work is to reveal—and then revel in—the deceit of images.

To make Paper, I started with an image of a landscape, turned it around, and pinned it to the wall. I hung a frame around it and then photographed the paper and the frame together. In the resulting piece the image of the frame interacts seamlessly with the frame itself to create an illusion of depth. The image of the wall appears as though on a plane with the wall on which the piece is hung. Thereby, the print is integrated with the frame, the frame is integrated with the surrounding space, and the print, frame, and surrounding space are all integrated together by the consistent light and shadows throughout.

We are used to looking through the surface of photographic prints at the illusion of space they create. In this case, the viewer is doing exactly that, and to a heightened degree, while simultaneously looking at an image of a thing that is doing something very different: the paper within the paper is asserting itself as an object on its own. This is an image that does something images do not usually do. It acknowledges, explicitly, that it is an image.

For me, these works depend upon a kind of logic that tries to add up to a sense of wholeness. They are visualized expressions of ways of ordering the world. They are internally consistent, but in the end they are (and feel) empty. It is the emptiness I am attracted to. Logic, it seems to me, can be beautiful even when built upon nothing at all. This is, perhaps, the central ethos of my project as an artist.