Picture Day!

Bill and Ruth True obviously have a love for film. Their exhibit in the WSU Museum of Art was a selection of film-art from their Western Bridge contemporary art space in Seattle. Specifically this exhibit examined reality through photography and video with work from Rodney Graham, Timothy Hatchings, Catherine Yass, Nicholas Nixon, Cindy Sherman, and Amy Adler. All of the images were the product of light from the real world, something that film alone allows us to do, however they differ in their depiction of reality, encompassing a broad spectrum of precision in telling their stories.

On one hand, there were some very real products of film. Perhaps the most real was Rodney Graham’s “Welsh Oaks #5,” which is a large monochrome print of a large branching tree appearing inverted and as a mirror image. This depicts the scene as the film would see it, without the processing that reorients the directions with most pictures, making it one-step removed from the light that originated in nature. His “Fishing on a Jetty” exemplifies reality in another way, in that it portrays the subject, Graham himself, in a highly detailed full color print. While it does not represent the locations that the original photons hit the film, it is the closest example to what our own eyes would see in nature. Finally, Nicholas Nixon’s collection of portraits, “The Brown Sisters, Cautamet, Mass,” provides a near-real map of 31 years of the lives of these sisters. It remains monochrome and is oriented upright, so things appear natural, but it allows one to peek into the emotions and lives lived by these three people as they age. Plato would likely respect these examples of art the most because they exemplifies the best possible imitation of the real world or the most direct link between a form seen in nature and an image on a screen. It would be difficult for the audience to misinterpret the objects that the artist is presenting.

At the other extreme were prints and videos that contort reality into something unrecognizable. The most real of this group was Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled #323.” A photograph of herself, it is obviously a face; however, in processing the film it has gained an eerie metallic luster with reds and dark blues that make it appear angry and powerful. Catherine Yass took the distortion of precise images even further by manipulating her camera instead of the film. In “Descent” a video was taken of large buildings through patches of fog as the camera was lowered. This provides a great imitation of the incident image on the camera, however the orientation is disorienting and confusing to the audience. Plato would likely scoff at such art because it a confusing imitation of the real world and most people could not determine what is being seen on the projector. In Yass’s “Descent HQ5…” the camera was swung in the same urban location as “Descent” to capture the image. The color print appears as a number of streaks and lines, and only with careful observation can an observer guess that it resulted from buildings and lights. This was the most abstract piece in the museum and best exemplifies how film is not required to replicate the reality and precision of the images seen in the world around us.

Entering a museum exhibit containing only work done with film, one might expect to be surrounded by recognizable, but creative, depictions of reality. In fact, the work contained in “Video and Photography from Western Bridge” exemplified the broad spectrum of imitation possible with film. Some pieces were stunningly real, while others were difficult to comprehend. While it seems that Plato’s theory that art is thrice removed from reality suggests he would most appreciate photography and video, this exhibit proves that he might not accept this form of art anymore than painting or poetry. It would seem that when using film an artist has the same freedom of creativity and the ability to express reality in abstract ways than with any other medium.

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by Ben Arthurs

Major: Physics (Biophysics Option)
Expected Graduation Date: December 2007
Hometown: Richland, WA

Most of my experiences writing have been in the physical and biological sciences where pieces must be structured and to the point. In this WSU Exhibit of Art review for UH 440 I had the chance to use my objective writing skills in a more creative way as I explored various uses of film and their relationship to Plato’s theory of art.